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DRIVING

Do I need a Spanish emissions sticker to drive my foreign car in Spain?

With the introduction of Spain's new 'low-emission zones' in towns and cities this year, many foreigners and tourists might be wondering if they need a Spanish emissions sticker to drive their foreign-registered car on the roads here.

Do I need a Spanish emissions sticker to drive my foreign car in Spain?
Though you won't have to buy a Spanish emissions sticker you'll likely have to register your car and pay to use the ZBEs, perhaps on a daily basis. Photo: Pixabay.

As part of the Spanish government’s climate change and energy transition legislation, a series of low-emission zones (Zonas de Bajas Emisiones, ZBE) were introduced across the country from January 1st 2023.

In order to help enforce these new ZBEs, the Spanish government are rolling out emissions stickers to identify which type of car you have, its emission status, and to help fine those drivers who disregard the new rules of the road.

You can find out more information about the different types of stickers and how they will affect drivers, which The Local covered here.

READ ALSO: GUIDE: How to get an emissions sticker for your car in Spain 

Understandably, as so many millions of people visit Spain on holiday every year, many are wondering how all this will affect them especially if they drive in Spain in a foreign registered car.

Do I have to buy a Spanish emissions sticker for my internationally registered car?

No, well at least not the emissions-specific stickers Spanish drivers will use, anyway. But you may have to purchase something depending on where you are from and where you are going, as we explain below. 

In fact, the DGT do not even release or allow Spanish emissions stickers on foreign cars.

READ ALSO: The new road signs drivers in Spain need to know in 2023

So what do I have to do?
 
As these low-emissions zones are newly established and many areas aren’t even enforcing them yet, it isn’t clear yet how exactly cars with international license plates will have to identify themselves in the new ZBEs. There are a handful of European countries (see below) that have equivalent emissions stickers that can be used in Spain, but most don’t.
 
And as these ZBEs will be so localised, that is, town and city halls will have a certain degree of autonomy with regards to the rules because there are nationally binding regulations, it is likely that the rules on foreign cars will be on a city by city basis.
 
We can, however, use Madrid and Barcelona as examples that might give us a better idea of how it’ll probably work.
 
 
The short answer is: though you won’t have to buy a Spanish emissions sticker (like Spaniards will be required to have), you’ll likely have to register your car and pay to use the ZBEs, perhaps on a daily basis.
 
If we take Barcelona, for example, according to the ZBE registration and authorisation page foreign cars wanting to drive in the ZBEs must be registered. Of course, some internationally registered cars will meet the environmental requirements and can obtain long-term permits to be able to drive anywhere in Barcelona whenever they want. These vehicles are generally:
 
  • Motorcycles and mopeds (category L) classified as Euro 2 or higher (usually registered after 2003).

  • Passenger cars (M1) classified as electric, Euro 3 gasoline (usually registered after 2000) or higher or Euro 4 diesel or higher (usually registered after 2005).

  • Trucks (N2, N3), buses and coaches (M2, M3): electric, diesel Euro 4 or higher (usually registered after 2005).

Others however, especially older cars, won’t meet those requirements and have to apply for day permits, and can use up to 10 one-day authorisations throughout the year.

You can find all the information you need about registering, applying and paying for the day permits here.

Registration is €5 and it’s €2 per extra day authorisation, so we can use those figures as a ball-park estimate for what other ZBE passes around Spain might be.

You can find information on registering your car in the Madrid ZBE here.

Though most areas are still finalising the details of their ZBEs, it’s likely other cities will use similar systems and you’ll have to register you car and pay for some kind of daily permit to use the low-emission zones.

What happens if I don’t?

If you drive into a ZBE without authorisation (and are caught), you’ll be fined €200. This is the flat-rate fine for Spaniards and foreigners, established in Spain’s Traffic Law reforms back in March 2022.

What if I live in a country with its own vehicle emissions categories?

If you live in a country like France and already have an equivalent sticker then you won’t have to buy a Spanish emissions sticker. In fact, you likely won’t have to pay anything at all, depending on your car.

There are several other countries in Europe that have their own system of environmental car stickers. These are Germany, Austria, Denmark, and France.

