Spain

Hiring a Car & Driving in Spain: Everything You Need to Know

Last Updated August, 2021

Are you thinking to travel to Spain soon? This is a wonderful country that will definitely amaze you and where traveling once is never enough. Even though public transportation is well developed, hiring a car in Spain will open up a totally different world for you. It will help to discover the country far beyond the well-known and crowded touristy places.

I believe that in general, Europe has to be explored by car and Spain is no exception here. With so many hidden gems, scenic roads, and charming small towns with local vibrant taverns and warm-hearted people, the car is rather a necessity.

Renting a car in Spain is easy. However, it is not that cheap as it used to be. What’s interesting, Spain was one of the cheapest countries to rent a car in Europe but with the pandemic, it became much more expensive (below I explain why). Yet, it is expected that the price will go down in the nearest future (if there are no more complete lockdowns and movement restrictions of course). 

I put together one long post answering all questions that you guys asked and even more. If you still have a question, drop a comment in the end of the article and I’ll do my best to help. I rented cars in Spain dozens of times and am happy to share what I know.


Please note: This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a commission if you make a purchase or booking by clicking a link (at no extra cost to you).

Do You Need to Hire a Car in Spain At All?

car hire in spain

Well, that’s a good question to ask which really depends on your agenda and where exactly you are planning to travel.

If you intend only to visit and stay in big cities like Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Malaga, Seville and so on, then you absolutely do not need to rent a car. Getting from one city to another is easy too since public transportation is very good. But it takes much more time. If you are having a week or a few weeks in Spain, you may end up spending more time on getting places than actually seeing and exploring.

If your main goal is only to spend time in cities, you do NOT need a car. In fact, having one will make your life harder.

It may also apply to any large city in Europe. Parking is expensive, driving in Spanish cities many times is pretty intense, and why even bother when public transport is well developed.

However, if you are considering the idea of getting out of large cities and exploring what’s there nearby (which I highly recommend doing), that’s a totally different story. Spain has so much more to offer than big cities and this is when renting a car becomes very useful. I have been to Spain a few times already, even lived there, now plan future trips, and I wouldn’t even consider not getting a car.

Hiring a car in Spain will help you save time and go on off-the-beaten-track adventures. I’ll share below some tips on how also to find cheap car rentals. Even with too high prices, it is still possible to score a good deal.

Where to Rent a Car in Spain?

So for budget reasons and often for convenience, it is better to hire a car in Spain in major international airports such as Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez Airport (MAD), Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport (BCN), Seville Airport (SVQ), Valencia Airport (VLC), and so on.

Even though there are some airport surcharge fees added to your final bill, it is still a lot cheaper than renting somewhere in the city office. Chance is, you might be flying into one of those airports anyway. And since they are always on the outskirts of the metropolitan areas, you can quickly jump on a highway and drive away from the busy streets of the city.

car hire in Spain

Now, since we rent often and tested many services throughout the years, I selected two main aggregators to rent through. In our experience, it is almost never worth hiring a car in Spain directly from a big supplier like Budget, Avis, Europecar, etc. Prices are almost always much higher.

So our favorite resource to look for car rentals in Spain is:

Discover Cars

This is a large aggregator that searches for the best deals across many rental companies. Combined with the ease of the booking process, navigation, and good service, makes it the best place to start looking.

QEEQ

The majority of my rentals in the past (not only in Spain but Europe in general) came from this aggregator. Their prices are not so competitive lately but still worths checking and it comes with its own benefits.

With QEEQ, you can quickly see the different packages for insurance and other deals that come with the rental. They have excellent customer service and many offices in North America, Europe, Asia and Oceania, which makes it so much easier to contact them even by phone if ever need to. 

Canceling bookings is easy and there is a cool cashback program. Also, there is a price-match and automate rebooking feature. You can book a car in advance and if the price drops, the system will automatically rebook it for you, which is awesome! They also have a points-based system letting you earn points for your booking that you can use later for discounts. Oh, and a good mobile app. That’s important, right? So definitely check them out.

Cost of Car Rentals in Spain

car hire in Spain

Before 2020, Spain used to be one of the cheapest countries for rental cars in Europe. But after the pandemic, prices skyrocketed. As a whole, the rental car market became very chaotic around the world. But still, compared to most other countries, Spain stays rather on a cheaper side (compared to most other countries).

