With its gorgeous landscapes, small little villages, and excellent road quality, Portugal is one of the easiest countries to drive in. Exploring this country by automobile is an excellent way to make your trip more romantic, spontaneous, and adaptable.
However, it is best to be prepared before starting the engine and embarking on your Portuguese trip.
Here are some pointers to make your driving experience in Portugal more enjoyable.
Driving in Portugal with a US license
In most situations, a US citizen’s driver’s license and passport are sufficient to drive a car in Portugal (with the minimum driver’s age of 18).
An International Driving Permit (IDP) serves as a translated version of your driver’s license. Otherwise, if you are pulled over and the officer does not speak English, you may be fined.
Getting an International Driving Permit (IDP) is relatively easy. You can do so via the American Automobile Association (AAA) website or your local AAA branch. Here is the application form. Also, you do not need to be an AAA member to apply for an IDP; you will have to pay $20, however.
Renting a car in Portugal
To rent a car in Portugal, you must keep in mind the following requirements:
1. Portugal’s minimal car rental age is 18, but some car rental companies may apply additional charges unless you are 23-26.
2. You must have held a driver’s license for at least one year. A valid US, Canadian, or UK license is enough to rent a car.
Here are some of the most reputable car rental companies in Portugal:
What to do when you rent a car in Portugal
- Plan ahead. Renting a car in advance can save you a lot of money. For example, you will pay $320 for a 3-day Toyota Corolla rental.
- Opt for full coverage
- Make photos of the car before the first ride. Thoroughly. Just in case.
- Return with the full tank.
- Ask if the car has any kind of transponder (Via Verde) and how to use it for the toll roads.
- When booking, search for the best options on car rental platforms, such as discovercars.com.
- Once again, book your car far in advance!
Driving in Portugal as an American
Driving in Europe and the United States appears to be very similar. The Portuguese drive on the right side of the road as well, and because traffic restrictions are the same, traffic flow is predictable. However, there are some subtle distinctions to be aware of.
1. The units: You will have to get used to kilometers per hour (km/h) instead of miles per hour (mph).
2. The rules: Always wear a seatbelt, even in the backseat. Don’t use a mobile phone when driving; wearing earphones in the driver’s seat is also prohibited.
3. The speed limits: These differ from those in the United States and are uniform throughout the country. Even if there is no speed limit sign at the village or town entrance, a driver must be aware of the basic rules.
The general speed limits in Portugal are:
- 50 kilometers per hour (31 miles per hour) in urban areas.
- 90 km/h (56 mph) for rural roads.
- 100 km/h (60 mph) for dual-lane motorways.
- 120 km/h (75 mph) for highways.
4. Blood alcohol concentration is lower than the US – 0.05% (50 mg per 100 ml). You can only drink one glass of wine with this drunk driving limit. If you have consumed more alcohol, it is usually preferable to have sober companions pick you up or to call a taxi. Otherwise, you could face serious legal consequences as well as a €1250 fine.
5. Roundabouts: Portugal’s road system, like those of other European countries, features many roundabouts. So, when driving through them, make sure you’re confident.
Roundabouts basics in Europe:
- Slow down before entering.
- The right signal will help other drivers to see that you are about to exit the roundabout.
- Drivers on the roundabout have priority, as opposed to those trying to enter the roundabout.
- The flow on the roundabout is always counter-clockwise.
- The rules for using roundabouts in Portugal differ from the UK: take the right-hand lane if turning right, and take the left-hand lane if going straight (or to the left exit).
Parking your car in Portugal
Parking rules are the same as in the US. However, once you park in the city, ensure you know whether it is a paid parking space.
For example, in Lisbon and other cities, there are color-coded parking zones on the pavement:
- Green You can park all day. Paid from 9 am to 7 pm. In this zone, the parking meter prices are the cheapest.
- Yellow Park all day. Paid from 9 am to 7 pm. Slightly more expensive.
- Red Parking is available only for two hours. Expensive. You will find these zones mostly in the city center.
- There are some parking areas where you can park for a day for €3-€5.
- Parking is free of charge from 7 pm until 9 am the following day in all of the colored zones.
To check whether the zone is metered, check emel.pt website. The only problem is that it doesn’t have an English version.
Here is a list of things you need to have in your car while driving in Portugal:
- At least one reflective triangle.
- High-visibility fluorescent safety vest.
Car owners from the UK: When driving in Portugal, if your car does not have the UK identity on the license plate, you must display a UK sticker.