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Driving in Portugal: laws, requirements and speed limits

Portugal is an incredible country and the variety and beauty of its landscapes reward extensive exploration in your own car.

From wide sandy beaches to breathtaking river valleys and stunning mountain regions, Portugal has it all and is well worth exploring. 

But if you’re driving to Portugal from the UK, you should do some research before you set off so you don’t fall foul of local driving laws.

We explain everything you need to know if you’re planning on driving in Portugal.

A scenic road in Portugal

 

Can I drive to Portugal from the UK during the coronavirus pandemic? 

Restrictions on international travel have changed on a regular basis during the pandemic. 

It pays to check the latest rules both when you’re booking a trip and regularly up until your departure date.

The government website has specific travel advice for Portugal

This currently covers issues such as the isolation and testing requirements for travellers arriving there as well as returning to the UK from Portugal.

 

What do I need to drive to Portugal from the UK?

First up, you need to know what documentation and kit you should take with you.

If you’re travelling through France or driving in Spain before entering Portugal, you need to know about French and Spanish traffic rules and requirements, too.

Documents you need for driving in Portugal

You should be able to present the following documents if needed:

  • A valid and current UK driving licence. If you have a photocard licence, you won’t need an international driving permit (IDP). But you might if you only have an old-style paper licence.
  • ID such as your passport.
  • Evidence that you have valid car insurance for your trip.
  • Proof that you own your vehicle such as the V5 registration certificate.

If you’re driving someone else’s car, you should take written confirmation from the owner that you’re allowed to drive the vehicle.

Safety equipment you need when driving in Portugal

Some of these items may already be part of your breakdown kit, but you need:

  • Reflective jackets for anyone involved in a breakdown or accident. This is a legal requirement.
  • Headlight beam deflectors, which must be fitted in advance so you don’t dazzle oncoming drivers. You might also need to adjust your headlights to reflect the fact you’ll be driving on the right in Portugal.
  • Child seats or restraints for children under 12 who are no taller than 135cm (roughly 4’5”). They must also travel in the rear seats – unless your car doesn’t have any.

In Portugal you’re not obliged to carry a first-aid kit or a fire extinguisher – but these items are well worth considering.

For foreign vehicles, there's no legal requirement to have a warning triangle. But it’s a good idea to take one to be used in the event of a breakdown or accident.

 

What are the laws when driving in Portugal? 

The most crucial difference between motoring in Portugal and the UK is that in the former vehicles drive on the right and overtake on the left. 

This is the case in the rest of continental Europe. 

If you’ve entered Portugal via France and Spain, however, this is probably something you’ve already noticed.

  • Usually, vehicles coming from the right have priority unless you’re on the motorway or at a roundabout.
  • Trams have priority, and you’re only allowed to overtake a stationary tram if there’s an island for passengers getting on and off.
  • The horn should only be used in built-up areas in order to avoid an accident, and where there’s no alternative to using it. You can’t sound your horn in urban areas when it’s dark unless it’s an emergency.
  • All passengers should wear seatbelts or face a fine ranging from €120 (£105) to €600.
  • If a rear-facing child seat is used in the front passenger seat, the passenger airbag must be deactivated.
  • Hands-free mobile phone use is permitted, but using a handheld mobile phone while driving is illegal.
  • Drivers from overseas must be 18 or over.
  • A minimum of third-party motor insurance is required.
  • You should make sure you’ve got enough fuel before driving onto Lisbon’s stunning 25 de Abril bridge. Not only would it be embarrassing and annoying to run out of petrol while making the crossing, it’s also against the law.
 

What is the Portuguese drink-driving limit?

For most drivers, the blood alcohol limit is 0.05% – stricter than the 0.08% drink drive limit in most of the UK, but the same as in Scotland. 

For professional drivers such as lorry or delivery drivers, the limit is 0.02%. 

This lower limit also applies to newly qualified drivers – those with less than three years’ driving experience.

The police in Portugal can make random breath checks on drivers, and  test anyone who has been involved in an accident.

 

What are the toll roads in Portugal?

Portugal has a number of toll-charging motorways and bridges. 

Generally, you can pay to use them with either card or cash. 

But if you’re planning on covering a lot of distance, you should also consider signing up for one of the systems below:

Toll Card

This involves buying a prepaid card that you can load to a certain value – say €5, €10 or €20. 

