Hiring a car and driving around Portugal, especially the Algarve is the best way to discover this wonderful country. There are lots of hidden beaches and beautiful villages in the Portuguese countryside just waiting to be discovered. Here’s everything you need to know to enjoy your trip.
Tips for driving in Portugal
Which side of the road do they drive on?
Drive on the right, overtake on the left. Unless otherwise indicated, vehicles coming from the right have priority at junctions.
If fitted, seat belts must be worn at all times by all occupants of the vehicle.
Driving with children
Children aged 12 and under or shorter than 1.35m are not allowed to travel in a car unless supported in a child seat or booster seat unless the vehicle has only two seats, or is not fitted with seat belts.
Can I use a mobile?
The use of a mobile phone when driving is only allowed if you have either a hands free kit or a headset otherwise you face a fine of up to €600.
Blood alcohol limit
Portugal has strict drink driving laws. The blood alcohol limit is 50mg per 100 ml of blood. If you’re caught above this limit you’ll be fined up to €1,250 and have your licence suspended for 1-12 months. If you test positive between 80mg and 1.2g/L, the fine increases to €2,500 and you'll be facing a driving ban of up to 2 years. Testing above 1.2g/L is a criminal offence. You will face up to one year in prison and a three year driving ban.
The minimum motorway speed limit is 50kph (31mph).
25 de Abril Bridge, Lisbon
It’s illegal to run out of fuel when crossing Lisbon’s 25 de Abril bridge.
On the spot fines
When fined, you can opt to pay on the spot or pay within 48 hours. If you receive an on the spot fine you must pay in Euros. Many traffic police vehicles have portable ATM machines for immediate payment but expect to pay cash. You should obtain an official receipt.
If you refuse to pay, you’ll be asked for a deposit to cover the maximum fine for the offence committed. Refusal allows the police to confiscate your driving licence and/or registration document, and in some cases they can confiscate the vehicle.
At junctions with roundabouts, vehicles already on the roundabout have right of way. When turning left or going straight on, you must be in the left hand lane on dual carriageways. The right hand lane is for turning right only.
Reflective vests, triangles & other essentials
In Portugal a reflective vest must be kept in the vehicle at all times. This must be accessible from within the car and not kept in the boot. If you’re caught then the hire car supplier is liable for the fine and will recoup this from you plus an administration fee.
ID & vehicle registration
You must also carry photographic ID at all times and the vehicle registration and insurance should be kept in the vehicle.
Horns and headlights
If daytime visibility is bad or you’re in a tunnel, the use of dipped headlights is compulsory.
You must park in the same direction of traffic; parking facing oncoming traffic is illegal. You should also not park within 18m of an intersection, 15m of a bus stop or 3m from a tram stop. Roundabouts can be scary, but the law has recently changed so the rules are the same as in the UK (except reversed to anti-clockwise of course). However, lots of Portuguese drivers were never taught roundabout etiquette as they hardly existed before Portugal joined the EU so be alert for anything.
What should I do if I have an accident or breakdown?
Free orange emergency SOS telephones are positioned every 3 to 5km. To use an emergency telephone, press the SOS button and wait for a reply.
If you breakdown or are in an accident, you must put on a reflective jacket and place the reflective triangles 30m behind and in front of vehicles to warn other drivers. Call the supplier who will be able to advise you.
It is recommended you contact ourselves at the same time to ensure you follow the correct procedure.
If you’re in an accident, you MUST notify the Police and the car rental supplier and get an accident report for insurance purposes. Failure to do so may result in you footing the whole bill. It is recommended that you contact ourselves at the same time to ensure you follow the correct procedure.
There are a number of toll roads throughout Portugal. Whilst some toll booths are staffed, there are a growing number of electronic booths that can cause problems for tourists as the electronic system relies on drivers having a Portuguese bank account.
To make things easier, more and more hire cars are now fitted with transponders (alternatively these are often hired out by the rental car supplier). If your supplier doesn’t provide you with a transponder, they will usually recommend the best solution. The alternative options are:
- You can purchase an automatic toll device from some motorway service stations and Via Verde shops (visit www.viaverde.pt for more information). You must return the device prior to leaving Portugal.
- You can also purchase pre-paid toll passes from the Post Office.
- The Easy Toll system – Enables drivers of foreign vehicles to register their number plate to a bank card for a period of up to one month, with toll charges being debited directly from their account.
- The Toll Card system – Users can buy a card that is prepaid with 5, 10, 20 or 40 Euros. This is then linked to a vehicle registration number by sending a text message. Toll cards can be bought online, at Post Offices and motorway service stations.
- Evora to Faro - 287kms (2hrs 45mins)
- Faro to Albufeira - 46kms (40 mins)
- Faro to Sagres -117km (1hr 19mins)
- Faro to Lagos - 89km (56 mins)
- Lisbon to Porto - 318kms (3 hours)
- Porto to Braga - 55km (39 mins)
- Porto to Guimaraes - 55km (40 mins)
- Porto to Tondela - 140kms (1hr 35mins)