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Renting a car in Portugal: All you need to know ( cheap cars, rules, insurance, …)

Here we will share all you need to know about renting a car in Portugal.

Public transportation in Portugal is cheap but so are rental cars. We’ve had rentals for $5 a day, a steal for the comfort and flexibility you get in return.

A car is not needed in Lisbon and Porto but there are lots of other amazing places to explore in Portugal.

Once you go outside Lisbon and Porto public transportation options are limited. If you want full freedom to explore any area that interests you, then a car rental is really the best option.

The good news is that renting a car is easy, there are loads of car rental companies including international household names. Driving in Portugal is also relaxed and you very rarely see accidents.

There are some things to keep in mind, such as the toll roads, and we’ll cover all of them here.

There is a really good chance that this post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission (for which we are deeply grateful) at no extra cost to you.

In a hurry?

If you don’t have time to read the full post, here is a list of the best rental car companies in Portugal: Here you can quickly and easily compare the prices of different rental companies. Booking via Rentalcars is very easy. It’s a very intuitive website and you can see all important things at a glance, such as the car details, the number of miles included (usually unlimited), the included insurance, and the cancellation conditions.

Discover cars: The booking process with Discover Cars is just as intuitive as it is with Rentalcars.  All rates include the CDW and I like that the deductible is already clearly shown on the comparison page. The fuel policy included mileage and the cancelation policy is also clearly stated.  Most cars are cancellable up to 2 days in advance without any fees.  In some cases, a fully refundable deposit is taken at the time of booking.

View of the Alfama district in Lisbon
You don’t need a car for exploring Lisbon

Renting a car in Portugal

Here are all the things you need to know about renting a car in Portugal.

With these tips, you will be able to rent a car in Portugal for cheap and avoid any surprises or extras.

Why rent a car in Portugal

Some of Portugal’s most beautiful spots are inland and difficult to reach by public transport.

That being said, we also think that there’s nothing that can beat the freedom of having your own car.

You’re the master of your own schedule and you don’t need to stress about missing the last train or bus back.

Of course, this flexibility comes with a price, but we’ve been to Portugal numerous times and have always found a car for a very affordable (read: cheap) price.

Here is an amazing 2 week Portugal itinerary.

Should you self-drive in Portugal?

We are fully in favor of a self-drive vacation in Portugal. No set times when to get up, no waiting for buses or trains, and no dragging with your luggage.

In addition to that, if you have your own car, you can stop as often or as little as you want.

Believe us if we say that you will come across many scenic roads in Portugal. Getting from one place to the next often involves many photo stops along the way.

Driving in Portugal is also relaxed, once you leave Lisbon you will notice that people often go slower than the speed limit.

While this would certainly annoy me at home, I found it a bliss when cruising through Portugal as it allowed me to enjoy the beautiful views.

Mountain road in Portugal
Exploring the countryside in Portugal

Car rental Insurance in Portugal

If you’ve rented cars in other countries you’re probably familiar with how these insurances work.

Basic CDW

There is the basic CDW but it usually comes with a high deductible.

In addition to the basic CDW most car rental companies also offer additional insurance packages.

The basic CDW is compulsory in Portugal, it includes unlimited third-party liability insurance and is required by law.

You don’t need to worry about this CDW because the price of all car rentals will always be shown including this fee.

Additional insurances

Additional insurances cover the excess, damage to the windscreen, mirrors, wheels, scratches, and more…

These insurances are optional, and because driving is so relaxed in Portugal they’re not really necessary in our opinion. Burglary in cars is also not as big of a problem as in other countries.

Still, they can give peace of mind and there have been cases where we took out full insurance.


The rental companies deal differently with what they consider to be damage.

Whereas most international brands will ignore scratches that are smaller than 2 centimeters the ultra-low-cost local companies will charge you for every tiny scratch they can find.

This is something to take into account when comparing prices.

Discover cars

A good website to compare car rental prices is Discover Cars.

We consistently find the best deals on this website. They also clearly show the deductible and offer full coverage for a competitive price.

If you decide on taking full insurance it is always better to do this in advance. It will be cheaper to sign up for the full coverage at the moment you book the car than to add this at the counter.

