Driving in Portugal

Driving in Portugal? 12 Convenient things you need to know

Driving in Portugal can be tricky. This is what you must know to survive a Portugal road trip unscathed.

Portuguese people like going about things their own way. If you are a newbie driver in Portugal, our list will shed some light on some unusual driving habits and laws.

Here are 12 things you need to know when driving in Portugal, whether you are on a road trip in the beautiful Portuguese coast or moving out for a month of remote work in a rural area.

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1 – Drive on the right

Basics first… In Portugal, we drive on the right-hand side of the road! Basically, the same as most countries in the world unless you are British or from a former British colony.

2 – There are a lot of broken indicators in Portugal

Indicators should be used the same as in any other country, but they have never really taken off in Portugal. Keep a good distance from the car in front of you as they can slow down and turn or full-on stop in the middle of the road without indicating. Also, don’t believe in a blinking indicator (or the absence of said blinking indicator) as a reliable way to tell what the other car is going to do. Yes, it is punished by law, but many Portuguese people just don’t do it.

Driving in Portugal
Driving in Lisbon (Photo by Malyulka)

Read also: Portuguese People Culture Reveal – 15 Things you need to know!

3 – Driving in Portugal with safety distance? We don’t know what that is

In Portugal, unfortunately, there is very little respect for keeping a safe distance from the car in front. It can feel like some cars are riding on your bumper. This is also a problem when being overtaken. Cars will pass you (and the several other cars in front of you) as soon as the dotted line appears, even sometimes when it’s unsafe for them to do so, and quickly pull back in.

Lastly, when entering from a side road, cars will pull out without waiting for a gap. They force you to make room for them if you want to avoid an accident. If, while driving in Portugal, you try an appropriate distance in front, it turns into a written invitation to change lane or pull out in front of you. Just keep your wits with you and never get distracted when driving! This is, of course, generally speaking.

4 – Portugal toll roads can be tricky

There are 2 types of tolls in the Portuguese highways:

  • The regular ones, with a toll booth. Either get a ticket and pay at the end or, if your car has it, use a “Via Verde” lane. Do NOT drive through a “Via Verde” channel if you don’t have the electronic pass in your car as you will be charged for the entire stretch of motorway when you leave because you won’t have a ticket to prove where you entered it.
  • The SCUT tolls, unmanned and completely electronic. You do not get a ticket and you have a few options to pay: if you have a “Via Verde” identifier or an EASYToll, TOLLCard, or TOLLService it will be charged to that account. If you don’t, you need to go to a Portuguese post office (CTT) to pay the electronic tolls. By giving the rental car’s licence plate number you’ll know how much you’ll have to pay.

REMEMBER: Via Verde devices will work on Electronic Toll Roads; however, EASYToll, TOLLCard, and TOLLService will not work in Via Verde lanes. Don’t get caught out by this.

Portugal toll roads
SCUT Tolls in Portugal (Photo by Veroniekdutre)

5 – Slip roads can be the wrong way around

 Sometimes slip roads on and off dual carriageways are sometimes two ways, which means that while you’re busy slowing down and indicating to pull off, new cars will be trying to enter the flow of traffic. They are also generally very short.

Read also: 10 best beaches in Portugal for this COVID-19 summer (hidden beaches)

6 – Roundabouts

Traffic circles are very popular in Portugal. They have lanes and there are rules about them but, really, almost no good comes from knowing them as no one respects them. Theoretically, you travel in the inside lane and only indicate and move to the outside one when the next exit is yours. In reality, people will exit from the inside lane, or circulate around the outside, or not keep to any lane at all and take the “racing line”. Don’t count on the rules being followed and, if, for some miracles, their indicator is on, well, see tip #2.

Portugal Roundabout
Portuguese Roundabout (Photo by Luuhefer)

7 – Road signs can be hard to see and/or late

The newer road signs are better but the old ones are not very reflective and, at night, they can be very hard to see. Also, signs that have appeared early might disappear when you need them the most… Lastly, street signs are not free-standing, they are on the walls of the buildings. Our best advice is: don’t be afraid to go around in circles, do a few laps of the roundabout until you have figured it out. It often takes some time to understand where is the street you are looking for. Or use Google Maps, also helps.

