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
Equipment & necessities
If using a Satellite Navigation system, ensure that software searching for speed cameras is disabled. You’ll be fined for use of such software.
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. The hire car supplier is liable for the fine if you’re caught without one and they will recoup this from you plus an administration fee. Check upon collection of the hire car that the reflective vest and triangle are in the car.
ID & vehicle registration
You must carry a form of photographic ID for you at all times. It’s recommended you take with you your passport and also your EU-issued driving license. If you’re from a non-EU country, you will need an International Driving Permit. The hire vehicle registration and insurance paperwork should be kept in the vehicle.
On the road
Which side of the road do they drive on?
Drive your hire car on the right, overtake on the left. Unless otherwise indicated, vehicles coming from the right have priority at junctions.
Seat belts where fitted must be worn at all times by all occupants of the hire vehicle.
Driving with children
Children under 12 and shorter than 1.35m are not allowed to travel in a car as front seat passengers. They must travel in the rear, unless the vehicle has only two seats, and be supported in a child seat, booster seat or other appropriate child restraint.
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.
If a tram stops at the side of the road but there’s no platform for people to disembark, you must wait for people to reach the pavement.
You must park your hire car 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.
You mustn’t park where there is a white or blue sign that has a red line across it. These can also be red or yellow, and red and yellow lines painted on kerbs also symbolise no-parking areas. Some areas require the display of a blue disc for parking- these can be purchased from police stations. Your hire car can be towed away if you park blocking access to property.
Larger towns and cities will have self-appointed ‘parking assistants’ who will wave you into an available space hoping for a tip. You don’t have to park where they suggest.
Horns and headlights
If daytime visibility is bad or you’re in a tunnel, the use of dipped headlights is compulsory. Cars flashing their headlights at you is a sign that they want right of way, not that they’re giving way.
Speeds and fines
Use of mobile phones when driving
The use of a mobile phone when driving is only allowed if you have either a hands free kit or a headset. You could face a fine of up to €600 for not using this equipment.
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 while driving your hire car, 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).
Many on-the-spot fines are issued to combat the well-known aggressive driving habits of local drivers. 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.
You can be fined up to €300 for dropping litter from the hire car. You can be fined for having radar detection equipment in the hire vehicle regardless of whether it’s in use or not. You are not allowed to use dashboard cameras.
If you are caught speeding by a fixed camera in a hire car, the hire car supplier will be sent the ticket. This cost will be reimbursed from you along with an additional administration fee.
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. 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. Call the supplier who will be able to advise you further. It is recommended that you contact ourselves at the same time to ensure you follow the correct procedure.
Toll roads in Portugal
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.
To make things easier, most car rental providers allow you to reserve a transponder for the duration of your hire. If your supplier doesn’t provide you with a transponder, they will usually recommend the best solution. The alternative options are:
- Purchase an automatic toll device from a motorway service station or Via Verde shop (visit www.viaverde.pt for more information). You must return the device prior to leaving Portugal.
- Purchase pre-paid toll passes from the Post Office.
- 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.
Toll transponders can be added to your booking once you have selected the vehicle you would like to book. More information on these and adding them can be found on Step One of the booking process. Some vehicles will be supplied with these already fitted.
Only cars that use an automatic toll collection device can use the green lanes on motorways. It’s illegal to run out of fuel when crossing Lisbon’s 25 de Abril bridge.