Driving in Portugal & Car Ownership

Portugal Road Madeira Island

Driving in Portugal & Car Ownership

Importing a car from another country

All cars in Portugal are actually imported but if you intend to bring a car from another country and will be living here for more than 6 months, the car will have to be matriculated. This is a complicated process and can be very costly. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you fully research the process and costs before making this decision. Two good starting points are:

European Citizens Driving Advice

UK Citizens Driving Advice

You can also read the recommendations of a fellow expat with his experience importing a car into Portugal in the lifestyle section of this website.

Buying a new or used car in Portugal

Buying through a dealer is a straight forward process. The dealer will arrange the documentation, they usually offer a few days free insurance (to get you home) and some form of warranty. It is advisable to check the warranty period as this can differ from other countries, even on new cars. Financing options may also be available subject to your status. Most dealers will take your old vehicle in part exchange but beware as offers can be widely different from one dealer to another.

Buying from an individual (private seller) needs more caution. You need to establish the seller is the true owner and you need to verify that the documentation matches the numbers on the vehicle – VIN and registration. When you buy a car in Portugal, you may inherit any outstanding debt and/or fines attached to the vehicle so it is recommended to visit a notary (Conservatoria) who can check all outstanding finances against the vehicle registration number. The buyer is responsible to arrange the transfer of documents and new registration which will require a trip to Finances and payment of fees.

Car Insurance in Portugal

  • It is a legal requirement that all vehicles are insured to at least third-party liability level.
  • Insurance against fire and theft can be added to third-party insurance.
  • Fully comprehensive insurance is not usually available for cars over 10 years old.
  • The vehicle is insured for any driver that meets the legal driving requirements.

The legal stuff…

  • You need to be at least 18 years old to drive in Portugal.
  • Check out the driving licence requirements at the websites mentioned above.
  • All cars over 4 years of age must have an IPO test for road-worthiness. Cars from 4 to 8 years old must be re-tested every 2 years. Cars over 8 years old must be re-tested every year.
  • Seat belts are compulsory for the driver and all passengers.
  • Children under 12 are not allowed in a front seat.
  • You must carry your driving licence with photo, vehicle registration, insurance certificate and ID or passport while driving.
  • A vehicle insurance disc must be displayed on the right side of the front windscreen. For cars over 4 years old, you must also carry your vehicle IPO certificate.
  • You must carry a warning triangle and a high-viz jacket.
  • A first aid kit and high-viz jackets for all passengers are sensible additions.
  • Vehicle road tax (IUC) must be paid annually either by a visit to your local Finanças Office or through their website click here.
  • It is illegal to use a phone whilst driving except via a hands-free system.
  • The legal alcohol limit for drivers in Portugal is under 0.5g/l (grams of alcohol per litre of blood).

A little more…

A lot of expats will tell you to beware of driving in Portugal due to the driving habits of the Portuguese. The fact is that the Portuguese have their own driving style – just like the Italians for example – and it is good to be aware of this. Driving in Portugal can be a real pleasure.

Currently, there are approximately 4.9 million cars registered in Portugal. This compares with 38.4 million in UK. So, the roads are much quieter and generally in good condition. The scenery is pretty good too. A few tips to help you enjoy the driving experience here:

  • You must not cross a solid white line, even if it is hardly visible!
  • You must not undertake – always pass on the left side of another vehicle
  • Especially in rural areas, be aware of slow vehicles and drivers who might not be used to something like the M25 in UK or an autobahn in Germany
  • Many Portuguese have yet to embrace their cars indicator system
  • When approaching a roundabout, always use the left lane unless you are taking the first exit (see video below)
  • Be aware that slip roads are often the wrong way round, i.e. the entrance comes before the exit meaning you may have cars approaching from your right when you want to exit right.
  • Local drivers will often sit right on your tail oblivious to what they might do if you suddenly stop. Relax and pull back. They will soon overtake and they’ll get there a whole 2 minutes before you.
  • Police document checks are common, often near roundabouts and often pulling foreign registered or right-hand drive cars. Be polite and have all your documents ready and you might get a salute as you drive off.
  • If you are wondering why you are stopped at traffic lights that are not on a junction, it’s because you were speeding and the lights are there to slow you down.
  • Watch out for pedestrians who are near but not necessarily on a crossing. They don’t give way.

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