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OperationPushPin Feb 2nd, 2012 02:24 PM

Family vehicle while living in Spain?
Our family will be moving to Spain from the US for two years, and I'm wondering about our best move regarding a family car. Other than always hearing about European cars being stereotypically small, I'm unfamiliar with what an average Spanish family would drive. We are considering bringing one of ours with us, but would really prefer to blend in for safety reasons. Ideally, we need room for the five of us, plus a couple of extra seats for visitors. Am I going to stick out like a sore thumb in a 7-passenger vehicle, or are they more common than I understand? I doubt we'll be the only family in Spain with 3 or more kids! Any suggestions? Thanks!

zeppole Feb 2nd, 2012 02:29 PM

Another thing to consider about bringing your own vehicle is if you need repairs or parts, will that be available for you in Spain?

Some models of European cars sold in the US are really very different models, so check it out carefully.

Can't really help you with other issues, since I live in Italy, not Spain.

Alec Feb 2nd, 2012 02:52 PM

Seat Alhambra is a Spanish-made 7-seater MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) or what you'd call minivan. Other models include similar Ford Galaxy and VW Sharan.
Also popular are slightly smaller Opel Zafira, VW Touran and Ford Smax, but they have very little luggage space with 7 people.
See review on UK-spec Seat Alhambra in English:

I urge you not to bring your US car to Spain. It will have to be modified to meet EU and Spanish regulations, it will have to be tested for compliance, parts and servicing may be difficult and expensive, and insurance may be difficult to arrange for a foreign import.

ribeirasacra Feb 3rd, 2012 12:51 AM

Before you think about what vehicles you want have you given any thought about the issues with your driving licence?
Having a non -European one means you will have to retake your driving test, as your American licence is not valid in Spain. The way to overcome this when on vacation is to apply for a IDP (international driving permit): This is a temporary document and cannot be used once you have moved house.
You will need to register and obtain a DNI number before you can purchase, register or insure a vehicle in Spian.

The issue with the vehicle is buying and selling. Selling in todays market is difficult. Hopefully this will improve, but do not count on that.

If you decide to import your vehicle you will have to register it. There will be issues with lights, maybe seatbelts and other equipment. I know because I once imported an ex American vehicle from one EU country to Spain. Whilst something’s were acceptable in the first EU country it was not in Spain.

There are loads of seven seaters on the market. In English we call then people carriers. In Spanish Monovolumen

Here are a few websites for you to browse:

Maybe the first step to see what the practicalities of getting permission to drive in Spain is talk to the local embassy or consulate.

lincasanova Feb 3rd, 2012 06:44 AM

I see no way for you to drive here outside of a long term rental or two.

You certainly do not want not even consider bringing your car unless you are with the military and they are figuring this all out for you. The tail lights/turn signal colors often need to be changed tom comply with norms here, a new report on car done for motor capacity, etc. and unless you do the paper work in due time you will pay 18% fee tax on this item according to blue book value.

You can rent and be insured with a USA license but you will have one heck of a time finding any insurance company to insure you if you buy a car.

It will take you MONTHS to pass the quirky sneaky Spanish written test.

hetismij2 Feb 3rd, 2012 06:59 AM

Regarding driving licences in Spain you may find this link useful:

You need to know whether your state has an agreement with Spain or not. If is does you can drive for 1 year before needing a Spanish licence. If not then you need to get a Spanish licence asap. Not easy, especially for an American who is not used to the whole concept, though it is now possible to do the theory in English in Madrid it seems.

You will probably find that whole site very useful btw.

lincasanova Feb 3rd, 2012 08:50 AM

Spain , as far as I know has not adopted that "rule" that France so generously uses of each state does reciprocal validation.

Bring an international license just to have it and rent a car short term . You will get a good rate.

I have known some car dealers to lease a car to one of my American clients with the insurance coverage from the dealerships relationship or umbrella coverage. Not sure if that can always happen but a good friend did arrange that for one of my clients. hope you have luck. Just do not buy a car until you figure this out!

