Guide to Driving In Portugal - Drive Safe in Portugal

Driving in Portugal

Are there any special requirements for driving or hiring a car in Portugal?

In Portugal, driving is on the right with overtaking on the left and you can be fined more than 1,000 Euros if you pass a driver on the right. On the motorways there are three lanes with the middle one being for overtaking.

At night in rural areas look out for horse drawn carts. When a tram stops and there is no island for passengers to disembark at, drivers must give way to them. Avoiding rush hour traffic in the cities is to be advised.

Road Sign to Faro Portugal

It is safest to drive defensively in Portugal, which has one of the less impressive driving safety records in Europe. You can find interactive online maps of the country at http://www.travelportal.info/western-europe/portugal/maps.

Driving Laws

Seat Belt Laws

Seat belt laws in Portugal make it compulsory for the driver and all passengers to wear seatbelts whilst the car is moving. Failure to do so will incur a fine. 

Drinking and Driving

The maximum allowed alcohol level in Portgual is 50mg per 100ml of blood; less than that of the UK. It means that even a single drink can take you over the limit. For that reason and the harsh penalties you'll incur if caught, we recommend that if you're going to drink, take a taxi.

Must Have Documents

You must have both parts of your driving licence. If you don't have a photo licence you'll need to obtain an International Drivers' Licence. You'll also need your vehicle registration document, your MOT and a valid certificate of insurance or a green card. Portuguese traffic police often insist on other forms of ID. For this reason we recommend you carry your passport at all times.

Speed Limits

  • 50 kilometres per hour in built up areas
  • 90 kilometres per hour on rural roads
  • 120 kilometres per hour on motorways (with a minimum speed of 40km per hour)
Speed limits are enforced by unmarked police cars and radar traps. Cars towing trailers or caravans can only travel at 70/80km per hour.

Speed Trap Warning Sign Portugal

Minimum Driving Age

You have to be 18 to drive in Portugal but if you're hiring a car you'll find the minimum age is 23 or sometimes 25. Even then you may be asked to pay a premium as an inexperienced driver. 

Safety Camera Warning Devices

Safety camera warning devices are illegal in Portugal and even if you are caught in possession of one, switched on or not, it will be confiscated and you'll be fined. 

On the Spot Fines

For most motoring offences you'll receive an on the spot fine. For more serious offences you'll get a ticket and usually a court appearance which will decide the punishment. Examples are drinking and driving and if you have caused damage or injury through dangerous driving.

Child Safety Rules

No child under the age of 12 can sit in the front and when in the rear of the car they must have an appropriate restraint system that conforms to EU regulations. If hiring a car, we can arrange this for you.

Insurance

You are expected to have a minimum of third party insurance whilst driving in Portugal and the means to prove it. Rhino hire cars all have comprehensive insurance. 

Rules of the Road

Give priority to traffic from the right unless otherwise stated.
You must give way to traffic already on a roundabout.
If you don't for a stop sign, you will be given an on the spot fine.
Roads and some cars are not that well lit at night so you should drive carefully.
If you break down and attempt to carry out repairs you must wear a reflective jacket to do so.
It is also necessary to put out a warning triangle if you have broken down.  
If you ignore a policeman, cross a white line or jump a red light, you can forfeit your licence.
Don't use the green lanes on the motorways. They are for drivers that have an automatic toll collection device.
You mustn't carry a can of petrol in your car.
You must carry a reflective jacket that is within easy reach and a spare set of bulbs.
Cars flashing headlights at you mean they want right of way, not that they're giving way.

Towing Regulations

In Portugal there are no specific laws or regulations concerning towing a vehicle. It is recommended that you use common sense and sure that other drivers are aware of your situation by having your hazard warning lights operating and, if possible, a sign placed somewhere visible indicating that you are on tow. 

Speed Cameras

There are both fixed and mobile speed cameras in operation in Portugal. If you are caught by a fixed camera you'll receive a ticket to the address your car is registered to. If you're in a hire car, the hire car company will pass it on to you.

