Here’s a checklist of things to consider before driving in Portugal, including information about Portuguese road rules, car rentals, tolls, road signs, and driving license requirements.
If you’re planning to drive in Portugal, you’ll find that Portuguese roads are generally good, especially in built-up areas. The style of driving in Portugal, however, is sometimes aggressive or erratic. It’s best to drive cautiously.
For expats moving to Portugal, you must get a Portuguese driving license within 60 days after registering your residency in Portugal. Otherwise, you’ll be driving illegally in Portugal. Tourists and short-term visitors can drive in Portugal for up to six months using their foreign license.
Here are some tips for driving in Portugal plus important Portuguese road rules, including:
- Who can drive in Portugal?
- Foreign driving licenses in Portugal
- Road and car taxes in Portugal
- Portuguese tolls
- Road rules and tips for driving in Portugal
- Speed limits in Portugal
- Parking in Portugal
- Importing a car to Portugal
- Car rental in Portugal
- How to buy a car in Portugal
- Portuguese car insurance
Who can drive in Portugal?
The minimum age to drive a car in Portugal is 18 years. If you’re a foreign visitor, you can drive for up to six months without exchanging your foreign license. Certain permanent residents can use their foreign license until it expires. If your license doesn’t have an expiry date, you’ll need to exchange it within two years of moving to Portugal.
Foreign driving licenses in Portugal
If you’re an EU citizen with a license from your own country, you can drive in Portugal until it expires. After this point, you must renew it for a Portuguese driving license.
For non-EU citizens, whether you’ll be able to exchange your license or need to apply for a new one depends on whether your home country has a reciprocal agreement with Portugal.
You can find out more about exchanging your license for a Portuguese one in Expatica’s guide to Portuguese driving licenses.
Road and car taxes in Portugal
Imposto Unico de Circulacao is the Portuguese name for the road tax. Motorists pay tax annually on the date the car was originally registered, and you’ll need to keep your receipt as proof that you’ve paid. If your car was registered before 2007, how much tax you pay will depend on the age of the vehicle and its capacity. Newer cars are also judged on engine power and CO2 emissions.
Electronic toll roads in Portugal have existed across the country since 2012. When using Portuguese tolls, you’ll usually take a ticket from a machine when you enter the road and then hand it in and pay a charge at the toll booth (Portagen) when you leave. Private companies manage Portugal toll roads, so systems and fees vary.
If you use toll roads a lot, you can also subscribe to the Via Verde system. With this system, you’ll pay a monthly fee and an electronic device will be attached to your windscreen, which will automatically register you going through the toll.
- The TOLLCard is a pre-loaded card that works with electronic tolls. You can top up anything between €5–40 online or at a post office.
- TOLLService works slightly differently. This is a €20 pre-loaded ticket that you can use for up to three days.
- Finally, EASYtoll involves entering your license plate number and bank card details at a toll machine at the start of your journey and then having the fees automatically debited from your account.
Road rules and driving in Portugal tips
Here are some of the key rules you’ll need to know before driving in Portugal. Failure to adhere to some of these rules can result in fines:
- You must drive on the right.
- It’s illegal to use a mobile phone unless you have a hands-free system. Wearing headphones while driving is also illegal.
- You must have seatbelts fitted and all passengers must wear them.
- Children under 12 aren’t allowed to sit in the front unless they’re over 150cm tall.
- It’s illegal to overtake on the right in free-flowing traffic.
- Motorbikes cannot carry passengers under the age of seven years.
- Petrol, diesel and LPG fuel types are all readily available at petrol stations. You may need to pay a small charge if you use a credit card to pay.
- Green lanes on motorways are reserved for drivers using the automated payment systems. Avoid these if you’re not a member.
- Headlights must always be used in tunnels.
- You must carry your driving license, road tax certificate, registration documents and IPO certificate (if you’re driving an older car) at all times. Remembering these documents should now be easier than it once was, with your car registration documents, license place certificate and the logbook now replaced by the DUA All-in-One Vehicle Document (Documento Unico Automovel).
- You must have a minimum of third-party insurance and display your insurance sticker on your windscreen.
