Website URL: http://www.brittany-ferries.co.uk/guides/driving/portgual

Driving in Portugal

Guide to driving in Portugal

The information on this page will provide tips and explain all the essential facts you need to know, including information on Portuguese law and driving regulations.

The minimum age for driving in Portugal is eighteen years old, and your UK insurance should give you automatic third party cover. We would recommend you contact your insurers to check you have adequate cover. However, be aware that Portuguese law requires all car occupants to wear a seat belt - also that no child under twelve years old is allowed to travel in the front of a vehicle unless it is in a specially adapted rear-facing seat for infants and the airbag must be deactivated.

Vehicles drive on the right in Portugal and, like France, unless otherwise indicated, vehicles coming from the right have priority in squares and at intersections. At junctions with roundabouts, vehicles already on the roundabout have right of way. Road signs generally comply with international rules.

Speed limits and radar detection

Radar speed traps are very common, and fines (which must be paid on the spot) are heavy. If oncoming vehicles flash their headlights at you it often means that there is a speed trap ahead. However, flashing headlights can also mean the driver is warning you that it is his right of way, the complete opposite of its accepted meaning in the UK. Flashing lights can also mean they are going to overtake you.

Radar detectors are illegal in Portugal, as in France and Spain, whether in use or not. If you are caught with such equipment in your vehicle, you are liable to a fine, confiscation of the device and the vehicle. You should therefore ensure radar detectors are removed from your vehicle before commencing any journey to Portugal.

All Weather Speed Limits
Road TypeSpeed* km / mph
Toll Motorway120km / 75mph
Dual Carriageway100km / 62mph
Other Roads90km / 56mph
Built-up Areas50km / 31mph
* Unless indicated otherwise

Tolls

Some motorways in Portugal only have an electronic system for the tolls but not all. The toll machines can be hired or bought in the service stations as you pass the border, in special "Via Verde" shops or in post offices in Portugal. If you end up on the Via Verde without a toll machine you will need to pay within 48 hours or face a fine on top of the toll fee. You can view a map of the electronic toll motorways here.

More detail about the options of payment and rental of the electronic toll machines can be found here.

Fines and drink driving

To give you some idea of likely penalties failing to respect "Stop" signs can lead to a fine of up to €2,500 and driving below 50kph on Motorways can result in being fined up to €300.00. On the spot fines are issued and at the discretion of the officer the vehicle can be seized until payment is made.

Drunk driving is still rather common in Portugal despite the recent crackdowns and heavy fines. The current limit is 0.49g/L. Being above this limit will result in a fine of up to €1250 and your licence suspended for one to twelve months. If you are tested and record between 0.8 and 1.2g/L, the fine may reach €2500 and you'll be facing a ban between two months and two years. Driving with levels above 1.2g/L is a criminal offence punished with up to one year in prison and a three year driving ban!

Using a mobile phone whilst driving is a serious offence punished with a €600 fine but using a hands-free kit is allowed. Littering whilst driving will get you a €300 fine. 

Motorways and road network

A four-lane motorway or 'auto estrada,' runs about 360mls/ 590km from Lisbon to Porto, while good quality two lane highways, including toll roads connect the rest of the country. Roads are generally good and you can reach almost all major cities with ease, although some secondary roads are not as well surfaced and can be quite congested as many try to avoid the tolls on the motorway.

Road safety

Unfortunately Portugal has a road accident fatality rate higher than the EU average, primarily due to the local's aggressive driving habits and high speeds. Recent attempts to rid the country of this unwanted reputation by government have meant that the fines for traffic violations are substantial and usually must be paid on the spot.

The motorways and areas still with the most reckless driving reputation are those within 50km around Lisbon or Porto, the A1 and A2 and the Algarve area. However, away from this on the quieter roads, care still needs to be taken, especially in small towns, which are covered by speed cameras. Road signs in Portugal have a lot of similarities with the British system making them easier to understand. Motorway signs are in blue whereas signs for regional roads are white.

If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in a collision you must remain at the scene of any accident involving death or serious injury until the police arrive. In case of emergency on the motorways you'll find orange telephones on the hard shoulder or you can call the emergency service number (free of charge) by dialling 112.

Continental motoring checklist

Ensure you comply with European Motoring Requirements by carrying the following essential items of accident, emergency and breakdown equipment.

Motoring in Portugal summary
Minimum age at which UK driving Licence accepted18
National Driving Licence requiredYES
International Driving Permit requiredNO
Vehicle Registration document requiredYES
Motor Vehicle Insurance requiredYES
GB Sticker/ EuroplatesC
Warning Triangle required2 C
Reflectorised jacket/ waistcoatC
Spare Headlamp bulbs requiredR
Headlamp adjustment neededC
Seatbelts required front and rearC
Breathalysers specifically calibrated to the French alcohol limit (0.05%) and NF approved)NO
Minimum age of children allowed in front seat12
Wide acceptance of credit cards for petrolYES
Wide availability of unleaded petrolYES
Motorway Tolls payableYES
Maximum Motorway Speed Limit120kph/ 75mph
On the spot FinesYES
Safety camera warning devices allowedNO
R = Recommended. C = Compulsory.

Fuel

Like in France and Spain you find the unleaded as 95 and 98. Diesel is known as gasoleo. It is illegal to carry spare fuel with you. Fuel stations are generally open from 7am to 10pm.

Petrol is slightly more expensive then in Spain because of tax differences and most petrol stations close in the evening especially in more rural areas so it's better to plan ahead.

Failure to comply

In the event of prosecution and conviction for failure to comply with the legal requirements, the courts in all EEC countries have wide powers to impose stringent penalties, and the arresting officers have extensive powers to impose "on the spot fines".

On the spot fines

The moment these are demanded, they have to be paid in cash, in the local currency, to the arresting officer. Credit cards or travellers cheques are not accepted.

Radar detectors are illegal in France whether in use or not. If you are caught with such equipment in your vehicle, you are liable to a fine, confiscation of the device and the vehicle.

For motoring abroad, the Direct Gov website is a useful source of additional information http://www.gov.uk