If you have a car registered in one of these countries and want to drive in Spain, specifically in one of the newly established ZBEs, or in certain parts of Madrid and Barcelona, where they’ve been established for some time, you’ll be able to drive with the sticker from your own country but will need to understand what they entitle you to do and where they entitle you to go.

What their equivalent in Spain would be, in other words, as this could potentially affect where you’re allowed to drive.

Fortunately, the DGT does have some guidance on this, which you can find here.

Petrol cars

According to the DGT website, if you have a petrol car or small van the sticker equivalencies are as follows.

Equivalent emissions stickers for petrol cars and small vans. Photo: Dirección General de Tráfico

Diesel cars

If you have a diesel car or small van:

Equivalent emissions stickers for diesel cars and small vans. Photo: Dirección General de Tráfico

Motorbikes and other two-wheel vehicles

Equivalent emissions stickers motorbikes and other two-wheel vehicles. Photo: Dirección General de Tráfico
 
Alternative energy vehicles 
 

Equivalent emissions stickers for alternative energy vehicles. Photo: Dirección General de Tráfico
 
Low-emissions zones
 
The new rules apply to municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants, which number 149 across the Spanish territory, and authorities in municipalities with more than 20,000 inhabitants and high air pollution levels will also have to introduce the new measures.

It is worth noting, however, that despite the new rules officially being introduced to start 2023, they are not being actively enforced yet. In fact, many cities have already suggested that it could take some time, such as Zaragoza, which has said it will take months to begin applying it, and Valencia, where the deadline to finalise the rules and fines has been vaguely defined as sometime “in the course of 2023.”

The only places implanting the rules (and fines) to start of 2023 are Madrid, Barcelona, Pontevedra, in Galicia, and Zaragoza.

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ENVIRONMENT

France to probe microplastic pellet pollution on Atlantic beaches

French prosecutors said on Friday they would investigate the appearance of vast quantities of tiny toxic plastic pellets along the Atlantic coast that endanger marine life and the human food chain.

France to probe microplastic pellet pollution on Atlantic beaches

The criminal probe will follow several legal complaints about the pellet invasion lodged by local authorities and the central government in Paris, Camille Miansoni, chief prosecutor in the western city of Brest, told AFP.

The microscopic pellets, called nurdles, are the building blocks for most of the world’s plastic production, from car bumpers to salad bowls.

They are usually packed in bags of 25 kilogrammes for transport, each containing around a million nurdles, which are sometimes called “Mermaids’ Tears”. 

But they can easily spill into the ocean when a cargo ship sinks or loses a container. Environmentalists also suspect that factories sometimes dump them into the sea.

Fish and birds often mistake them for food and, once ingested, the tiny granules can make their way into the diet of humans.

Experts told AFP the nurdles found along the coast of Brittany may have come from a plastic industry container that fell into the sea.

“We can’t rule out a single source for the industrial pellets,” said Nicolas Tamic at the CEDRE pollution research body in Brest.

On Tuesday, the French government filed a legal complaint against persons unknown and called for a international search for any containers that may have been lost at sea.

Local authorities have followed suit, and the environmental crime branch of the Brest prosecutor’s office will lead the investigation.

Last weekend, around 100 people took part in a clean-up campaign on a microplastic-infested beach in Pornic in Brittany to collect pellets and draw attention to the problem. 

“We think they’ve come from a container that may have been out there for a while and opened up because of recent storms,” said Lionel Cheylus, spokesman for the NGO Surfrider Foundation.

“Our action is symbolic. It’s not like we’re going to pick up an entire container load,” said Annick, a pensioner, as she filled her yoghurt pot with nurdles. 

French politicians have taken note. Joel Guerriau, a senator from the region, has called for a “clear international designation” of  the pellets as being harmful.

Ecological Transition Minister Christophe Bechu labelled the nurdles “an environmental nightmare”, telling AFP the government would support associations fighting pellet pollution.

Ingesting plastic is harmful for human health but nurdles, in addition, attract chemical contaminants found in the sea to their surface, making them even more toxic.

Measuring less than five millimetres in size, they are not always readily visible except when they wash up in unusually huge quantities, as has been the case since late November along the northwestern French coast.

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