One piece of advice – if you want to rent a car, try to rent it for a little longer period of time. For example, a car for 1 day in Madrid in August will cost you around $85. The same type of car for 1 week is going to be around $185. See the difference? 

In the offseason, which goes from October until the end of December, and from February until May, expect these prices:

Mini Class : $25 – $40. For example Fiat 500.

Economy Class : $30 – $50. For example Opel Corsa.

Standard Class : $45 – $90. For example Nissan Juke. 

Prices for Automatic Transmission Car

Spain is one of the most expensive countries in Western Europe to rent an automatic car. Most cars are manual and prices for them are lower. Normally, the cost for the automatic transmission is 1.5 – 2 times higher.

There is a small chance a car agent may give you an automatic car if there are no manuals available. It has happened to me before but not in Spain. Yet, I wouldn’t count much on that.

Why is Car Hire So Expensive in Spain?

And now, I want to cover a very interesting topic. My clients noticed, we noticed, and I feel like everyone else also noticed that car hire went up in Spain tremendously. So what is happening on the car rental market in general?

To be honest, that’s not only Spain. Prices for car hire in Turkey (where we are based part of the year), in Montenegro, in Georgia, and pretty much anywhere else went up.

What we have right now is a perfect storm on the market. And there are a couple of reasons for that.

To begin with, in the first year of pandemic and very strict lockdowns, rental companies faced tough choices. Those rentals that built their business model on the purchase and sale of cars (the majority of local international companies and one of the largest is Hertz) gradually sold out their vehicles during the year. They needed to receive cash that allowed them to maintain minimum viability: to pay salaries, taxes, office-warehouse-garage expenses, and cover insurance costs.

At first, they started selling what was less popular among the general public – motorcycles, luxury cars, convertibles, and minivans. But then the turn came to the main part of the rental fleet.

In the beginning, it was enough to cover all the expenses, but the sale price was so low that there was no return on capital. And they had direct losses. This is the exact reason why some companies (like Hertz, for example) went bankrupt.

Those rental companies that built their business on leasing didn’t struggle as much. They returned most of their cars to the lessors, paid the fines, and just sat there and waited.

For a while, the demand for cars was very small. Noone expected travelers to return any time soon. But then countries started to open their borders and a lot of people started finding ways how to travel again even with restrictions and a lot of new rules.

When tourists arrived, companies had almost nothing to rent. Whatever is available has to undergo the service but with only a few workers in the office (since many got laid off), it is impossible to do everything on time. So companies now rent out whatever they have in whatever condition. Some managed to get ready and quickly service the fleet, others prepared just some cars while the majority completely fell behind not having the money to do it all.

Those rentals that exist on the sale and purchase of cars, ran into a shortage of supplies, overloaded auto repair shops, absence of personnel, and lack of capital. Other rental companies that live on leasing (and since they returned all their cars to lessors) rushed to dealers and banks for new cars to meet the wave of demand. But then they were hit by Cryptominers and a new world problem a shortage of microchips.

Cryptominers have bought up all the hardware that could compute the crypto coins. Production of microchips has become too slow for the demand all over the world.

Since all modern cars contain a lot of electronics in them, they also got affected by the shortage. As a result, automakers stockpiled finished cars without electronics overflowing warehouses and shutting down factories. General Motors alone expects to be under $2 billion this year due to microchip and semiconductor shortages and the under-production of cars. 

As a result, buying new cars became almost impossible. Prices for new and used cars have gone up. Therefore, prices for rental vehicles also rose by 2 times, and in some places by 3 times. What we used to rent in Spain for 10 euros per day is now rented for almost 100 euros. And that’s an old shabby automobile.

When everything is returning back to normal? I don’t think anyone knows, we just have to wait and see. Meanwhile, you have a choice of paying what it is and accepting the fact that it is expensive and the quality of a rental vehicle will be probably poor. Or just wait to travel in the off-season when prices significantly drop.

Do You Need Insurance?

So how does it all work with insurance? When do you need it and when you don’t?

The majority of rentals online come with the Collision Damage Waiver and Theft Waiver. What it means, is that if you drive your car into the lake or something, you don’t get away with it completely. Instead, you are going to pay for damages out of your deposit.