If you take out full-coverage with Discover Cars they will refund the excess that you had to pay to the car rental company.

Travel credit cards

Travel credit cards often include a hire car excess policy. Check this before you take out additional insurance because it is not necessary to be insured for the same twice. Make sure to read the fine print of your credit card’s policy, there are always conditions attached to the policies. Usually, these involve that you need to use the card to pay for the car. There may also be a limitation on the duration of rental and sometimes certain countries are excluded.

N26 Travel Credit Card

TIP: Make sure to take your time to inspect your car and check for scratches, dents and other damage if you don’t get full coverage.

Can you rent a car at your destination?

Car rental companies have offices in all major cities and airports. This is the case in mainland Portugal as well as in Madeira and the Azores.

However, we do not recommend that you wait until you arrive at your destination.

Not only lots of cars are already booked in advance which means you have fewer choices but it’s also often cheaper to rent a car in advance.

Renting your car online allows you to compare the prices of the different car rental companies and book a car that suits both your budget and your needs.

In case you’re not able to go on your trip for whatever reason, most car rental companies allow you to cancel your rental car for free.

Lisbon tram Portugal
The iconic yellow trams of Lisbon, Lisbon is best explored on foot or by public transit

Renting a car in Lisbon

There are tons of car rental companies in Lisbon.

Thanks to the fierce competition you will usually find very attractive prices.

Discover Cars always gave us the best deals comparing the local companies with the major international brands.

You don’t need a car for a city trip to Lisbon.

If you have a road trip that starts in Lisbon and you’ve planned a few days to visit Lisbon at the start or the end of your trip consider renting a car from one of the downtown offices.

To avoid drop-off fees you will need to return the car to the exact same location where you rented it.  So if you picked up your vehicle in the center of Lisbon you will have return it there as well. If you nevertheless wish to drive your car directly to the airport at the end of the trip, you will have to pay a drop-off fee.

These fees can be excessive, certainly in situations like these where the offices are only a few miles apart.

Check prices and availability:
Discover cars Lisbon

Renting a car in Porto

In Porto there are slightly fewer rental companies but still more than enough.

You can use an aggregator site like Discover Cars to compare them all in one go.

You don’t need a car to explore Porto itself.

If your road trip starts in this city consider picking up your car in one of the many downtown locations on the day that you leave the city.

Similar to what we said about Lisbon, renting a car in the city and returning it to the airport, or vice-versa, will be subject to a drop-off fee.

Check prices and availability:
Discover cars Porto

Carvoeiro Beach Algarve Portugal
Carvoeiro’s untouched beach during our visit in Winter

Renting a car in the Algarve

You will find rental offices in all major cities in the Algarve as well as at Faro Airport.

The easiest way to find the best price will be to use an aggregator site such as Discover Cars or Rentalcars.

It may be worthwhile to check for prices before you book your flights.

We have noticed that car rental prices in the Algarve tend to significantly surge in the high season.

Cars in Lisbon can be much cheaper and flights to Lisbon are usually cheaper or at most the same price as well.

Insider tip: You can potentially save a lot of money by starting and ending your trip in Lisbon.

Lisbon to Faro is 2 hours and 30 minutes by car using toll roads.

The toll is approx. €25 in 2021. If you avoid toll roads it will take you closer to 4 hours.

Should you rent a car from the airport?

You will find that there are offices both in the city center as well as at the airport.

When deciding between the two, you should know the following.

Renting a car at the airport

Rentals at the airport come with an airport surcharge that may make the rental a tad more expensive.

On the other hand, these offices tend to have a wider selection and more competition which will usually make up for the extra fee.

Renting a car in town

If you land in Lisbon or Porto and plan on staying a few days in either of these cities before starting your road trip it may be better to pick up your car at one of the downtown locations.

The airports are well-connected and you won’t be needing your car while you explore the cities.

Street art in Covilha Portugal
Street art cheers up the old city of Covilha

Which car to rent in Portugal

Even though we don’t have kids we usually rent mid-size vehicles just to have a larger trunk.

If you’re traveling with 2 suitcases, like we do, a smaller car usually means that one suitcase will need to go on the back seat.

In Portugal, however, small is beautiful.

