Driving in Portugal: All you need to know

From documentation to speed and drinking limits, PDV lets you in on all the details that can either help or hinder your journey, worth knowing before hitting the road in Portugal.

Tips 4 Tourists Tours What's New — 12 September 2011 by Carla Canivete
Driving in Portugal: All you need to know

Before starting your trip, make sure you know all the rules (Photograph: Jorge Firmino)

Whether you’re taking a road trip along the Portuguese coast or just making your way from the airport to your hotel, if your stay requires sitting in the driver’s seat for any given period in this country, it would be wise to pick up some basic advice on the country’s habits behind the wheel, as well as some ground rules on how to get through your stay without bumping into any unforeseen nuisance.

In general, driving in Portugal is not much different from other western European countries, where you drive on the right-hand side of the road and overtake on the left. If you have blown out the candles for your 18th birthday, the minimum age at which you can drive a car in Portugal, take note of these useful tips and enjoy the ride.

Before starting your trip, make sure you have all the necessary documentation, which you must present to the police if they stop you over:

Driving licence

If you are a citizen from the EU, your regular licence is also valid in Portugal. But if you are coming from any other non-EU country, both in Europe and abroad, your driving licence must be accompanied by an International Driving Permit, which is basically a multiple language translation of your own driving licence. Vehicle documents – you should either have both the Registration Document (a blue paper named Título de Registo de Propriedade in Portuguese) and the Vehicle Registration Certificate, known as the log book (a green one called Livrete in Portuguese), or just the all-in-one document (Documento Único Automóvel), which comprises all the necessary information about the owner and the vehicle.


It is mandatory to have third party personal insurance, while full coverage is only optional.

Road tax

If you are driving a car with a Portuguese number plate, make sure the road tax is up to date.

Vehicle roadworthiness

If the car is more than four years old, you should have a valid IPO (Inspecção Periódica Obrigatória) certificate, which proves the car was approved in the roadworthiness test.

Items you must carry in your car

Apart from the documentation, there are a few other items you must carry in your car if you do not want to end up taking a fine home as a souvenir. Truth be told, it is not often the police will stop a car to check it is correctly geared up, but just in case, you should make sure you have these in the boot:

  • Reflective warning triangle – In case your vehicle breaks down or is involved in an accident, you should place this triangle behind your vehicle, to warn other drivers passing by.
  • Reflective safety vest – which you must wear in emergency situations when you are forced to leave the car.
Driving rules

Since you are now suitably prepared, it is time to start the engine. But, before you get the car going, make sure all the passengers are wearing a seat belt, which is compulsory both in the front and in the back seats. Also, if you are travelling with children under the age of 12, be advised that they cannot sit up front, unless they are taller than 150cm, and should be accommodated in appropriate child car seats.

Now that the wheels are effectively turning, keep your eyes on the road, but try to enjoy the scenery as much as you can. We would advise you to listen to some Portuguese music to make the experience complete. Maybe Amália Rodrigues, Sérgio Godinho or the more recent Deolinda. However, as much as we like listening to music on our trips, you should keep it limited to the car stereo, as it is illegal to drive with headphones connected to a sound device. And the same goes for mobile phones, which may only be used with a hands-free system.

Speed limits

Also, though it might not appear to be so when watching the locals, Portuguese roads have speed limits – 50 km/h for roads located in residential areas, 90 km/h in open roads and 120 km/h in motorways.

Alcohol limit

While in Portugal, you should definitely get acquainted with the local food and wine. However, you might want to keep the intake of alcohol limited to a glass or two if you want to avoid being fined or, even worse, causing an accident. If you are stopped by the police, they may want you to take a breath alcohol test, which may result in one of the following:

  • under 0.5 g/l (grams of alcohol per litre of blood) – you are within the law and will be able to continue your journey without further inconvenience.
  • from 0.5 g/l to 0.8 g/l and from 0.8 g/l to 1.2 g/l - you will face a fine and suspension of licence, which will be determined by what range you fall in.
  • above 1.2 g/l - you will be detained and taken before a judge. Penalties in this case include up to one year imprisonment and a three year driving ban.
Toll road

If, on the other hand, you are a responsible driver and are not over the drink-drive limit, once you are on you way, if you decide to take one of the many motorways that criss-cross the country, it is likely it will be a toll road. To pay for it, there are three possible systems:

  • Toll booths – at the start of the route there will be a dispensing machine from which you should collect a ticket. As you are leaving the road, hand the ticket over at the toll booth and pay the fee, which varies from road to road and depends on distance travelled.
  • Frequent user system – if you are a frequent user, which is probably not the case if you are just here for a quick visit, you can subscribe to the Via Verde system which allows drivers to avoid stopping at the toll booths and instead pay a monthly fee via ATM. For this, you will need to have an electronic device attached to your windshield, which then identifies your car.
  • Electronic tolls – this is a relatively new system and, so far, has only been introduced on a few motorways and main roads – A28, A29, A44, A4, A41, A42, VRI – Via Regional Interior and parts of A25 and A17. On these roads, identified as “electronic toll only”, there is an overhead electronic system that reads information from a device located in the car’s windshield, much like the Via Verde system. To pay for the toll, you must either buy a permanent electronic device or get a temporary one, which can be leased from certain motorway service stations or post offices for use in foreign-registered vehicles. These may be used for stays of up to 90 days and will be either prepaid or charged to your credit card.

And now that we have instructed you on all the main dos and don’ts of Portuguese roads, it’s time to wish you a pleasant and safe journey and hope you will enjoy the scenery.

Click here if you want to download a PDF file with a summary of all the information listed above.

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Carla Canivete

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