This deposit usually is €500 – €3000 depending on the company and type of the car you get. If you rent a luxury type car, you will have to provide two credit cards for two separate deposits.

In case of an accident or simply a scratch, the car company will take money from the deposit you left. And so you know, they charge a lot. For a tiny scratch, you may have to pay a few hundred dollars (this is what happened to us.) If you are involved in an accident when it is not your fault, they will still charge you for the damages no matter what. How much the company charges is never clear in advance.

Overall this option is reasonable. You rent a car, you give a deposit, and in case of anything, you just pay for it. This can be stressful though.

When to Purchase Full Coverage?

Renting a car in Spain

Your second option is to purchase full coverage during your online booking. The cost of online insurance is not very low.

If you are hiring a car for a day or a few, the price for the insurance usually starts at $12 per day and more. If you plan to rent for a week or more, then the price may go down to $8 per day or more. The lowest I have seen is $3 per day if you are renting for 28 days. But that depends on the season. Particularly this cost I had for the fall and the spring.

With full coverage, you do get a worry-free experience. However, you need to make sure that your full package covers EVERYTHING. Sometimes the company excludes windshields, tires, mirrors, and roof damages even though it offers “full coverage”.

Another important thing to understand with this online insurance is that you still have to leave the deposit. And if there is any damage to the car, the car supplier will charge you the same as if you only had the collision damage waiver. What your insurance package does, in this case, reimburses you everything and it is a relatively easy process. Still, you would have to deal with this on your own.

Another option is to get full insurance directly from a car supplier at the counter desk. In this case, you can really have a worry-free experience and do with a car whatever you want (literally). But this is where the car hire company really makes money. The insurance costs can easily go up to €25 euros per day.

When You Can Rent a Car in Spain Without Any Insurance

Northern coast of Spain
The northern coast of Spain is that part of the country where you definitely need a car

I am going to speak for North Americans here. This might be obvious to many people, but it wasn’t for me.

Sometimes your rental car insurance comes free with your credit card, like Bank of America Travel Rewards card or Chase Sapphire, for example. This insurance is indeed free and normally covers your rental for up to 30 days in almost any country in the world (except Ireland).

If you are not aware of this, call your bank and ask them for details. I am sure the same is applicable to many banks in Europe as well. Banks in England, Germany, France, Norway should definitely have the same offer.

What to Know When Using Your Bank’s Insurance

If you want to use this insurance, then make sure you put your rental costs on this card only. Also, by bank policy, you have to decline the insurance from the car rental company. Many times it is not possible since the car already comes with a basic package that has some type of insurance. In this case, just book the minimum required and you can explain that later.

If something has happened and the car company charges you for the damages, make sure you get all the necessary documentation. That includes a police report (not crucial), invoice for the damages, the price list, the accident report (not the same as police, just your own describing what happened). Also, make sure you take photos of the damage.

If your Credit Card company provides you with this insurance, it is up to you whether to use it or not. Since you still have to deal with all the paperwork and all. But it can save you a lot of money, especially if you plan to rent for the long term and/or often. I go with this option myself. Actually, one time, when we got a flat tire and a car rental company charged us almost $400, the Bank’s insurance covered every penny.

What Documentation Do You Need to Hire a Car in Spain?

driving in Spain

Picking up a rental car in Spain is easy and it doesn’t differ from most of the places.

Have your Driver’s Licence ready. As long as it is in the Latin alphabet, you will not need an International Drivers Permit, although many contracts online say it may be required. I think the reason they mention it is because of the police. If police stop a visitor from the U.S., they’ll ask for an International Drivers Permit. So you may want to have it just in case.

Even if you have already paid for the rental, have a credit card ready for deposit. The credit card must have the driver’s name on it and be valid for another three months. Even if your partner, wife or husband has a credit card with the same number on it and wants to pay for the rental, rental companies will not accept it. They only want the card with the driver’s name on it.

If you, as a driver cannot provide such a card, your only way to avoid a deposit is to purchase the full insurance at the counter desk or add a second driver to your contract.

Be aware, most car rental companies only accept Visa and MasterCard. No American Express. And don’t forget to set a travel notice for Spain with your bank.