When in Portugal we opt for an economy car.

These models are still large enough to comfortably fit the two of us.

The drawback is that some of our luggage will need to go in the back seat but this is nothing compared to the benefits this car has in the narrow streets that you will encounter all over Portugal.

Maneuvering these narrow streets with sharp turns and blind corners can be a stressful experience and you will regret hiring a big car the first time you come across one of these.

Tips for avoiding narrow streets

Avoiding such streets completely is not always possible, but there are a number of things you can do to avoid them as much as possible.

  • Park your car outside historical city centers and walk the last few kilometers.
  • Don’t follow your GPS blindly, they sometimes suggest a shortcut whereas you could also stay on the departemental route. It’s often such shortcuts that tend to be steep and narrow back roads.
  • Don’t drive any further if you see the street narrowing. Stop and look for alternatives or get out and inspect the road on foot. This is often easier because having to back up your car in such narrow streets is the last thing you want to do.
Colorful streets in Portugal
Colorful streets in Portugal

Where to rent a car in Portugal

Finding a rental car shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

All major car rental car companies are present in Portugal, they have offices in mainland Portugal as well as on the Azores and Madeira.

In addition to that, you will also find numerous small-scale rental car companies, some of which are only present in Portugal.

Instead of comparing all rental agencies individually we always rely on Discover cars and Rentalcars to compare all car rental companies.

Both do a good job but these days we consistently find lower rates with Discover Cars.

Here’s a comparison of both sites.

Discover Cars

This is our favorite aggregator site. They compare over 30 suppliers to find the best deals.

These include the household names like Hertz and Avis but also lesser-known local companies like Record-Go, Guerin, and Goldcar.

The site works well to find good fares in mainland Portugal as well as on the Azores and Madeira.

You can check the rental conditions for a complete and clear listing of all important aspects including the security deposit, the deductible, the cancellation policy, the driver requirements, and any cross-border restrictions.

Most cars are cancellable for a full refund up to 2 days in advance.

The fuel policy and the included mileage is also clearly mentioned.

All rates always include the basic CDW and it’s possible to upgrade to full coverage for a very competitive price.

It’s possible to book extras like child seats and E-toll devices during the booking process.

We recommend booking a toll pass when you’re hiring a car in Portugal. More about this later.

Check prices and availability:
Discover cars

Rentalcars will be a known name for many.

Both sites are very much alike, if you have used one of the two, you will find your way around the other without any problems. To find all important details (the small print) of the rental conditions you need to click on “important information”.

The list of suppliers that Rentalcars checks is a little smaller which could explain why the rates found are usually more expensive.

Rental cars are usually cancellable for free up to 48 hours in advance.

The rental prices shown include the basic CDW and Rentalcars offers 2 insurance packages that can be added to the rental if you want a more carefree journey.

These insurance packages are more expensive than the ones offered by Discover Cars.

The Premium insurance has 1 advantage, namely that you can rent with a debit card. It is very expensive though.

It’s also possible to add all kinds of extras like child seats and toll pass devices to your rental.

We suggest adding these at the time of booking so that you don’t have to think anymore about them when you’re picking up your car.

Check prices and availability:

Fall colors along the countryside roads
Driving the countryside roads is especially rewarding in the fall

Rules for renting a car in Portugal

If you’ve ever rented a car in another country, you’ll find that the rules are very similar around the world.

Here are some important things to keep in mind when renting a car in Portugal.

Young drivers

Most companies have a minimum age for the driver.

The legal minimum age in Portugal is 18 but many companies only accept drivers who are 21 or older.

As long as you are not yet 21 you will have to choose from a limited selection of suppliers including Alamo, Budget, and Enterprise.

Both Discover cars and Rentalcars make it easy to see which cars you can choose from, you just need to make sure that you enter your age at the moment that you start your search.

There will also be a surcharge called a “Young-drive fee”.

This fee not only applies to those under 21, the age up to which this is applied varies per company.

Some companies like Alamo are rather generous and only charge it when the driver is 21 or younger.

You also have Dollar where a surcharge applies up to the age of 30 for certain models.

Both Discover Cars and Rentalcars will show whether a Young-driver fee” is applicable.

