Hiring a car and driving in Portugal can be a hugely rewarding experience, thanks to the magnificent range of sights and attractions you will have access to and be able to discover.
If you have never driven in Portugal before, don’t be worried: the country generally has a modern and well-maintained road system, although some of the secondary roads can be in surprisingly poor condition.
If you are completely unfamiliar with Portuguese roads and local driving habits, it is always best to adopt a cautious approach.
Some Portuguese drivers regularly break the speed limits, attempt to overtake in small spaces, and tend to drive somewhat more aggressively than you might be used to back home.
What do you need to drive in Portugal?
When driving on the roads in Portugal, you will need to have with you:
- A valid driving licence – if your licence doesn’t have a photo you will require an International Driving Permit.
- Your passport – it is relatively common for police in Portugal to stop foreign drivers to ensure they have all the relevant documents.
- Paperwork – if you have hired a car you should have all the relevant paperwork with you at all times.
- Safety items – you need to carry in your car a warning triangle, a reflective jacket and spare bulbs for external lights.
Whether you are driving in Portugal for the first time or just want a refresher to remind you of the rules, there are several important aspects that you should be aware of:
- Speed limit – typically the speed limit is 50kph in built-up areas, 90kph on open roads and 120kph on motorways
- Tolls – most motorways are toll roads. You can pay at the toll booths using cash or a debit/credit card. There is an electronic toll paying system that is usually the two lanes on the furthest left (marked with a green V, which stands for Via Verde) – if not subscribed to this, use the other lanes. If you forget and pass through the wrong lane you can go to a Via Verde office within 48 hours and pay the toll to avoid a fine.
- Filling up – petrol, diesel and LPG are widely available at petrol stations. You can pay with a credit card but there is often a small fee to do so.
- Give way – when a driver flashes their lights at you it means that they want you to give way, not that they are giving way to you.
- 112 – if you are in any kind of accident or emergency and require emergency services you should call 112. The operator will be able to answer your call in English, French or Portuguese.
- Drunk driving – just don’t do it. Portugal has been combatting dangerous driving by imposing extremely heavy fines on drunk drivers.
- Front seat – children under the age of 12 are not allowed to sit in the front passenger seat.
- Radar detector – if you have a speed camera/radar detector, don’t bring it to Portugal. It is illegal to have one in your car, even if it’s turned off.