Portugal Travel Tips

Great things to see and do in Portugal

Driving in Portugal

Driving a UK car in Portugal

Driving in Lisbon

Driving from the UK to Portugal is a fantastic journey, giving you the opportunity to enjoy the many toll roads in France (!), the long open roads and scenery of Spain and the windy rural motorways and villages of Portugal. If you plan to drive your own car from the UK to Portugal, though, you should bear some legal requirements in mind.

Apart from the fact that you have to drive on the right instead of the left, the law in Portugal is stricter for drivers when it comes to documentation. It’s illegal to drive without a bright reflective jacket (yellow, orange or red) in the car and an approved reflective warning triangle. In the event of an accident or breakdown, you must don the jacket and position the triangle on the road a safe distance behind your car as a warning to other road users.

Driving in Portugal, guimaraes

A driving scene in Guimaraes.

If you are stopped by police, you may be asked for a driving licence, proof of insurance, proof of address and proof that your car has an MOT road-worthiness certificate, as well as proof of ownership of the vehicle. A UK licence is usually acceptable in Portugal, but it’s best to show the plastic version with a photo and an EU flag rather than the older paper version. You should always carry your passport as well as your identity document – Portuguese citizens always carry their ID card, because they can be asked to produce it and it is an offence not to do so.

If you are stopped by police, especially driving a UK car, you are likely to be treated with polite respect and you may not be asked to produce much documentation, but this will depend on the mood of the policeman and where you live. In the north, for example, the police stop very few UK cars, so these are often dealt with as tourists, but in the Algarve, the police often do sweeps looking for cars owned by residents who do not properly import them.

How long can I drive my UK car in Portugal?

This is a common question, particularly for British expats seeking to move to the country.  You can’t keep your UK car in Portugal for more than 183 days in any year. Some people mistakenly think the 183 days is consecutive, but it is actually a total number of days – so you can’t keep leaving and coming back if your total days in Portugal tops that figure.

After that time, the car must leave the country, or you can pay to have it “matriculated”, which means getting a new Portuguese registration and cancelling the UK registration.

There are agents who can help with the importation process. You have to prove that you owned the car in the UK for at least a year, to avoid having to pay an import duty or VAT (IVA, in Portugal) on the car. You can only bring in one car per family.

The Honest John website has an excellent guide to this process. I did go through the process with my car when I moved to Portugal.

Also, here is the Foreign & Commonwealth Office advice for taking a UK car to Portugal.

Insurance for driving in Portugal

Before you bring your car to Portugal, check your insurance, because you will most probably need to pay for additional European cover, if you don’t already have that, as well as breakdown cover for the period of your trip. You can get separate insurance in Portugal for a UK vehicle. Ibex Insurance, based in Gibraltar, covers Spain and Portugal for UK vehicles at competitive rates.

The cost of insurance should be the same for a right-hand-drive vehicle as a left-hand drive one. The price of insurance in Portugal is based on category of driver and other conditions, as well as the level of insurance cover you choose.

Tips for driving in Portugal

The rules for driving in Portugal are similar to the rules in the UK, with two major differences. First, in Portugal you drive on the right-hand side of the road. Second, Portugal, like most of Europe, has a series of toll roads, but Portuguese tolls have two types, which I explain below.

Toll roads in Portugal

The two types of toll roads in Portugal are, first, the ones where you pay on entry or exit (usually on exit, after taking a ticket on entry); second, the automatic tolls where you automatically incur a cost, which can be drawn from credit you pre-pay, or you pay at a designated location, based on your registration. These are known as SCUT tolls.

Via Verde toll road exit in Portugal

A manned toll road exit looks like this. With a pre-payment Via Verde card you can drive straight through the V lane. Otherwise, pay by cash or card.

You can tell when you are approaching a manned toll road by the presence of a “portagem” sign.

Portagem sign for toll road

The portagem sign tells you which lane to choose as you approach the toll booths. Choose V if you have a pre-pay Via Verde account.

The SCUT tolls, officially called electronic tolls (peaje electronico) can be paid for using your Via Verde card but you can also buy an EasyToll card or Tollcard, which will be valid for use in electronic tolls.

If you drive through the electronic tolls without having pre-paid, or without paying later, you could be liable for a fine back in the UK.

Also, another big warning – if you buy only an EasyToll card, you cannot use this in a Via Verde lane.

Find full information about toll payment options and locations here.

Speed limits in Portugal

Throughout the country, these are the general speed limits to be aware of.

  • Urban areas: 50kmh
  • Open roads in built-up areas: 90kmh
  • Motorways: 120kmh (but not less than 50)
  • Cars towing on open roads: 70kmh
  • Cars towing on motorways: 100kmh

Laws of the road

Portugal has some laws for motorists that you must abide by, especially if you are driving a UK car in the Algarve, because the Police may decide to pick on you as a good target for a fine.