Discover Cars will show the total amount, including the fee, in the search results.

Rentalcars will show the surcharge in small below the price of the car.

In addition to the age, many companies also require that you have had your driver’s license for a year (sometimes 2 years).

These details are found in “important information – required to pick up your car” section of Rentalcars, or the “rental conditions – driver requirements” section when using Discover Cars.

The church at the main square in Lagos
The church at the main square in Lagos

Cross-border restrictions/fees

You will usually need to inform your rental company if you plan on driving the car to Spain or any other country.

Most probably a surcharge will apply.

Failing to inform the company will void all your insurances.

Renting a car in Portugal and driving to Spain

Neither Discover Cars nor Rentalcars show the full details about these policies.

If your road trip takes you across the border, it is best to contact the rental company for all the details.

Sometimes you will also find more information on their own website.

Azores Portugal Rental Car
Driving through the UNESCO vineyards on Pico in the Azores

Island-hopping in the Azores

Some, but not all, rental agencies on the Azores allow you to take your car on the ferry.

It can reduce the hassle that comes with having to rent a new car all the time. A disadvantage is that the car usually has to be returned where you rented it. One-way rentals with drop-offs on another island are almost never allowed.

All the details are found in “important information” section of Rentalcars, or the “rental conditions” section when using Discover Cars.

We didn’t take our car with us on the ferry but instead made use of “multi-island-hiring” when we were island hopping on the Azores.

What is required to rent a car in Portugal

To be able to rent a car in Portugal you need 3 things.

A driver’s license: This makes sense of course and I’m hoping you weren’t planning on driving a car in Portugal if you’ve never done so in your own country. One important thing to keep in mind is that most rental companies will require you to have your license for at least one year at the time that you pick up your car. (for some companies this is 2 years) Find out here whether you need an international driving permit.

A passport or ID card: When collecting your car you will need to present your passport or ID card together with your driving license.

A credit card: Most companies require that the credit card is in the driver’s name. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted. Most companies also accept American Express. Debit cards and prepaid cards are in general NOT accepted. There are some exceptions though. This means it is possible to rent a car with a debit card.

Old city gate
An old city gate, streets in the historic centers are usually very narrow

Can you rent a car in Portugal with a debit card?

The short answer is yes. If you have a credit card we recommend against using your debit card for your rental but if you only have debit cards these are two things you can do to rent a car in Portugal.

One car rental company that accepts both credit and debit cards is Turisprime.

Avis does also accept debit cards in some instances (check the rental conditions) but requires the driver to be 25 or older.

When using Discover Cars and Rentalcars you can use the filters on the left to only show the results of these suppliers.

The options will be limited. The good thing is that Turisprime is not the cheapest but they’re not overly expensive either.

Another option is to look with Rentalcars for cars that have the Premium insurance package available.

This premium insurance package will deal with the security deposit.

Because there’s no longer a security deposit required you will be able to use a debit card to collect your car.

The cost of the premium insurance package is considerable and we recommend renting with Turisprime instead whenever possible.

Whenever you’re using a debit cards you must be sure that there are sufficient funds in your account to pay for the security deposit. (not so if you opt to go with the premium insurance package because then there’s no deposit)  The debit card must also be in the driver’s name.

Colorful streets in Portugal
Colorful streets in Portugal

Do you need an International Driver’s License

Few people will need to apply for an International Driver’s License.

These are the requirements:

  • EU Citizens can use their current EU driver’s license without any restrictions.
  • This also applies to citizens of Switzerland and other countries in the European Economic Area.
  • Non-EU visitors with a driver’s license in English or Portuguese can use their driver’s license for maximum 6 months. If they will stay longer in Portugal they will need to apply for an EU license.
  • All others will need to apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP) or an official translation of their current license. In both cases you will always have to carry that document together with your original driving license.

Renting a car in Portugal with a UK license

Can I hire a car in Portugal with a UK license? Yes, you can!

Your UK driver’s license is valid in Portugal for a period of up to 6 months. This is true for both photocard driving licenses as well as paper driving licenses.

Renting a car in Portugal after Brexit

After Brexit, you can still use your UK driver’s license for a period of up to 6 months.

