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Find up-to-date driving laws and advice for any country in Europe before you visit, including any accessories you may need to purchase. Don't forget the RAC provides European breakdown cover while you're driving in Europe.

Driving in Portugal

Portugal
Population: 10.4m
Area: 92,100 square kilometres
Currency: Euro (EUR) € = 100 cents

Coronavirus update

Please be aware that driving in Europe may be restricted at the moment.

Check the Foreign travel advice section of the GOV.UK website for up to date advice on all European countries.

Whether you’re heading to the beach towns of the Algarve or the cosmopolitan delights of Porto and Lisbon, Portugal never ceases to amaze – from the richness of its culture to the friendliness of the locals.

But if you’re planning a road trip to Portugal, it’s essential you’re fully prepared ahead of time, as driving there has many differences to the UK. 

To make your trip to the Continent as safe and effortless as possible, we’ve put together a guide to everything you need to know before you go, from required documents to rules of the road.  

Driving a rented vehicle? Jump to the advice for driving a hire car in Portugal section.

RAC European Breakdown Cover (Basic and Comprehensive) provides a wide range of benefits should you breakdown to ensure you stay safe. 

To supplement this, RAC also offers travel insurance. Cover will include medical expenses, baggage, personal money and belongings, among many other benefits.

European Breakdown Cover

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Advice for driving in Portugal

driving-tips-for-portugal

In an emergency

Emergency telephones linked to an SOS network are installed at 2km intervals along motorways and IP (itinerários principais) and IC (itinerários complementares). 

112 - Here's a really important bit of knowledge; you can dial 112 from anywhere in Europe and an operator will connect you to an emergency service in the country you're visiting. 

Operators can answer your call in their native language, English or French. 

Driving licence laws

Visitors must be aged 18 or over and hold a full, valid driving licence to legally drive in Portugal. Riders of motorcycles up to 125cc must be aged 16 or over, as must those riding a moped (not exceeding 50cc).  

Driving licences issued in EU and EEA countries are accepted. International driving permits are recognised, but not required. 

Things to take when driving in Portugal

Documents for driving in Portugal

Visitors who benefit from temporary importation facilities may import a vehicle registered abroad for 6 months per year, whether consecutive or not. Vehicles registered in a temporary series can stay in Portugal for 90 days maximum.

In order to stay on the right side of the law, the following documents should always be carried:

  • Full, valid UK driving licence
  • Proof of ID (passport)
  • Motor insurance certificate
  • V5 registration document

Do I need a GB sticker?

Yes, you will need a GB sticker on your car to drive in Portugal unless it’s already equipped with EU number plates, which show the country code in a circle of stars on a blue background. 

Driving in Portugal packing checklist

In addition to required documents, motorists are also required by law to carry the following items when driving to avoid fines:

  • Reflective jackets (mandatory to carry in your vehicle and wear if you need to get out the vehicle on the carriageway)
  • Warning triangle (not compulsory for foreign-registered vehicles from countries where warning triangles are not compulsory) 
  • Headlamp beam deflectors (depending on your car, you will either need deflector stickers or have to adjust the beam manually)
  • Crash helmets are compulsory for riders and passengers of mopeds and motorcycles
  • Green Card (although not a legal requirement, it could be useful to back up your insurance documents and show you've got the minimum legal level of cover. To find out more, contact your insurance company)

Rules of the road in Portugal

Overtaking and passing

In Portugal, motorists drive on the right and overtake on the left. When being overtaken, motorists should keep as far right as possible and not accelerate. 

You are permitted to pass a stationary tram only if there’s an island for passengers boarding and alighting.

In narrow streets, the vehicle nearest a passing place should pull into it, reversing if necessary. If two vehicles are at an equal distance from a passing place, the lighter vehicle should pull in or reverse. 

On a hill, the vehicle travelling uphill should give way to the one going down. In all circumstances, however, motor vehicles have priority over other vehicles. 

Who has priority?

As a general rule, priority must be given to vehicles coming from the right unless indicated. 

Emergency vehicles and military vehicles have priority over other road users.

Vehicles must not enter an intersection – even if they have right of way – if it’s likely they will be unable to leave it without obstructing other traffic.