General speed limits in Portugal
- Built-up urban areas: 50km/h
- Rural roads: 90km/h
- Motorways: 120km/h
Speeding fines are charged on a sliding scale depending on how far above the limit you were driving. For example, if you’re between 30 and 60km/h over the speed limit on a rural road, you could face a fine of up to €600, but if you’re between 60 and 80km/h over the limit the fine could be as high as €1,500. You can find further information about speeding fines in Portugal on the Speeding Europe website.
Parking in Portugal
Parking restrictions tend to be in force in major cities, with illegal parking initially punished with fines. If you’re repeatedly caught parking illegally in Portugal, you could be given points on your license. This, in addition, affects your insurance premiums.
Here are some of the key things to keep an eye out for when parking in Portugal:
- No parking signs are called Estacionamento Probido.
- A white and blue sign with a red line across it usually signifies a no parking zone.
- Yellow or red signs painted on the curb also signify areas where parking is prohibited.
- You cannot park within 5m of a junction, 25m before or 5m after a bus stop, or within 6m of a tram stop.
- You should always park in the same direction as traffic on a one-way street.
In addition to these general rules, you should always check signs in the area where you’re parking, as some areas require a resident’s parking permit during certain hours of the day.
Importing a car to Portugal
Importing your car to Portugal can be a time-consuming and expensive process, with several different elements to factor in.
- Import duty: Regardless of whether you’re importing from an EU/EEA or non-EU country, you might need to pay import duty on your vehicle. The government’s Portal das Financas website (in Portuguese) offers a tool that can give you an idea of how much you might need to pay.
- Registration: You’ll need to provide a tax certificate, your original receipt, a certificate of compliance and a certificate of roadworthiness when registering your car. This means you’ll need to have an IPO (Inspeccao Periodica Orbigatoria) test to check your vehicle is up to Portuguese standards before you can use it. The IPO test is overseen by the IMTT (Instituto da Mobilidade e dos Transportes Terrestres).
- You’ll also need to adhere to the following additional rules of the road that apply to foreign vehicles:
- You must always carry a warning triangle
- Attach a sticker stating which country your vehicle is from
- Carry a valid insurance and registration document
- Always have proof of ID with you, as Portuguese police can issue on-the-spot fines
Car rental in Portugal
Car rentals in Portugal are available in major cities or from airports and are supplied by well-known international names and local companies. When renting a car in Portugal, you’ll need to pay a deposit by cash or credit card, which will be refunded when you return the vehicle in its original condition.
You’ll also need to provide the following documents when organizing your car rental in Portugal:
- Identity card
- Proof of address
- ID card showing name, date of birthday and address
- A valid driving license
How to buy a car in Portugal
Buying a car in Portugal can be an expensive matter. However, new cars tend to hold their premium value for longer than in other countries.
As a foreign buyer, you’ll need to show your official residence permit and proof of your address. This can either be in the form of your title deeds (if you own a home) or your rental contract (if you rent).
Portuguese car insurance
There are three main types of car insurance in Portugal:
- Third-party (Responsabilidade Civil Obrigatoria) – provides cover for other parties who need to make a claim after an accident involving you and your vehicle.
- Third-party and legal fees (Responsabilidade Civil Facultativa Juridicia) – also provides cover for any legal fees involved.
- Fully comprehensive insurance (Seguro Contra Todos) – insurance for all parties involved in the accident.
There is optional insurance available, such as Divida Segura, which provides cover in case of death or terminal injury, and Assistencia em Viagem, which covers problems such as breakdowns, loss of keys and punctures.
How much you’ll need to pay for car insurance depends on your age and driving history. The make, model, power and age of the vehicle you’re driving also play a role. When applying for car insurance in Portugal, you’ll usually need to provide details about where you live and your job as part of the risk assessment.
No-claims bonuses (Premio Bonus Malus) exist in Portugal and offer favorable rates for drivers who haven’t been involved in any accidents since their policy started.
If you’re involved in an accident, you’ll need to provide a claims form to your insurance company with seven days. Most insurers provide an around-the-clock phone number you can call immediately after an accident, and should be able to give specific advice based on your circumstances.