The only thing that has changed because of Brexit is that you will now have to apply for an EU license if you want to stay longer.

Renting a car in Portugal with a US license

Portuguese law accepts American Driver’s licenses for rentals of 6 months or less. There’s no need to apply for an international driving permit.

Renting a car in Portugal with a Canadian license

As a Canadian, there’s no need for an International Driving Permit.

All you need is your Canadian driver’s license as long as your rental is for 6 months or less.

Tips for renting a car in Portugal for cheap

Save on fuel

Unfortunately, fuel is expensive in Portugal, certainly if you compare it with other expenses like those for food and drinks.

This is another reason to take a smaller car. The smaller the car, the less fuel consumption.

To find the cheapest gas stations on your route, or in your neighborhood, you can install the 1-2-3 Fuel app on your phone. The app shows data that is coming directly from the fuel stations and is therefore very accurate.

Most companies will use a Full-to-Full fuel policy, meaning that the gas tank is full when you pick up the car and needs to be full again when you drop it off.

Don’t go for another policy as this will inevitably cost you more. The price charged by the rental companies for refueling the car is more expensive than what you pay yourself at the pump.

Always check the fuel level before driving away with the car.  We have had several occasions where the tank was not full despite it should have been.

Driving on the motorway in Portugal
Driving on the motorway in Portugal, this time we got lucky and had a GPS in our car without paying for it

Do you need a GPS?

The road network in Portugal can be a real tangle. A navigation system can therefore come in handy for your road trip.

However, rental companies charge exaggerated prices for their GPS systems, which are often not even as good as Waze and Google maps.

Both Waze and Google maps work extremely well in Portugal. They know all the sights and we use a combination of both whenever we are in Portugal.

Google maps has the advantage that you can download the maps to your phone in advance and use it without a data connection.

EU citizens can use their mobile phones as if they were at home, there are no roaming charges within the European Union. Others can buy a local SIM card, this will be cheaper than paying extra for a GPS with your rental car.

One-way car rentals and drop-off fees

The rental companies prefer that their cars are returned to the original location because this makes it easier for them to manage their stock.

You’re almost always allowed to return it to another location but this will result in a surcharge. The surcharge is variable and largely depends on the distance between your pick-up and return location.

This fee is automatically included and clearly shown when using Rentalcars and Discover Cars.

Portugal is not that big, with a little creativity you can plan a beautiful road trip where you end up back at your starting point. Porto and Faro are both under 3 hours from Lisbon. You may therefore wonder whether it is worth paying extra if you can save this cost by driving 3 extra hours.

Of course you also have to take into account toll fees and the cost of your flights. It is usually cheaper to fly back from the same airport, but the exceptions obviously prove the rule.

You will have to look at this case by case. Sometimes this can be interesting, but we usually don’t recommend it because the fees charged are often excessive.

Mountain roads in Portugal
Mountain roads in Portugal

Check your pick-up and drop-off hours

Your rental price is calculated based on the hours you indicated when you did your search. Choose these hours carefully, because an hour difference can mean that you pay a whole day extra.

Here’s an example to make this clear:

If you indicate that you’re going to pick up the car today at 2 PM and return it tomorrow by 2 PM you will pay for one day. If you instead opt to return it tomorrow at 3 PM you will pay 2 full days.

If your travel plans allow for it, returning the car an hour earlier can save you quite a few bucks.

Daily rates vs weekly rates

Some companies use a combination of daily and weekly rates and there have been cases where the weekly rate was significantly cheaper than the daily rate. In those cases renting a car for 7 days turned out to be cheaper than renting one for 6 days.

This is more of an exception than a rule but it never hurts to check.

Before booking this, you should check how the rental company handles the earlier return of cars.

There’s usually no problem returning a prepaid car earlier as planned but some companies may charge administrative fees for doing so. Others will recalculate the price to refund any unused days, which can be detrimental in this case.

However, it is highly unlikely that companies will do this with prepaid rates.

Possible extra charges when you rent a car in Portugal

We already covered several possible extra charges above:

In addition to the above, here are a few more things for which you can (have to) pay extra.

The Lighthouse at Cabo de Sao Vicente
The Lighthouse at Cabo de São Vicente

Additional drivers

Only one person is authorized to drive the car.