Warning of approach

Horns should be used in moderation.

In urban areas, sounding the horn is not allowed during the hours of darkness, except in an emergency. If you need to give a warning, flash your lights instead.

In rural areas, horns should be used whenever required for road safety, where visibility is compromised, or before overtaking another road user.

Towing

Camper vans and cars with caravans are not allowed to exceed 18.75 metres in length, 4 metres in height and 2.55 metres in width. 

Seat belts

It’s compulsory to wear seat belts in the front and rear seats of cars equipped with belts. 

The fine for failing to wear a seat belt is set between €120 and €600. 

Traffic lights

The international three-colour traffic light system is used in Portugal. There is no amber signal after the red, and a flashing amber light indicates “caution”. 

A flashing or constant red light indicates “stop” and is used near level crossings and to give warning of an obstacle.

Speed limits in Portugal

Portugal uses the metric system for all road signs, meaning speed limits and other road signs including distance are indicated using kilometres and metres. These are the general speed limits for private cars:

In built-up areas 50km/h (unless other indicated by local signs)
Outside built-up areas 90km/h – 100km/h (unless other indicated by local signs)
Motorways 120km/h

Special speed restrictions apply to certain classes of vehicle, including mopeds, motorhomes and vehicles with trailers so check before travel.

On the 25 de Abril bridge over the River Tagus, drivers must keep to a speed between 40km/h and 60km/h.

Speeding fines in Portugal

Speeding fines in Portugal range from €60 to €2,500 depending on the speed at which offenders are caught, and the road on which they’re driving. 

Speed camera detectors

Any device that actively searches for mobile speed cameras or interferes with police transmissions is prohibited by law. Fines for use can reach £2,500. 

Travelling with children in Portugal

driving-tips-for-portugal

All children under 12 years of age and measuring under 1.35m, travelling in a car fitted with seatbelts, must travel in the back seats in a special child restraint system adapted to their size and weight, except:

  • if the car has only two seats or is not fitted with seatbelts.
  • for a child under three, who can travel on the front seat equipped with a rear-facing child restraint system. In this case, the airbag must be deactivated.

Bike helmet law

Bike helmets are not compulsory in Portugal unless riding an electric bike. Children who are passengers on bicycles must also wear a helmet. 

All bikes must have a reflectorised registration plate. 

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Driving a camper van and towing a caravan in Portugal

Camper vans and cars with caravans are not allowed to exceed 2 metres in length, 4 metres in height and 2.55 metres in width.

Loads mustn’t exceed 10 tonnes at a single axle.

Please note: The Department for Transport advises that A-frames are not legal for use by UK campers and caravanners abroad. In practice, this could mean towing your car while it’s fixed to a trailer.*

Portuguese penalties and fines

On-the-spot fines

Police can impose on-the-spot fines to drivers of foreign-registered cars and receipts are given. Most police cars are equipped with portable ATMs to ensure immediate payment. 

Minimum and maximum fines

Fines range from €30 for unauthorised parking to €2,500 for offences including using a radar detector and driving under the influence of drugs. 

Some motoring offences are considered criminal and can also lead to licence revocation, vehicle confiscation and a possible prison sentence.

Confiscation of vehicles

A vehicle can be confiscated for a number of reasons, including when a driver has:

  • tested positive for being under the influence of alcohol
  • no registration documents
  • forged number plates
  • refused to pay a fine

The Cross-Border Enforcement Directive

An EU cross-border directive came into effect in the UK in May 2017. This is aimed at tracking down people who commit traffic offences in cars that are registered in an EU member state different to where the offence was committed.

If you commit a driving offence in Portugal or any other EU country, the crime will effectively follow you back home to the UK where you can still be prosecuted

Parking in Portugal

Parking regulations

Cars must be left facing in the same direction as traffic on that side of the road unless otherwise stated with local signage. In urban areas, parking is prohibited:

  • within 5 metres (m) of intersections and bends with limited visibility
  • on pedestrian crossings
  • within 3m of tram stops
  • within 10m of other public passenger stops
  • in spaces reserved for taxis
  • opposite vehicle entrances to buildings
  • Outside these areas, parking is prohibited:
  • on bridges and level crossings
  • in tunnels
  • where visibility is limited
  • within 20m of intersections
  • at night on the carriageway

Paid parking

In main towns and cities like Lisbon, Porto, Faro and Albufeira, parking is limited and subject to fees so check local signage before leaving your car. 

