Find out if you need a Portuguese driving licence as a foreigner, whether by taking a driver licence test in Portuguese, arranging a Portuguese driving licence exchange or using an international driving permit in Portugal.
You don’t typically need a Portuguese driving licence as a temporary visitor in Portugal (up to six months), as it is generally permitted to drive using your international licence or EU licence during this period.
If you relocate to Portugal, however, requirements change once you get a Portuguese residence permit, after which certain nationalities have a timeframe in which they must apply for a Portuguese driving licence. Other nationalities, such as EU citizens, can continue to drive without a Portuguese driver’s licence but still need to register with Portugal’s traffic authority.
This guide explains if you need a driving licence in Portugal, who can arrange a Portuguese driving licence exchange and who will need to take the driver license test in Portuguese, plus some general road rules in Portugal and the process of importing a car to Portugal.
Who needs a Portuguese driving licence?
You’ll need to be at least 18 years of age to drive a car in Portugal. As a temporary visitor, you’re allowed to use a valid international licence for up to six months. If you continue to use your licence after this date without renewing it or arranging Portuguese driving licence exchange, you could face heavy fines. When driving as a visitor it can be worth purchasing an International Driving Permit, even though it isn’t required in all cases.
If you relocate to Portugal and become a permanent resident, however, the conditions change. If you have an EU/EEA licence you can simply continue to use this until it expires. If you have a non-EU licence, you may be mandated to get a Portuguese driving licence.
Portugal driving licence exchange: for EU licences
If you move to Portugal and want to continue using your international driving permit, you’ll need to inform the Institute for Mobility and Transport (IMT, Instituto da Mobilidade e dos Transportes) within 30 days of obtaining your residence certificate. You can also continue using your EU driving licence until it expires. Failure to let the IMT know you’ll be using your old licence can result in significant fines.
However, it can still be worthwhile to arrange a Portugal driving licence exchange for your EU licence. This is largely because if your licence is damaged, stolen or lost, it can only be replaced by the organisation that issued it. This may cause problems in some cases, for example, if you have a UK licence the DVLA doesn’t renew or replace licences to addresses abroad.
When registering for a Portuguese driving licence exchange, you’ll need to provide the following documents:
- Proof of residency
- A completed IMT Modelo 13 application form
- A photocopy of your current driving licence
- Proof of identity
You will typically pay a fee and may need to provide a medical report if requested.
Even if you hold an EU driving licence that remains valid for an unlimited period, you still have to renew your licence for a Portuguese one, two years after changing your official place of residence.
Portuguese driver’s licences: for non-EU citizens
Non-EU licence holders are allowed to drive in Portugal using their foreign licence for a fixed period. How long you’ll be allowed to use your existing licence depends on where you’re from.
Typically, if your country is part of the Road Traffic International Agreements, you must exchange your non-EU driving licence within 185 days after obtaining residence in Portugal. If you’re an Australian, Canadian, South African or US citizen, for example, you can use your licence for six months before you must exchange it for a Portuguese driving licence.
When exchanging a US licence for a driving licence in Portugal, American citizens need to apply for an abstract of their driving record from their last state of residence and a physician’s certificate to prove they are fit to drive.
As Australian licences don’t have a ‘valid from’ date printed on them, citizens may need to get a document from the Australian authorities to confirm their licence start date.
If you have previously exchanged your foreign licence in another country, you are free to use your EU licence.
You can find out how exchanging a licence works for citizens from your country on the IMT website.
Driving licence test in Portugal
When your foreign licence expires, or if you’ve never had one at all, you’ll need to pass a Portuguese driving test. The driving test in Portugal consists of three parts – technical, theoretical and practical:
- Theoretical – 30 questions in 35 minutes (Passing mark: 27 out of 30)
- Technical exam – 50 minutes
- Practical driving exam – 40-50 minutes with instructor and examiner present.
Prior to taking the driving exam, you’ll need to take at least 32 hours of lessons at a driving school and have passed the theoretical part of the test. Before you enrol with a driving school, make sure it is a government-licensed driving centre. Choose from a list of certified driving schools across Portugal.