An additional driver fee must be paid for each extra driver.

The cost for the extra driver can sometimes exceed the cost of the car so think twice if it’s really necessary to have one.

Usually, you can arrange this directly at the time of booking the car. The additional driver is one of the optional extras listed on Discover Cars and Rentalcars.

There may however be instances where it needs to be arranged at the counter.

Child seats

Depending on the supplier the fees for child seats can vary from €7 to €15. For longer road trips it can be interesting to bring your own seat.

The extra bag fee of the airline might be cheaper than what the car rental company charges.

You could also buy one in a local supermarket, prices for simple booster seats start at €15.

Toll devices

This is one option that we recommend taking.

There are many toll roads in Portugal and the toll roads are sometimes significantly faster than the departmental roads.

New toll roads no longer have toll booths, only electronic gates, and thus can no longer be paid for with cash or credit/debit cards.

The A22, the principal motorway in the Algarve, has these electronic tolls.

Here we explain in more depth how this works.

You can set up your GPS to avoid toll roads, we also do this if time allows, but this is not foolproof. In our experience, Google Maps and Waze are usually very accurate but here we had 2 times that we still drove through a toll gate.

Without a toll device, you will then have to pay your toll at the post office (see below). To avoid such administration, we always opt for a toll device.

The Via Verde lanes at the Ponte De 24 Abril near Lisbon
The Via Verde lanes at the Ponte De 24 Abril near Lisbon (photo credits: Xuaxo)

Fuel Policy

Most rental companies offer a service where you do not have to return the car with a full tank. Supposedly to take the worry out of finding a gas station.

This is almost always a bad deal and finding gas stations in Portugal is not all that hard.

There are gas stations near the airports and if you use Waze or Google Maps it will be easy to find a petrol station close to the station where you need to drop off the car.

Always opt for a full-to-full fuel policy and make sure to return the car with a full tank.

Cancellation fees

Both Discover Cars and Rentalcars offer free cancellation up to 48 hours before your pick-up.

Renting a car in Portugal: Manual vs Automatic

Manual transmission still rules in Europe and is only gradually disappearing in favor of automatic transmission.

The range of automatic cars is small compared to those with manual transmission and they will usually be at least double the price.

If you book only short in advance, the price difference will be even greater.

If you want a car with an automatic transmission, it is best that you book it as long as possible in advance.

Praia Do Camilo near Lagos
Praia Do Camilo near Lagos

Driving in Portugal

Highways and toll-fees

Portugal has many toll roads and a large part of them work with a system of electronic gates. You no longer find a traditional booth where you can pay with cash or credit card.

Electronic toll sign

You also recognize these highways by this sign.

E-toll device

When renting your car, you can choose to pay extra for an e-toll device. The fee is usually anywhere between 1€ and 2€/day. If you have this device you can use these toll roads.

After your rental, you will receive an overview of the toll from the rental company and they will settle this on your credit card.

This E-toll device, called Via Verde, also allows you to use the automatic gates at the traditional toll roads.


Another option is to sign up for EasyToll.

This is something you can do yourself online.

You need the car plate and a Visa, Mastercard, or Maestro card. The car plate will be linked to your credit or debit card and the fees will be directly charged to your card each time you pass a toll gate.

Easytoll registrations are valid for 30 days. They are valid only on highways with the electronic toll system. You will need to use the traditional booths at the other toll roads.

Paying your toll at the postal office

Electronic toll fees can also be paid at the postal offices but this is a cumbersome process.

First of all, it takes at least one day but sometimes 2 days before the postal office can see what tolls are associated with your license plate.

You also only have 5 days to pay your tolls.

If you often use these toll roads, you will therefore often have to go to the post office.

A disadvantage of this way of working is that you will no longer be able to drive on the toll roads for the last 2 days of your vacation because you will not be able to pay this toll.

The car rental company will get a fine for these unpaid tolls and charge this, along with an administrative fee of their own, to your credit card.

Praia da Costa Nova
Hitting the beach at Praia da Costa Nova

Road signs

Most road signs are self-explanatory.