8 – Parking: Dos and Don’ts

In the cities

A blue sign with a red line across signifies a no parking zone. So do yellow or red lines painted on the curb. If you try and cheat the system, you’ll probably end with a ticket to pay. Larger towns and cities might have self-appointed parking “helpers” where parking is free, that will ask for money in exchange for pointing you towards an available parking spot (and keeping it safe)

Also, even if it’s common practice, double parking and putting the hazard lights on is not legal. Same goes for cars and coaches parked in roundabouts, it’s illegal, don’t do it.

In the countryside

In rural areas it is common for people to stop the car in the middle of the single-lane road and block it completely. Sometimes they are still inside, just catching up with someone on the road, but other times they have gone inside a nearby house. A few gentle toots of the horn will clear your way.

Important: when you park on the street, your car has to be facing the direction of travel.

Parking in Portugal
Driving in Portugal (Photo by Hellopoe)

Read also: Moving to Portugal: how to prepare and what to do once you get here (personal experience)

9 – Speeding and speed cameras

Portuguese people have a tendency to speed. Speed control radars are installed all over the country, especially on the major roads. But, because they legally have to be signposted, people drive at 180km/h and then suddenly break to pass them at a legal speed, often causing accidents.

Some traffic lights have a speed sensor a few meters before and will turn red if you are going too fast.

10 – Unbroken white lines

Unlike other countries, unbroken white lines can never be crossed. Not even to enter a driveway. Especially if they are double. If you have double unbroken white lines and you want to turn left, you will have to go right and turn at the roundabout or around the block. Police will fine you if you don’t!

Portuguese highway
Road lines in a Portuguese highway (Photo by Kalil Miguel)

11 – Traffic lights

There are four different lights you will find when driving in Portugal: green, yellow, flashing yellow, and red. The flashing yellow light means you may go with care. In Portugal, unlike other countries, you cannot turn right with care at a red light, you must wait until it’s green, no matter what.

12 – Beware of quadricycles

Quadricycles are a road-legal cars that you can drive from age 16 without needing a license. They cannot go very fast and are often the cause of long lines. If you are patiently waiting for a safe opportunity to pass one, keep an eye on the drivers behind you, who might not wait for their turn. This type of vehicle is driven by older people, so be extra careful!

Example of a quadricycle (Photo by Aixam Portugal)

There you go, 12 tips to survive driving in Portugal accident-free. Yes, it can be frustrating at times, but every country has its little quirks. Driving in Portugal will help you explore more of our amazing country, places that buses don’t go or not regularly.

Hope this article helps you somehow! If there is anything you think it can’t be missing in this article, let us know in the comments!

What side of the road do they drive on in Portugal?

In Portugal, traffic travels on the right-hand side of the road.

Driving in Portugal with US license?

A US driver’s licence valid in Portugal so you don’t need to pay for an international driving permit.

Do you need an international driver’s license to drive in Portugal?

If your license is in English and with a photo on it, chances are you don’t. If it’s extra-European and not in English, you do need one.

Portugal toll roads, how do they work?

Practically every new major highway in Portugal is now an electronic toll road. You can pay as you go for some or pay at the post office for the ticketless ones. If you have a “Via Verde” pass it covers both types. An EASYToll, TOLLCard and TOLLService will only work for the unmanned ones.

Is driving in Portugal easy?

Yes. The roads are mainly well maintained and the destinations are well signposted. Roads get narrow in old villages but their beauty is better explored on foot anyhow. Park outside and stretch your legs.

Is it worth renting a car in Portugal?

Getting around Portugal is definitely easier with a rental car. A Portugal coast road trip is a must and it is best done by car. Same thing if you want to explore Portugal wine country and all its small charming inland villages.


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