Additional Costs

car hire in Spain

What I noticed (after renting a car in different parts of Spain) is that hidden charges are a big thing.

There are the airport surcharge fee and tax. Many countries in Europe actually include that in the price that you see online. Well, Spain does not. At least most of the time. What it means, since we are renting at the airport, we will need to pay from a few euros up to twenty-five euros. Just something to remember.

If you can, book a car with a fuel policy of Full to Full. In this case, everything is simple. You get a car with a full tank, you return a car with a full tank. Everybody is happy.

Many times your cheapest rental option will be Full to Empty. And this does NOT mean that they give you a car with a full tank and you can return it dry. It actually means that you have to prepay your gas at their rate per liter. If you return your car with some fuel left, they reimburse you for that fuel. Yet, you are not going to get the same money that you paid at the counter desk. It’s always less.

Unless a free additional driver is included in your rental package, you will have to pay extra from €5 to €15 per day. So throw your coin on who’s gonna drive before your trip.

You can almost never take a car outside of the country as is, even to Portugal. But you can take a car to another country for a fee. Usually, it costs around €50 euros per rental period. In some cases, it may be a daily charge of around €10 per day.

If you decide to cross the border, don’t forget the Supplier’s agreement. If you don’t take it, your car insurance will not cover a cent in case of an accident, even your collision damage waiver.

Picking up and dropping off the car outside business hours means you have to pay for that. The company needs to have someone to meet you in the office, so they always charge for this service.

Toll roads in Spain are not included in your rental price. Pay each toll at the booth as you go.

Driving in Spain

Overall, driving in Spain is easy and relaxing if driving outside large cities. Cities can be somewhat stressful primarily because of the big roundabouts. I am talking about roundabouts with 4, 5 lanes in them. In my opinion, this is the hardest part since the traffic there can be fast and chaotic. Whatever you do, don’t hit the car on your right, this will be your fault. 

If you are coming from North America and have never driven in Europe before, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. The traffic laws are pretty much the same with a few changes. But the main thing that you should understand is the “Right of Way” rule. What is basically means is this:

This sign means you are driving on the priority road. You have the Right of Way and all the traffic that is turning onto the road should yield.

 

 

The end of the priority road.

 

 

There are many variations for this sign but it shows where is the priority road is. In this case, you are turning left and you don’t need to yield to anyone. But if you were coming from the opposite direction straight ahead, you would need to stop and make sure it’s clear before proceeding.

 

 

The signs above are simple and easy to follow. And actually you don’t see them as much in Spain as in many other European countries. But there is one more rule that is important to understand. That is the “Give way to the right”. And this rule applies to unmarked crossings and equal priority.

I will give an example.

Imagine you are coming to a 4-stop intersection along with the other cars. Since everyone has a Stop sign, there is no priority road. So the car that stopped first has the priority of way and has to go first. In Spain, or Europe in general, you would need to yield to the traffic coming in on the right-hand side, then you can drive (unless traffic is coming from a parking lot or a garage).

Sometimes you can see this sign that warns you of the intersection up ahead where nobody has the priority of way. What it means for you is that if someone is coming onto your road from the right, you will have to go first, and you have to stop or slow down to let them pass.

 

I know, this can be very confusing but luckily, in Spain, you don’t see this often at all. In fact, you might be driving for a long time and not have an encounter, unless in a very rural area.

Parking Situation in Spain

Parking in Spain is pretty straightforward.

White lines mean parking is free. Blue lines – paid parking. If parking for a fee then put the receipt on the dashboard. Usually, parking is enforced from 8 am until 6 or 8 pm. Sundays are often free (not always). In some areas, parking can be also free in wintertime.

Green lines mean parking is available only with a permit. Usually for the local folks. If you are a tourist, you cannot park.

Yellow lines in any form – parking is forbidden.

Parking Garage – pay per hour or the whole day. Pay at the parking payment machine before exiting.

Unless you are in a large city, it is often possible to find free parking but almost never in downtown. So if you circle around long enough, you will find something but it doesn’t always worth the time. Finding paid parking (garage or blue-lined parking) is not usually a problem.

Gasoline

Unless you rent a car from a small local company, you will always get a car that requires 95 Regular (same as 91 premium in the US). The gas station has a pump with a green-colored label. In general, it is around €1.40 in 2021.