Speed limits are indicated by circular signs with red borders. The most common speed limits are 50km/h in residential areas, 90 km/h on departmental roads, and 120 km/h on motorways. The minimum speed on motorways is 50 km/h.

Cars with trailers are allowed 100 km/h on motorways and 70 km/h on departmental roads.

The above are the standard speed limits. You will also find speed limits of 70, 80, or 100 km/h on departmental roads.

Speed limits can be a bit confusing at times, with the limits sometimes going up and down every few kilometers on departmental roads. Speed limits are always valid until the next crossroad (or a sign indicating the end).

So if you’re driving on a departmental road and a sign is not repeated after an intersection, you can drive 90 km/h again.

Almost all residential areas have a “velocidade controlada” traffic light. A sign announces the traffic light but your speed is already measured at that sign. Slow down to 50km/h before the sign or you will arrive at a red light.

I don’t know how active the police are in checking speed, we never got a ticket. Still, I recommend paying close attention to the road signs.

Points of interest are indicated by brown signs. Most sights are well-marked, but it can’t hurt to use your GPS.

Toll roads where there is a choice of both automatic or manual payment will have green “V” signs above the automatic lanes. You can only use these lanes with the Via Verde E-toll device.

Important regulations

Cell phones can only be used hands-free when driving. If you want to make a call you must pull over.

The driver is not allowed to use headphones.

All passengers in the car need to wear seatbelts.

Portugal’s alcohol limit is 50mg/100ml blood.

Pedestrians have the right of way. If pedestrians are crossing the road on a zebra crossing you must stop. It is quite common to see signs with a recommended speed limit of 30 km/h at zebra crossings. (a blue sign with white 30). Although these signs are not there outside of cities, Portuguese law stipulates that you have to slow down to 30 km/h at a pedestrian crossing.

Traffic in Portugal

We have already driven quite a few kilometers in Portugal. Both in the mountainous north and on the beautiful coast of the Algarve. And of course also in the beautiful cities.

It is usually wonderfully relaxed driving on the Portuguese roads. Of course it is busy in cities such as Lisbon and Porto, but as soon as you leave them behind, it is very quiet and you are sometimes alone on the road.

Portuguese generally drive quietly, only in the cities it can be a bit more hectic. Most respect the speed limits and you will come across many that go slower than the limit.

We have not seen many accidents and certainly not serious accidents.

Most Portugueze avoid the toll roads. If you don’t mind paying toll fees you almost have your own private highway.

On the other hand, the departmental roads that run parallel to these toll roads can be busy. The N-125 in the Algarve is such road. But even here it is not dangerous to drive if you follow the highway code. Just go with the flow.

Traffic Police in Portugal

Portugal has 2 police forces controlling traffic.

One is the GNR, the Guarda Nacional Republicana. You will see them in rural areas. They’re similar to the gendarmerie in France or the Guardia Civil in Spain. The GNR is a division of the military, their cars can be recognized by distinct green stripes and green letters.

The PSP, the Public Security Police, is active in the cities. They have a blue uniform and a blue-white livery for the police cars.

The police are normally correct in enforcing the law towards both Portuguese and foreigners. They usually speak basic English and if you approach them kindly they will do their best to help you properly.

Road conditions

Road conditions are in general really good. Toll roads are often almost deserted and in excellent condition. Departemental roads are also really good. They can be busy close to larger cities but not to the extent that the traffic is overwhelming or chaotic.

If possible I would try to avoid the historic city centers. The streets are really narrow and double parking is really common. There you will sometimes have to use your maneuvering skills.

Large parts of the road network in Portugal are not (or badly) lit at night.


Roundabouts are much more common in Europe than they are in the United States. Portugal also has its fair share of these particular crossings. If you will be driving in Portugal you can almost be sure that you will come across one of them, perhaps as soon as you leave the airport.

You shouldn’t stress about this, taking a roundabout is as easy as cake. In Portugal one drive’s on the right-hand side and thus cars are going in a counter-clockwise direction on the roundabout.

When approaching a roundabout you need to give way to traffic already on the roundabout. You have to look for traffic coming from the left.

Broadly speaking there are roundabouts with one and two lanes. If there is only one lane, just enter the roundabout when it is safe to do so and exit again at the street you need.