Enforcement of parking regulations

Illegally-parked vehicles are likely to be clamped and, if causing an obstruction to moving traffic, towed away. In both cases, a fine must be paid to cover the offence plus towing and impounding costs. 

Disabled parking access

All EU-issued disabled permits should be recognised in Portugal.

Blue Badge holders must not exceed the time limit as set out in parking bays. 

Drink driving law in Portugal

Legal limit

The general limit for drivers of private vehicles is 0.05%.

For professional drivers (driving a bus, coach, HGV or public service vehicle), as well as for newly-qualified drivers (less than three years' experience), the limit is 0.02%.

Random breath tests

A driver suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs can be made to undergo a breath test for alcohol or a saliva test for drugs. All road users may undergo a breath test following a collision (including pedestrians). 

A driver can refuse to undergo a breath test but then must provide a blood sample instead. 

Tolls in Portugal

Like many other European countries, Portugal has motorways with tolls. You can pay for them with cash or a credit card, although some motorways only accept electronic payment. 

Most motorways accept a payment system known as Via Verde, which sees users attach a magnetic card to their vehicle’s windscreen which automatically works at toll booths. 

There is also a system called Easy Toll in place, which is often easier for visiting motorists. Here, motorists enter their card details at the border point and have a photo of their registration plates taken. The system will then deduct toll payment every time the registered vehicle passes a toll booth.

Portuguese service areas

There are many service areas along the Portuguese motorways.

Availability of fuel

Different types of clean fuel are available in Portugal, including biodiesel 10 and public electric charging points. 

Automatic petrol pumps are found in some large towns. 

Car hire excess cover

Protect yourself from unexpected excess costs when hiring a car.

Drving a hire car in Portugal

Not all of the information in the guide above will be relevant to those looking to rent a hire car in Ireland.

Though it might be a good idea to read through everything anyway, here are the most important things to know for drivers of rental vehicles:

Rental information

  • The minimum age to hire a car is 25, although younger drivers may be able to pay a surcharge
  • You need a full, valid UK driving licence and usually a second proof of ID (passport)
  • Car rental companies ask that you have held your licence for a minimum term of 1 year
  • Some companies may require you to use a credit card for deposit, it is best to check first
  • You may not be able to drive outside of Portugal unless planned in advance - check with your hire company first
  • Make sure you get car hire excess insurance before your trip to protect yourself from unexpected costs. It's almost always cheaper to do this with a separate insurer and in advance

Hire car driving tips

  • The national speed limit on motorways in Portugal is 120km/h (74 mph). On a main road outside a built-up area it varies between 90km/h and 100km/h. For built-up areas it’s 50km/h.

  • Dial 112 in an emergency

  • If seat belts are fitted to your car, they must be worn by both drivers and passengers.

  • The blood alcohol content limit for drivers of private vehicles is 0.05%. That's lower than the 0.08% in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but the same as Scotland.

Driving in Portugal FAQs

  • Can I drive my car in Portugal?

    Yes. You must have a valid UK licence and V5 document, along with sufficient insurance and breakdown cover for your trip. You should also familiarise yourself with the laws around driving in Portugal before you set off to keep yourself and other road users safe.

  • Can I drive my car in Lisbon?

    Yes, although Lisbon is one of western Europe’s more challenging capital cities to drive in with its narrow streets, lack of parking and sometimes aggressive driving style of the locals. Consider parking outside the city and taking public transport into the centre if this doesn’t sound like your idea of fun.

  • How do I drive to Portugal?

    Getting to Portugal by car from the UK is easier than you probably think. Firstly, you’ll need to take your car across the Channel to Calais on either ferry or the Eurotunnel and then drive through France and Spain to Portugal. The drive from Calais to Porto takes around 17 hours without stops, and offers plenty of great stop-off opportunities.
    Alternatively, you can take a ferry from Portsmouth or Plymouth to the northern Spanish ports of Santander and Bilbao. These ferry journeys take up to 24 hours, but the journey from Santander to Porto takes just 6 hours.

