As part of our in-depth moving to Spain guide, we now look into the experience of buying a car in Spain which is similar as you’d expect to go through in the UK – but with a few layers of Spanish bureaucracy layered in for added piquancy. For expats yet to develop the fluency in Spanish necessary to negotiate the many metres of red tape, the process can seem quite daunting. To help you out, we’ve put together this guide to purchasing a vehicle in Spain.

Am I allowed to buy a car in Spain?

Broadly speaking, if you’re registered as a resident in Spain you’re entitled to buy a car. However, you need either to own a property or to be renting one for a minimum of one year.

What sort of car should I buy?

It depends on your own situation and your needs, of course, but if you’re just pootling around your city, the smaller the better. Not only are small cars more economical, they’re much more suited to the size of Spanish parking spaces.

What about electric cars?

There may be financial incentives. A recently expired Spanish Government scheme called Movalt 2018 gave out grants totalling €20 million to encourage people to buy electric- and gas-fuelled cars. Watch out for similar schemes in the future. Many city councils such as Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia have slashed car ownership taxes on fuel‐efficient vehicles by up to 75%. Bear in mind that the recharging infrastructure is still patchy, so an electric car may only be practical if you have off-street parking which allows you to charge from home, and only if you use your car for local journeys.

Should I buy a new or a used car in Spain?

Buying a car
Again, very much a case of horses for courses. Spain is the eighth largest producer of motor vehicles in the world and the second largest in Europe although 80% of the cars are exported. Buying a new car from a reputable dealer is probably the least risky option for a foreigner in Spain.

A good option to look out for is the ‘KM 0’ car. These are cars which have been registered by the car showroom but used only for test drives. They’re practically new but technically pre-owned and much cheaper than an officially new car.

The second-hand car market in Spain is slightly different from the UK. Prices are generally higher because people have tended to buy new cars and hang on to them for a long time so there are fewer of them available. As a guide, a five-year-old car will probably cost you about half of its original showroom price.

Should I buy from a dealer or a private seller?

If you decide to buy a second-hand car, you might save €1,000 or more by buying from a private seller but you won’t get a proper warranty and you’ll have less comeback if anything goes wrong. Private sellers are obliged to provide you with a six-month guarantee covering any faults which turn out to have existed at the time of the sale. But when it comes down to it, it’s difficult to prove.

The process and the paperwork

A reputable dealer will also take care of most of the bureaucracy for you for a small fee. Unless money is tight or you get a thrill from bureaucracy, this is well worth considering.
If you buy privately, the process is quite involved. You’ll actually need to draw up a legal purchase agreement (contratode compraventa) between you and the seller. Then you have to visit the vehicle registration desk of the Traffic Department (Jefatura de Tráfico) to fill in and sign a transfer document (solicitud de transmisión de vehículos).

If you’re determined to buy privately, consider getting help from a gestor. The labyrinthine layers of bureaucracy in Spain have conspired to create this almost exclusively Spanish role. The gestor is not a lawyer nor indeed any kind of qualified professional. Much more usefully, the gestor is intimately acquainted with the form-filling and bureaucratic hurdles that need to be jumped wherever Spanish officialdom is involved. Gestors know the ins and outs of every department and every piece of paperwork. They have runners to do the legwork and they know how to avoid queues and short-cut processes. A good gestor is worth every cent, especially if you’re not super-fluent in Spanish.

What documentation should I ask to see?

Whether you’re buying privately or through a dealer you should satisfy yourself that the documentation is in order. This includes:

  • The car’s log book (permiso de circulación)
  • Transfer of ownership form (transferencia)
  • The ITV document (inspección técnica de vehiculos): this is the Spanish equivalent of the UK’s MOT test certificate. A car less than four years old does not need one. Between four and 10 years old the test must be done every two years. After 10 years, the test must be done annually. For ex-rental cars, the ITV requirement kicks in after two years, not four
  • Proof that the road license fee (impuesto sobre vehiculos) has been paid in full for the current year

What documentation do I need to provide?

Ironically, just about the only thing you won’t need in order to buy a car is a driving licence. However, you will need to provide:

  • Your NIE (número de identidad de extranjero) – your foreigner ID number
  • Proof of permanency in the form of your house deeds or a rental contract for a minimum of one year
  • A proof of residence (certificado de empadronamiento) which is no more than three months old

If you’re financing the car through the dealer you’ll need to provide proof of your income.

Costs, taxes, insurance

  • When buying from a dealer you’ll have to pay sales tax. If you’re buying privately you’ll have to pay a transfer tax (impuesto de transmisiones patrimoniales) which is calculated not on the price you pay, but on the official value of the car
  • The Spanish road tax, impuesto sobre vehículos de tracción mecánica (IVTM), is payable annually. The cost depends on the vehicle, the fuel type and the municipality in which the vehicle is registered. Expect to pay up to €175 or thereabouts. There’s an excellent calculator here
  • ITV (inspección técnica de vehiculos): The Spanish equivalent of the MOT test has fixed prices. For a car, it ranges from around €33 to €48 depending on the size of the engine and whether the car is petrol or diesel
  • Insurance: it’s illegal to drive a car without insurance in Spain. At the very least, you’ll need third party cover and many people consider the cost of comprehensive insurance to outweigh the benefits. Use a price comparison site such as acierto.com and then phone to see if you can squeeze a better deal out of them
  • Even when you’ve paid all this, you’re still not done. You have to pay a small toll to use many of the motorways (autopistas) in Spain
  • If purchasing a car in Spain means moving money from the UK, our international money transfers could save you money and time

Things to keep in your car

By law, you must have all of these things in your car whenever you’re using it:

  • ITV (MOT certificate)
  • Permiso de circulación (log book)
  • Insurance policy document
  • European accident agreement form (to be completed in the event of an accident)
  • Driving licence
  • Two warning triangles
  • A fluorescent jacket for each person travelling in the car
  • A child seat for each child
  • A spare tyre and the tools to change it

Find Out More About Moving to and Living in Spain