Driving a car
Driving a car in Portugal is similar to driving in most European countries. You must be over 18 (although you can’t rent a car before you’re 21), drive on the right and overtake on the left, follow road regulations and always carry the necessary documents, which are:
- Your driver’s licence. If you are a citizen of a non-EU country, you will need an International Driving Permit in addition to your original license.
- Proof of insurance. Your vehicle must be insured (third-party insurance minimum).
Note that your car must have passed the security check certifying that it is safe to drive. In Portugal, this certificate is called the IPO (Inspecção Periódica Obrigatória) and must always be up to date. Finally, you must always carry a red warning triangle and a reflective vest in your car in case of emergencies.
The speed limit in Portugal is 50 km/h (30 mph) in built-up areas, 90 km/h (50 mph) on open roads and 120 km/h (75 mph) on motorways. Seat belts are mandatory and children under 12 or shorter than 150cm must ride in the back in a car seat. Being on the phone while driving is illegal.
Highways are not free in Portugal, and you will need to collect a ticket when entering the motorway and pay the fare when exiting. Do not lose the ticket or you will be asked to pay the fee for the longest journey. If you are a frequent user, it is worth opting for the Via Verde system. Via Verde will not require you to stop at every toll booth - instead, you will pay for the card every month and use the motorway without wasting time.
You should know that although regulations are quite clear and fairly similar to other European countries, Portuguese drivers tend to drive faster than indicated and forget to use their indicators when turning. Safety distances are not really taken into account and you will often need to hit the brakes very quickly to let someone pass. Try to keep your cool and drive safely.
Take a look at this article for all road regulations updates for 2014.
Portuguese driver’s licence
As a citizen of an EU member state, you are allowed to drive in Portugal with your original driver’s licence until it expires. If you become resident in Portugal, you can ask for your licence to be replaced by a Portuguese one without taking the driving exam, which is the safest option. Indeed, if you happen to lose your original driving licence, the Portuguese government won’t be able to replace it as they didn’t issue it. Your country of origin won’t help you either as they cannot make a new licence and send it abroad. Therefore, you will have no choice but to take, and pass, the driving test in Portugal.