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Driving and Public Transport for Expats in Spain

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: July 2013


Since 2001, the Spanish government has undergone a programme to reduce the high number of fatalities on Spain’s roads. This has been very successful, and Spain now has the seventh lowest proportion of fatalities in the EU.

To drive in Spain, you need a valid driving licence. If you are from a country in the European Economic Area (the European Union plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein), you can drive in Spain for as long as the licence is valid. If not, depending on your home country, you may need an International Driving Licence. In all cases, you will also need to have valid car insurance and pay road tax. You will also need at all times:

You will also need an approved reflective jacket. This jacket must be worn whenever you are outside your vehicle. You should put it on before you get out.

Main roads in Spain are generally of high quality, though some of the country roads are not so good. Traffic in the larger cities can be disorganised and may require a great deal of patience at first. Speed limits in Spain for cars and motorbikes are as follows.

Type of Road

Speed (kph)

Speed (mph)

Motorways and Autovías (dual carriageways)



Standard roads (one-way, wide-shouldered or with two lanes in at least one direction)



Standard roads (other)



Built-up areas




Limits for buses, coaches, vans and lorries are less than these values. A total of 2,000 km (1,243 miles) of Spanish roads are tolled, including some motorways (autopistas). Toll prices vary, but for a long-distance route, expect to pay approximately €1 per 10 km. On some roads, payment will be by cash only, so take enough change to cover these charges.

If you are going to be driving in Spain long-term, it is probably a good idea to join a breakdown organisation. The best-known Spanish breakdown organisation is the RACC, whose website is given here:




There is a reasonably large network of high-speed trains, which makes travel between the largest cities faster. For example, the Madrid to Barcelona service takes 2 hours 40 minutes. High speed trains are relatively expensive, but also less crowded, as locals generally do not use them. The railway service in Spain in general is good; it has improved greatly in recent years.

The Spanish railway network is nationalised, and the vast majority of train services are run by Renfe, whose website is here:


You will need to book seats on all high-speed services; it is advisable to do so on other services as well. The earlier you book ahead, the better chance there is of getting a good deal.

In addition to overground services, there are metro networks in Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Seville and Valencia.



Flying between Spanish cities is often quicker than taking a train or coach. However, this may only be true if you live near a major airport and your destination is near one too. Flying is always the quickest, and sometimes the cheapest option if you want to travel between the mainland and the Balearic or Canary Islands, or to Ceuta or Melilla, the Spanish enclaves in Morocco.


Buses and Coaches

There are many different bus and coach companies in Spain. You can find links to many of them here:


Buses and coaches are air-conditioned and generally provide a good service.



Taking a ferry is another option if you are travelling between the mainland and the Balearic or Canary Islands or Ceuta and Melilla. You can find a website that details ferry journeys in Spain, and throughout Europe, here:




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