  • You must carry a warning triangle in the car, a reflective vest, which should be in the car so you can don it before getting out of the vehicle (so, not in the boot).
  • You should have a valid UK driving licence, but make sure you carry photo ID at all times. If you don’t have a photo licence, get an international driving permit.
  • If your car doesn’t have EU-branded registration plates, put a GB sticker on the back of the car.
  • Take the valid insurance certificate, the V5 ownership registration (or car hire contract) and, if the car is more than three years old, the MOT certificate.
  • Stickers on the headlights to divert the beam away from cars coming towards you on your left. Also, carry spare bulbs for your lights.
  • If you drive across the mile-long 25 de Abril bridge across the River Tagus, it’s illegal to run out of fuel on the bridge.
  • Everyone in the car must wear a seatbelt at all times.
  • Motorcyclists must dip their headlights during the day and wear crash helmets.
  • For emergency services, dial 112.

For additional tips on driving in Portugal, view The AA’s guide. There is also a great list of driving rules and regulations on the Anglo Info website.

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  1. Helge Stranden

    If you drive a foreign car in Portugal in 180 days, can you just make a trip to Spain and get some kind of documentation that you have been there, drive back and ready for 183 more days?

    • That doesn’t get around the law. The 183 days limit are within a year period, so if you keep it for 183 days, you would have to take it out of Portugal for 182 days before bringing it back.

  2. Rhys

    Useful stuff. Obrigado.
    Do you know if all the above is still current rules and regs?
    ALSO, I have been told if you register a UK car on Port. plates you cannot then sell it on for five years or something ? SOunds odd but is there some truth to it ?
    Also, I am not res in Portugal, albeit do own a house for hols. ( Less than six months a year ).
    Do you have to be resident to own a Portuguese registered car ?

    • You can buy a Portuguese car and own it in Portugal if you are not resident, as long as it is road legal. I don’t think there is a five year restriction on selling a car once you have brought it in.

  3. riv

    People keep saying it is VERY expensive to register a UK car on Port plates if you are not resident.
    But can someone be more specific ?
    EG, what is the minimum tax ? Does it depend on the car’s sale value / age or what ?
    EG, a 12 year old car worth very little or nothing ? What wd that cost to re register in Portugal for a non resident ?
    ALSO, is it correct that if you register a car AS a resident you then cannot sell if for X years ?

    • I don’t know the answers to tax questions. There should be no tax on bringing in a car if you are resident. If you have owned the car for at least 12 months in the UK, this is regarded as bringing in a possession, but if you are not resident and you want to import a car, you had best consult with an import specialist, or the Automobile Club of Portugal.

      I have not read anything about not being allowed to sell a car after you have matriculated it, but you are not allowed to bring in another vehicle for ten years tax free.

  4. Neal

    Hi, when you say 183 days in any year, do you mean calendar year or 365 day period?

    • I’m pretty sure it is a 365-day period. Not January to December.

      • Carly Richards

        Hi, I have 2 GNR friends in Portugal and they both say after 6months drive to Spain and drive back job done…

      • Phil Newton

        Hi Steve , The old topic of the 183 days re having a uk REG car in Portugal.I cannot find out when the days start because I have taken the car back to the UK after 70 days at the end of March 2018 and returned recently with my car after 5 months back in the uk!

        Any thoughts

        • Hi Phil, when I imported my car, the 183 days rule was calendar related. In other words, in any 12-month rolling period, you can’t have your car in Portugal, even if you take it out and back in again. Here’s what the UK Gov guidance says.
          “For the purpose of the legislation, a resident is defined as someone who spends a period of 185 days or more, consecutively or otherwise, in any one calendar year, in Portugal, or whose source of income from paid employment is in Portugal, or whose headquarters or established business activity is in Portugal.”

  5. Guilherme Barata

    So you’re saying it is possible to register my right handed car in portugal?

    • Yes, I did it. When I did it, in 2009, I had to produce proof of ownership, and proof that I had owned the car in the UK for each of the 12 months prior to the transfer. That was to show I wasn’t importing a car I had just bought.

  6. Ricardo

    Really helpful article. Muito obrigado.

    Does Portugal have access to UK registration plate database to issue fines?

    “If you drive through the electronic tolls without having pre-paid, or without paying later, you could be liable for a fine back in the UK.”

    • I believe they have an arrangement. A few years ago, I received a fine in Portugal after driving my PT-registered car in London’s congestion zone five minutes before the charging time ended.

  7. It is actually a great and helpful piece of information. I am satisfied that you simply shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

  8. janet higginson

    is it necessary to have uk road tax on a uk car that is being used daily in portugal ?

    • Maybe someone can add specifics but I believe it is necessary. The assumption would be that it is UK road legal and it would be insured in the UK, for which road tax is necessary.

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