  • What side of the road do they drive on in Portugal?

    Unlike in the UK, motorists drive on the right-hand side of the road in Portugal and overtake on the left – which can take some adjustment if you’re used to driving on the left.

  • Can you drive in Portugal with a UK licence?

    Yes, you can legally drive in Portugal with your UK-issued driving licence without the need to apply for an International Driving Permit.

  • Do I need extra insurance to drive in Portugal?

    Portugal and the UK are both part of the Green Card System, a Europe-wide scheme allowing all countries to recognise foreign vehicle insurance policies of visiting motorists, so it’s quite possible your existing insurance will cover you.

    However, before setting off on your trip, you should contact your insurance provider to make sure no additional cover is required, as you won’t be able to buy short-term cover at the border entry points.

  • Is driving in Portugal dangerous?

    Driving in Portugal is generally fine, although be aware that the road conditions outside the main urban centres and resort areas vary dramatically and are often poorly maintained when compared to other western European countries. In mountain areas and on the island of Madeira, roads can be steep so take extra precautions.

    Portuguese motorists are known for their somewhat aggressive driving style so drive cautiously. Try not to take any behaviour you deem aggressive too personally.

  • Do I need a GB sticker to drive in Portugal?

    You will need to display a GB sticker on the rear of your car unless it has EU number plates with the country code in a circle of stars on a blue background.

  • Do I need headlamp converters in Portugal?

    Yes. Depending on your car, you should use deflector stickers or adjust the beam manually. This is so you don’t dazzle oncoming traffic when driving on the right side of the road at night.

  • What is the national speed limit in Portugal?

    The national speed limit on Portuguese motorways is 120km/h (75 mph). If you’re driving on a main road outside a built-up area, the limit varies between 90km/h and 100km/h, and for built-up areas it’s generally 50km/h.

  • Do I need snow chains in Portugal?

    Snow chains may be used in Portugal where necessary, such as mountainous areas in winter.

  • How much are toll roads in Portugal?

    The amount you pay per toll will depend on the length of the road and the area you’re driving in.

    Visit https://www.viamichelin.com to calculate the cost of your journey.

  • How do you pay for toll roads in Portugal?

    There are two ways to pay for tolls – electronically or manually. On most toll roads, you can pay by cash or credit card or pre-paid card but be aware that on certain motorways only electronic payment is accepted.

    If you regularly use toll roads, it may be worth signing up to the Via Verde scheme which takes you through the fast lane without having to stop and pay.

    There is also a system called Easy Toll in place, which is often easier for visiting motorists. This sees motorists enter their card details at the border point and have a photo of their registration plates taken. The system will then deduct toll payment every time the registered vehicle passes a toll gate.

  • Does Portugal use mph or kph?

    Portugal uses the metric system for all road signs, so speed limits and other signs including distance are shown in kilometres and metres.

UK Government travel advice 

See up-to-date travel advice


Source: Information in this document is sourced from the AIT (Alliance Internationale de Tourisme) & the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) and, to the best of the RAC’s knowledge, is correct at the time of publication (November 2020).
 
*https://www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk/helpandadvice/travelplanning/eurotraveladvice/europeancampingguide/page5

European Breakdown Cover

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British Embassy

Rua de São Bernardo 33
1249-082 Lisbon 
Portugal

Email: [email protected]

Telephone: +351 21 392 40 00

Fax: +351 21 392 41 84

Consular enquiries (not visas or passports)

email: [email protected]

† Price for 1 day cover for up to 9 people travelling in a vehicle up to 1 year old in Zone 1. For more information visit rac.co.uk/breakdown-cover/european-breakdown-cover

^£11 a month is for existing Camping and Caravanning Club members purchasing new personal based Caravan Standard cover only on a monthly renewing contract. Vehicle based cover from £10 a month. New member personal based prices from £16 a month.

† Price for 1 day cover for up to 9 people travelling in a vehicle up to 1 year old in Zone 1. For more information visit rac.co.uk/breakdown-cover/european-breakdown-cover