You would not be the first one to find himself in a catch 22. You can buy a car. But then no one will insure you.

nytraveler Feb 3rd, 2012 08:54 AM

Not sure if brining your US made car to europe makes sense financially - when you look at gas at $10 a gallon and the possibility of not meeting local standards or being able to get parts.

However, on the flip side cars seem to be much more expensive in europe than in the US - so you might look at a lease rather than a purchase. (When working on a project in Ireland I was talking to an Irish collegue about my brother buying a new car - and she was impressed that he had buoght such a luxury vehicle - Honda Accord. When I said this was a basic family sedan - the most opular size in the US she was really surprised. Then I looked at the cost of the car there - WAY more than in the US.)

ribeirasacra Feb 4th, 2012 12:01 AM

Some more information:
International Driving Permit
Non-EU Driving Licence
Owning a Vehicle
I hope that helps. It will certainly make you think about the plans to move to Spain as it dose not look easy as what it should be.
Good luck with your plans.

Carlux Feb 4th, 2012 01:50 AM

I don't know that all of this means that the OP shouldn't move to Spain, just that he or she should understand what's involved. We moved to France with a Canadian Driver's license, and had to sit the French exam. It was much more difficult than when I took my original test in Canada - not to mention the bad habits that one picks up over the years. But it wasn't impossible. It does mean that you need some language skills, which the poster should have if living in Spain for two years.

We do know other people who didn't bother changing their license, and drove on their original one. We always feel that this is pretty risky - you are not legally entitled to drive without a valid license, and I'm sure your insurance company would be happy not to pay out any possible claims to someone who isn't legal. Not to mention having to explain it to the police.

lreynold1 Feb 4th, 2012 12:14 PM

Wow, I was really surprised to read all of this. Shows how much Spain has changed. In 1994-95, we bought a used car, had only our US licenses, got it registered, got insurance and were on our way. We bought it from another American who had been in Madrid for the previous year, and I remember that the owner took my husband around to a bunch of official offices where he had to go to get things registered, but it took only an afternoon.

I'm not disputing what everyone says, just amazed at how things have changed.

And not that this will help the OP, but we did the same thing in Lisbon, once in 2004-05, and once in 2008-09. I had hoped to do it again in a year or two, so I hope that Portugal is not following in Spain's bureaucratic footsteps!

Cowboy1968 Feb 4th, 2012 12:32 PM

I'd take into consideration your new living environment.
Are you sure you will need the car to the same extent as now in the US? If you will live in a larger conurbation, you and your kids may use public transport to get from A to B. Or walk to school as it's in the neighborhood.
Even when you do not adjust your comfort zone re. minivans, it does not make streets wider or parking easier.

hetismij2 Feb 4th, 2012 12:46 PM

lreynold1 Then what you did in Portugal was illegal.

Quoted from's Portugal section:

Agreements exist between Portugal and Australia, Canada and South Africa. Citizens aged 18 years or over may drive in Portugal on a valid Australian, Canadian, South African and US driver's licence for up to six months (185 days) of entry into Portugal. Should a holder wish to drive beyond the six month period, they are required to exchange their licence for a Portuguese licence from the time they receive their residency permit. Failure to do so could subject the holder to a fine.

According to the IMTT an American driver’s licence can be exchanged for a Portuguese one, by presenting an “Abstract of Driving Record from one’s last US State of residence”, to prove that the licence is authentic and valid. It must have the Apostille, seal given by the Secretary of State of the same State the document was issued. A physician's certificate (obtained through IMTT) stating that the driver is fit to drive must be presented, along with the USA driver's licence and proof of legal residency in Portugal.

ribeirasacra Feb 4th, 2012 01:42 PM

There are a group of Australians living and working up here in Galicia. They have had to take lessons and retake their driving tests. The ones I have met said that it was not just a refresher course it was like leaning a new as the rules are so different.
2 bits fro the US embassy website. pan down for the bit about driving with a IDP. (plus a bit about work permits) again pan down and you will find several FAQs on this subject.

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