Using Mobile Phones when driving

Fines for using a mobile phone whilst driving are high - 600 euros in many cases. You will also get a 300 euro fine for dropping litter from a car.

Parking

Parking regulations
 
No parking is indicated by white or blue signs with a red line across them. The signs can sometimes be red or yellow or there can sometimes be red or yellow lines painted on the kerb. 
 
It's illegal to park closer than five metres from a junction, 25 metres before or five metres after a bus stop or six metres from a tram stop. 
 
You mustn't park across driveways that give access to property. If you do, your car can be towed away.
 
Paid parking
 
Some places require you to use a blue disc for parking. They are indicated on signage and the discs can be obtained from local police stations. In the big cities you'll find parking meters or ticket machines as well as many areas which are for residents only.
 
Enforcement
 
Enforcement of parking is done by attendants in uniform. You will receive a ticket and can get points on your licence which can be transferred to the UK.
 
Disabled parking
 
Portugal recognises the EU blue badge disability scheme but as with any country, it's best to check locally what the badge will entitle you to. 

Motor Way Signs

Motorways have the prefix A, as in A1 or A2.

MotorWay Sign in Portugal

Phrases

  • Rental car – Aluguer
  • Motorway – Auto Estrada
  • Thank you – Obrigado
  • Portagem – Toll Road
  • Police - Guarda Nacional Republicana
  • Breakdown - Avaria
  • Fire service – Bombeiros
  • Border - Fronteira
  • One way – Sentido Unico
  • I have broken down - Tenho dividido
  • Where is the police station? - Onde é a estação de polícia? 
  • I have a flat tyre - Eu tenho um pneu furado
  • I have been in an accident - Eu estive em um acidente
  • Where is? - Onde está? 
  • Where can I buy petrol? - Onde posso comprar a gasolina
  • Stop – Pare
  • Itinerario principal – Main road
  • Unleaded Petrol – Gasolina sem chumbo/ Gasolina sin plumbo
  • Gasoleo - Diesel
  • I don't understand - Nao Percebo
  • What does this cost? –  Quanto Custa?
  • Speed Limit – Limite de Velocidad
  • Brakes - Breques

Traffic Lights

Portuguese traffic lights follow the conventions of the Vienna agreement and so should be familiar to most drivers. You cannot turn right on a red light unless indicated and you should also be aware that many local drivers run red lights. 

Toll Roads

Most of the motorways in Portugal have tolls. You'll also find tolls on the south bound side of the 25 de Abril Bridge which links Lisbon with the south bank of the Tagus River. Tolls can be paid in cash at the toll booths or, if in Portugal for some time, you can buy an automatic toll kit read by sensors on the toll roads.

Emergency

The emergency number for Portugal is the European standard 112.

The British embassy in Portugal is at Rua de São Bernardo 33, Lisbon, 1249-082, and the main switchboard number is 351 21 392 4000.

The US embassy is at United States Embassy, Avenida das Forças Armadas , 1600-081 Lisbon, and their phone number is 351-21-727-3300.

What to do in an emergency

If you have trouble with your hire car, contact the number given to you when you collected it. If driving your own car, contact the number of the Portuguese representative of your emergency assistance organisation. 

If you are involved in an accident, minor damage can be setlled between the parties concerned. If there is substantial damage, a dispute over fault or if someone is hurt, you must call the emergency services and wait until they arrive. Leaving the scene of a serious accident is a crime in Portugal. Whilst waiting, take the names and addresses of those involved and witnesses, photograph the scene and if safe to do so, leave vehicles where they are.

Fuel Costs

As at April 2014, 95 octane unleaded petrol is £1.35 a litre and diesel is £1.28.  Although credit cards are accepted for paying, you will find there may be a surcharge for using them. It is illegal to carry spare fuel with you.

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Hiring a Car

With our Drive Smart guide you're fully prepared to hire a car in Portugal and stay safe on unfamiliar roads.