If you’re planning a holiday to Spain and intend to drive while there, take note, as new laws designed to tackle vehicle pollution could hit your wallet. The introduction of low emission zones is being rolled out gradually across the country, and you may face fines if your vehicle is unregistered or does not meet standards.

Here we look at what’s happening in the popular sun-filled destination and delve into what you’ll need to consider as a holidaymaker driving in Spain.

What are low emission zones?

As part of a national initiative, introduced by the Spanish government, any municipality with more than 50,000 residents is required to introduce low emission zones. These are known as ‘zonas de bajas emisiones’ or ZBEs.

The zones are predominantly found in inner city areas and are designed to tackle polluting vehicles and boost air quality standards. This is done by placing restrictions on older, and the most polluting petrol and diesel vehicles.

Efforts have progressed in the 149 municipalities impacted to date, but many are yet to implement the rules or to enforce them (despite an impending deadline of the end of 2023). It’s also important to note that each municipality is responsible for implementing a ZBE, so the approaches vary from one city to the next.

Where in Spain does the ZBE already apply?

A number of ZBEs have already been implemented in major cities, including in Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Zaragoza and Cordoba. Other municipalities, including tourism hotspots in Granada, Malaga and Palma de Mallorca, have requested extensions, meaning their ZBEs may not be active until 2024.

Alongside central Madrid, the municipality of Rivas-Vaciamadrid, also has a zone set up. Several regions around Barcelona, as well as the city itself, also have operational ZBEs, namely: Badalona, Hospitalet de Llobregat, Cornellà de Llobregat, and Sant Cugat del Vallès.

A Coruna in Galacia, Pamplona – famed for its Running of the Bulls festival – and Pontevedra are among the other destinations where you’ll find that restrictions apply.

What happens if you don’t comply with ZBE rules?

You can expect hefty fines for driving vehicles that do not meet emission standards in ZBEs. Foreign vehicles may need to be registered too (this is the case in Barcelona), so it’s worth checking if you intend to take your own vehicle with you on a trip.

If you have an electric car or a zero-emission vehicle it will be exempt, although you’ll likely still need to register it for the regions where you intend to drive. You’ll want to check the scope of the zones too, as they can include parts of ring roads and other major city routes. One such example is Madrid’s M-30 inner-city motorway, which falls inside the main Madrid ZBE.

The rules apply to rental cars too, but most car hire firms should have already added the necessary emissions stickers to their vehicle fleets. However, you should speak to your hire company if you’re unsure and check the vehicle for an emissions sticker when you first get the keys. It should be placed in the bottom right-hand corner of the windscreen, is coloured blue, green or yellow, and should read ‘0’, ‘eco’, ‘B’ or ‘C’.

Insurance you should consider if you are travelling to Spain and renting a car Car Rental Excess Insurance and Travel Insurance from Questor Insurance.