You then activate the card with a text message from your phone using a special code on the card and your car’s licence number.

It’s possible to have any outstanding balance left on a Toll Card refunded after you leave Portugal. 

Simply return it to the country’s post office, the CTT.

You can buy toll cards at service areas, at the CTT or online at www.tollcard.pt

More information can be found at Portugal tolls

This can help you plan your trip and see how much you have to pay in charges while travelling around the country.

Easy Toll

The Easy Toll is a system that uses your bank card and number plate to take payments.

This can be a good alternative to the Toll Card system if you’re only visiting Portugal for a short time.

When you enter the country, place your card in the toll terminal and the system should automatically associate your bankcard with your registration plate.

The amount needed to pay any tolls during your trip is then taken directly from your account.

Easy Toll is valid for up to 30 days. Make sure you keep hold of any tickets issued at the toll booths in case of a later problem.

Via Verde

Meaning ‘green route’, Via Verde is another toll-paying option for those staying for longer periods in Portugal. 

This is a prepaid tag you attach to your car that opens toll barriers automatically. 

Usually it means you can avoid toll-booth queues too. 

For more information on the Via Verde system, visit the Portugal tolls website.

 

What’s the speed limit in Portugal?

As is the case across Europe, the Portuguese authorities are tough on speeding, using radar traps and unmarked police cars to enforce limits.

If you're caught speeding, you can be hit with an on-the-spot fine. 

If you don’t have enough cash on you at the time, most police officers have the necessary equipment to take payment electronically.

Fines can range from €30 to €2,500 depending on the nature of the offence.

Speed limits for different road types are as follows:

Road types Speed limit
Urban areas
50km/h
Open roads / outside built-up areas
90km/h
Motorways
120km/h (minimum 50km/h)
Cars towing on open roads
70km/h
Cars towing on motorways
100km/h
 

Has anything changed with driving in Portugal after Brexit?

The UK is no longer part of the European Union, while Portugal remains a member. 

If you’re visiting the country as a tourist, however, you shouldn’t experience too many differences. 

But there are a handful of issues to be aware of.

UK citizens can travel to countries in the Schengen area without a visa for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. 

This covers the EU including Portugal as well as some non-EU European nations such as Switzerland and Norway. 

Your passport requirements are slightly different after Brexit.

Now, to visit Portugal you need to have at least three months left on your passport after your scheduled departure date.

Your passport should be less than 10 years old, too.

As of 2 August 2021, drivers from the UK no longer need to take a ‘green card’ proof of insurance when entering Portugal. 

But evidence of current motor insurance – including, if necessary, an extension or clause that permits driving in Europe – is required.

Since September 2021, vehicles from the UK driving on Portuguese roads need to display a ‘UK’ symbol instead of a ‘GB’ one, either a sticker or part of the registration plate

This means that even if your car has a GB licence plate, you need to affix a UK sticker to your vehicle.

For more information read our guide on European travel in 2022 and beyond.

 

Can I drive in Portugal with a UK licence?

UK photocard licences are recognised in Portugal. 

If you only have a paper licence, you also need an international driving permit (IDP).

What should I do in an emergency when driving in Portugal?

On motorways and other major roads in Portugal, there are SOS points every 2km.

As in any EU country, you can dial 112 to speak to the emergency services, who can  talk to you in English.

 

Do I need car insurance for driving in Portugal?

Yes. Check with your insurance provider to see if you’re already covered under your existing policy.

If you aren’t, you need to amend your policy accordingly.

Don’t forget that if your insurer wants to know where you’re going, you have to tell them about any other countries you intend to drive through en route to Portugal.

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What is parking in Portugal like?

Virtually all parking in towns and cities is paid-for, and each place has its own pricing system. In many places you can pay by app but you can also use parking meters.

Keep an eye out for time limits – between three and six hours is usual.

If you don’t pay or outstay your parking, you face being clamped and having to pay to have it removed. In some cases, failure to contact the authorities within just a few hours can result in your car being towed away.

There are strict rules on parking caravans and motorhomes, and stiff penalties for those who break them. If you park overnight outside specified camping areas, you could potentially be fined thousands of euros.

 

Is driving in Portugal easy?

Portugal has an excellent, modern road and motorway network and it’s a pleasure to drive in most of the country. 

Driving in busy cities such as Lisbon, the capital, can be more of a challenge.