The full tank on an economy type of car comes to about €50 which will cover up to 600-800 km, depending on how and where you drive. In Spain, gas station workers pump the gas for you. You don’t need to get out of the car unless you need to pay with the card inside of the station. You are not required to leave a tip.

By the way, you may get a fine for running out of petrol on certain main roads in Spain.

Conclusion – So Should You Rent a Car in Spain or Not?

Spain is a big country with many sightseeing spots. While visiting all major cities is fun and traveling by public transportation between cities is comfortable and easy, if you want to explore smaller towns and drive around the mountains or coastline, you need a car. Much of Spain’s beauty is outside big cities.

With a car, you can also explore at your own pace and have the freedom to go wherever you want.

More Resources for Travel in Spain

Barcelona to Valencia road trip – one of my favorite road trips in Spain! Why not rent a car in Barcelona (where you’ll find many deals) and explore the entire coast?

My top travel tips for Barcelona – for an easy and pleasant visit. 

Northern Coast of Spain Travel Guide – best places to visit and things to do in Northern Spain.

Traveling to Spain in winter – where to find the warmest place, where to go if you love winter sports, hot springs, beaches, museums, and more.

Spain packing guide – what to pack & what to wear in Spain during every season.  

Before you start looking for rental car deals in Spain, read this guide which covers all details on where to hire a car in Spain, how to save money, what to know about driving, rental insurance, traffic laws, hidden costs and more #spaintravel #europetravel #spainbudget
Before you start looking for rental car deals in Spain, read this guide which covers all details on where to hire a car in Spain, how to save money, what to know about driving, rental insurance, traffic laws, hidden costs and more #spaintravel #europetravel #spainbudget
Hiring a car in Spain

Hey there! I am Mark. I mostly stay behind the scenes of Road is Calling but occasionally I like to contribute and share my perspective on our digital nomad life and travels.

14 Comments

  • Safeer Automotive

    Amazing tips! Now I know a lot more about renting a car in Europe. Thanks for sharing this informative and helpful post and I wish you luck for more wonderful work in the future.

  • SUV Rental

    I really appreciate that you shared this informative post with us and this will really help a lot in hiring a car in Spain. Thanks and keep up the great work.

  • Chael

    Renting a car in Spain will never be the cheapest option for transportation, but it might be the most convenient… My friend advised me to know properly about everything before going to Spain and driving there, thanks for sharing it.. I was looking for gathering information on this.

  • L King

    Hi! We are planning a trip fro July 2021, and I am not seeing the prices you mentioned here. Even when I change my search to be in 7-day increments. Any updates since you published this? Or ideas on why it’s gone up so much?

    • Anya

      Hi L King! I haven’t updated this post yet which was written right before the pandemic. But you are right, prices are going up indeed because Spain is opening up and they are trying to make up for the last year. Besides that July is one of those months when prices are the highest. We were looking at them too and were shocked how high they are now. Your best bet would be vipcars.com if you plan to go in July.

  • L King

    Ah, I should also mention that we are trying to book from Bilboa. Is that too small of a city to get the deals you are talking about here?

    • Anya

      Bilbao actually might have better deals than large cities like Madrid and Barcelona. Right now is just not the best time since after such a long break everyone is trying to make money understanding that tourists are coming back. I am going to update this post soon to add the most recent information.

  • Khurram Mirza

    Anya we are going to Barcelona and staying there for 5 days and driving to Valencia – found your other post very useful. Anyway do you think best to get taxi from the airport to Barcelona and use public transport in Barcelona or hire car for Barcelona too? Hire car from Barcelona to Valencia and drop off in Valencia as we flying back to UK from Valencia?

    • Anya

      Hi Khurram, no, do not rent a car for Barcelona, you definitely don’t need it! Parking can be a nightmare and public transport is on a good level, so you can easily move around the city using buses and subway.
      As for the airport, it depends on how many people are traveling and how much luggage you will guys have. Barcelona airport is well connected to the city and you could jump on the train or bus to reach the center. So that part depends on what makes you feel more comfortable.
      But in regards to a car, no need to rent it for Barcelona, I actually wouldn’t rent it for any big city in Southern Spain.

      I hope that answers your question. Happy travels! 🙂

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