At roundabouts with two lanes you’re expected to use the inside lane until you approach your exit. If you want to take the first exit you can stay on the right-hand lane. If you will be taking any of the other exits you move to the inside lane and then move to the outside lane once you get to your exit.

Traffic on the inside lane has priority over those in the outside lane. If it looks like you won’t be able to get to the outside lane soon enough you can just go round the roundabout again.

Does this sound complicated? Don’t worry, you will get a hold of it a lot faster than you expect.


Touristic sights outside cities usually have a (free) parking and and in rural areas you tend to have ample parking space anyway. Things become tricky in bigger cities and Portugal’s historic city centers which are always a maze of narrow zig-zag streets.

Finding parking in the historic city centers can be an issue. Due to the narrow streets and small parking spaces, a small car is absolutely recommended. When parking in the streets you mustn’t do so within 5 meters of an intersection or bend with limited visibility. Always check that the parking spaces in the streets are not reserved for the residents.

It can be very difficult to find a parking spot in bigger cities like Lisbon and Porto.

You also don’t need a car in these cities. If you’re visiting it as a day trip we recommend parking your vehicle on the city’s outskirts and walking or taking a bus/tram into the city.

If it’s the beginning of your road trip you are better off picking up your car at the time that you leave the city. It will save you money and parking stress.

If you still have to park in the city, here’s what you need to know.


You will find parking meters in most of Lisbon. The city is divided into zones and tariffs vary from 0.8 €/hr to 3€/hr at the time of writing. There is also a limit on how long you can park, 4 hours in the cheaper zones and 2 hours in the zones closer to the city center.

The parking meters are operated by Emel and you usually have to pay from 9 am to 7 pm. The cheaper green and yellow zones are usually only applicable on weekdays, starting from red you most likely will also have to pay on Saturday. Sundays and Public Holidays are free. Always check the parking meter, all the details can be found there.

Parking meters only accept coins. If you don’t have coins you can use the ePark app or the ViaVerde app to pay with Paypal or a credit card. The second has the benefit that it also works in other cities.

There’re also several parking garages spread out across Lisbon. They become more expensive the closer you get to Central Lisbon. Rates start at 0.8€/hr and go up to 2.8€/hr. Here’s an overview of car parks operated by Emel. Other operators are Empark, Bragaparques, ….

There’s a flat fee per day of €10 or €20 depending on where you park.

Parking garages accept cash and credit cards. Sometimes you can also use your Via Verde transponder (the one you use to pay the parking tolls). If you have that device and you see a green Via Verde button on the cabinet where you would normally take a ticket you can press the button instead of taking a ticket.

To exit using Via Verde just slowly approach the barrier. It will open automatically and the applicable fare will be shown on the cabinet.

The cheapest car parks are usually the outdoor parking lots. They often offer day tickets costing 2€ or 3€. There is one on the Praça dos Restauradores, Alameda, and Entrecampos, among others. Here’s an overview of those managed by Emel.

It is relatively safe to park along the street, there are not so many car break-ins. However, always use common sense and don’t leave anything valuable in your car.


It’s probably a little easier to find free parking in Porto than it is in Lisbon but it remains a daunting task if you want to park close to the city center.

The free spots with fast access to the historic city center can be found in Vila Nova de Gaia. If you park anywhere near Avenida de República you can take the metro to the old town, or better yet, walk across the iconic Dom Luís I bridge. Know that this is not a recipe for success, so don’t get your hopes up.

Porto itself is divided into 4 parking zones. Parking duration is limited from 2 hours to 10 hours and the rates vary from 0.4€/hour to 1.20€/hour at the time of writing. Parking is payable on weekdays from 9 am to 7 pm and in zone 1 also on Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm.

The parking meters only accept cash. You can also use the ViaVerde app to pay for your parking sessions. The app works in several cities in Portugal and accepts credit cards.

There are several covered car parks in Porto. Some are operated by private companies, but the city itself also manages several. Those are considerably cheaper and they are not necessarily worse.


We have already done many road trips through Portugal and we hope that with this post you have all the information you need to go out on your own.

Traveling through Portugal’s interior is a really fun experience and you will discover many incredible places.

Have a great trip!