Once you have completed your course with a driving school, you can apply for a registration form for a driving licence and the practical driving exam.
If you don’t speak Portuguese, your Embassy may accredit an interpreter, who will be allowed to attend your exam and translate the driver licence test in Portuguese.
Older drivers in Portugal need to undergo medical and psychological examinations when renewing the validity of their Portuguese driving licence at ages 50, 60, 65 and 70, and drivers older than 70 must take a revalidation test.
Replacing a Portuguese driver’s licence
If you lose or damage your Portuguese driving licence or need to change your personal details, you can apply for a replacement by providing the following documents:
- An IMT form
- A photocopy of your passport or ID card
- Two colour photographs.
Portugal driving authority
Driving in Portugal
General road rules in Portugal
- The driver and all passengers must wear seatbelts.
- You must carry both parts of your foreign driving licence or driving licence in Portugal.
- You’ll also need your vehicle registration document, MOT and a certificate of insurance.
- It can be helpful to carry your passport in case you are randomly stopped.
- You should carry a warning triangle and a reflective vest.
- You should give priority to traffic from the right.
- You’re not allowed to use green lanes on motorways unless you have an electronic toll collection device.
- It’s illegal to carry a can of petrol in your car.
When a car flashes its headlights, it means they want the right of way – the opposite of how this works in some other European countries.
Speed limits in Portugal
An ‘on the spot’ traffic fine can apply, where police may demand immediate payment either in cash or by credit card. Fines range from around EUR 300 up to EUR 2,500, depending on the excess over the speed limit and the zone, with higher fines imposed in urban areas.
- Urban areas – 50 km/h (30 mph)
- Rural roads – 90 km/h (54 mph)
- Motorways – 120 km/h (72 mph); minimum 50 km/h (30 mph)
Road signs and signals in Portugal
- Warning signs are red triangles with illustrations in the centre for things such as sharp turns, narrow roads and animal crossings.
- An exclamation point means the danger is unspecified and you should pay extra attention.
- Mandatory signs are blue and circular, while informational signs are usually rectangular.
- A round white or blue sign with a red circle and diagonal cross means you’re not allowed to park.
You can find a list of Portuguese road signs here.
Drunk driving in Portugal
Drunk driving in Portugal results in significant fines. The drunk driving limit is 0.49g/L. If you are above the limit you can receive a fine of EUR 1,250 and have your Portuguese driving licence or international driving permit suspended for up to a year. People found to be significantly over the limit could face double the fine and anything from a long driving ban to a year in prison.
Importing a car to Portugal
Importing a car to Portugal from your home country, registering and driving it can be a complicated process depending on where you’re bringing your car from. Whether you’ll need to pay import duty on your vehicle depends on a variety of factors, so it’s best to check the Portal das Financas website, where you can get an estimate of how much import tax you might need to pay. You will also need to ensure your vehicle conforms to Portuguese road standards.
Once you’ve received your residency card, you will need to register your foreign car in Portugal. When you come to register your car, you’ll need to provide a tax clearance certificate issued by customs, your original receipt of purchase, a copy of your foreign registration certificate and a certificate of roadworthiness (IPO), which will be issued by an IMT-approved service centre.
If you’re importing a car to Portugal and driving your own car in Portugal, you’ll also need to follow some rules:
- You must carry a warning triangle in your car in case you break down.
- If you car doesn’t have Euro plates, you should attach a sticker to the back of it denoting the country it’s from (such as GB or PT).
- You should carry a valid motor insurance certificate, registration document and your MOT certificate, if you’re driving a car that’s over three years old.
In addition to paying your annual road tax fee and ensuring your vehicle is insured, you’ll also need to have an IPO test (similar to an MOT in the UK) done periodically to ensure your vehicle is up to scratch. If your vehicle is more than four years old, you’ll need to have this test done every two years up to the age of seven, and then annually thereafter.
If your vehicle passes the test, you’ll be given a report (Vinheta Verde) and a certificate with a badge, which you should display in your windscreen. If, however, your vehicle fails, you’ll have 30 days to have the required repairs made before re-entering the vehicle for inspection.