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 licence requirements.
If you’re planning to drive in Portugal, you will find that Portuguese roads are generally good, especially in built up areas and cities served by major motorways and Portugal tolls. The style of driving in Portugal, however, is reportedly aggressive or erratic in some places, so it’s best to drive cautiously.
For expats moving to Portugal, you will need to get a Portuguese driving licence within 60 days after registering your residency in Portugal, otherwise you will be driving illegally in Portugal. Tourists and short-term visitors can drive in Portugal for up to six months using their foreign licence.
The Portuguese government is trying to clamp down on bad driving by imposing strict punishments for a variety of driving offences, such as speeding and surpassing the drink drive limit in Portugal.
Here are some tips for driving in Portugal plus important Portuguese road rules, including:
- Who can drive in Portugal?
- Foreign driving licences 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
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 licence, and certain permanent residents can use their foreign licence until it expires. If your licence doesn’t have an expiry date, you’ll need to exchange it within two years of moving to Portugal.
If you’re an EU citizen with a licence from your own country, you can drive in Portugal until it expires, after which you will need to renew it for a Portuguese driving licence.
For non-EU citizens, whether you’ll be able to exchange your licence 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 licence for a Portuguese one in Expatica’s guide to Portuguese driving licences.
Road tax is called Imposto Unico de Circulacao. Tax must be paid 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 subscribe to the Via Verde system. If you do this, 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 EUR 5–40 online or at a post office.
- TOLLService works slightly differently. This is a EUR 20 pre-loaded ticket that you can use for up to three days.
- Finally, EASYtoll involves entering your licence 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.
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 in 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 aren’t allowed to 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, so avoid these if you’re not signed up to one.
- Headlights must always be used in tunnels.
- You must carry your driving licence, 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, licence 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.
- Built-up urban areas: 50km/h
- Rural roads: 90km/h
- Motorways: 120km/h
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 licence, which will then affect 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’re not allowed to 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 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 which 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 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 in case you are stopped (Portuguese police have the authority to issue on-the-spot fines).
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 organising your car rental in Portugal:
- Identity card
- Proof of address
- ID card showing name, date of birthday and address
- A valid driving licence.
Buying a car in Portugal can be an expensive matter, but new cars tend to hold their premium value for longer than in some other countries.
As a foreign buyer, you’ll need to show your official residence permit and proof of your address either in the form of your title deeds if you own a home, or your rental contact if you’re a private tenant.
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 and the make, model, power and age of the vehicle you’re driving. 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 favourable 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.