Wherever you live you need to get around even if it is only to do the normal everyday things. If you currently live in a town or city in the UK, you may be able to walk almost everywhere or there may be a good local bus service should you not want to use your car. Living on the Costa del Sol is not like that. There is almost no area in which you would choose to live where you will have a local bus service every five or ten minutes to take you to local shops and it may even be very difficult to walk to the nearest shopping area.
Should you decide that the area in which you want to settle is Torremolinos or Fuengirola you could have virtually no problems. You might be able to walk to all the shops, bars and restaurants necessary for day-to-day living. You may not need a car and we do know many people who live in these areas who live very well without personal transport. Their only problem happens when they want to visit friends in other parts of the coast who do not have access to the wonderful local public transport system they have locally.
If you choose to live on any other part of the coast or in the inland areas you will almost certainly need your own transport. There will be no alternative.
So what is it like to have a car in Spain?
Should I bring a car from the UK?
Driving around on the Costa del Sol it is amazing how many cars you see with very old British number plates. I often wonder how many of these vehicles are totally legal. Officially, a car with foreign, EU-registered plates should not be driven in Spain for longer than six months in any one year! There are many cars, however, which have been in Spain for far more than six months and they are driven here every day – it is a grey area and it is unlikely to change in the near future. There are many books that state the exact legal situation but equally there are many British expats living here who do not follow these laws and they have had no problems – yet!
It is possible to re-register a car in Spain but to do this you need to have the headlights changed so that they are correct for driving on the righthand side of the road and this can be very expensive. What is vital is that your British-registered car has a valid ITV, the Spanish equivalent of an MOT. Without this document your insurance will be invalid. If the car is on UK plates, an ITV can be granted so long as you have the appropriate black strips on the headlamps, which redirect the beam to the right side of the road. In Spain, an ITV is required every two years after the car is three years old, and when it is ten years old the inspection must be carried out every year. A Spanish ITV will be recognised by most British insurance companies but you should check it out with your own insurance company.
Insurance is vital for any car. There are insurance companies in the UK, on the Costa del Sol or in Gibraltar, who can arrange insurance for a car that is essentially kept outside the UK. When we first moved here we had a UK-registered car. We insured it with a fully comprehensive policy, which was really the equivalent of a permanent green card. In fact we were only allowed to take the car back to the UK for 28 days in any one year without informing the insurance company. It is also a fact of life in the EU that any car must be insured in the country in which it is registered, so if your car is UK-registered it must be insured by a UK-based insurer.
The entire question of car ownership for EU citizens is very difficult when you move from state to state. There are laws that should be obeyed and the majority of individuals do not want to break these laws but the EU bureaucrats have not yet made it easy for the ordinary individual to be a totally law-abiding citizen.
Being legal with your car
As mentioned earlier you should, by law, re-register any car imported from the UK and have it transferred onto Spanish plates after six months. You can only re-register the car if you officially export it from the UK. When your UK MOT expires you cannot pay road tax in the UK because the UK authorities do not recognise the ITV – the Spanish equivalent of the MOT. If you want to be totally legal you cannot pay Spanish road tax because your car is not registered in Spain. Therefore to all intents and purposes you are breaking the law of your adopted country and incidentally you are also breaking the law in the UK.
If you have not officially exported your UK-registered car it will still be registered through DVLA at your UK address – but without road tax. You may find that demands will be sent for payment of the new fine, which is now imposed on individuals who have not paid their road tax, and these demands will be sent to your English address. After all, your UK-registered vehicle is still on the computer at DVLA. Perhaps one solution here is to inform DVLA that the vehicle is no longer being kept on the public roads in the UK. This is, after all, a true statement – it is on Spanish roads.
One point that should be made in this section is that when you move to Spain initially you will not be officially resident here – you will not have residencia – but so long as you are non-resident you can still legally drive a UK-registered vehicle. Once you are officially resident in Spain any car – even one imported from the UK – should be re-registered on Spanish plates. A Spanish resident cannot legally drive a car registered in another country. If you apply for residencia and continue to drive a UK-registered vehicle you could have problems if you are ever stopped by the police and asked to produce your documents. You may then need to bend the law slightly and show your British passport rather than admitting to having residencia.
What is really needed is agreement within the EU on the free movement of cars from one state to another. There is an official position on the free movement of citizens but not yet the free movement of vehicles with all documents recognised and the option to pay road tax in whatever country you live in.