Unless you're happy to rely on public transport, you're going to need a car in Portugal. Motoring is one of those things that can be a bit of a minefield in a new country, but we are here to help.

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Since joining the EU in 1986, Portugal’s roads have undergone dramatic upgrading. It is also important to note that Portugal has one of the highest accident rates in the EU.

Portugal drives on the right side of the road, and Third Party insurance is compulsory. Those wishing to drive a car must possess a valid national/international driving licence, log book or rental contract if applicable and adequate car insurance. Failure to produce any of the above on request will result in an on-the-spot cash fine.

First, the most important thing to sort out, whether you are driving a hire car or one of your own, is the legality of your driving license. If you come to Portugal as a tourist, your UK license is perfectly valid. The point when a UK license becomes technically invalid is when you no longer live at the address printed on your photo card. As the UK DVLA will not issue a license to a foreign address, that means that once you live permanently in Portugal, you have to take action.

You have two options. The easiest is to visit your local IMTT office (the Portuguese equivalent of the DVLA) and register your UK license in Portugal. This gives you a supplementary piece of paper than makes your license valid in the country, even if you do not live at the UK address stated.

The alternative is to swap your license for a Portuguese license. This is relatively straightforward but does require you to get a medical certificate and to send your UK license in for exchange. You are given a piece of paper to show the Portuguese police while you wait, but it is wise to time this well, as you will have problems driving in other countries with just this piece of paper.

The legal age for driving in Portugal is 18, and seatbelts must be worn in every seat – this is the responsibility of the driver. You will need to carry the following items in your car at all times:
 

  • A reflective danger jacket
  • A reflective warning triangle
  • Spare bulbes
  • A spare wheel
  • Child seats, if appropriate
  • Driving licenses – EU driving licenses are accepted in Portugal and do not need to be exchanged while they remain valid. You must register with your regional or district Department of Motor Vehicles (IMTT) office within 60 days or establishing residency with required documentation (proof of residency, a completed copy of IMTT Modelo, a photocopy of their driving license and proof of identity). You will receive a slip of paper which must be presented with the driving license when required.
  • Road tax
  • Vehicle registration documents

 

In Portugal, cars are surprisingly expensive – anything up to 40% more than you would expect in the UK. This comes as a shock to many people when they find it’s not possible to pick up a decent “runner” for a couple of thousand euros. On the bright side, the Portuguese climate is conducive to cars lasting longer due to less rust.

Some expats decide to bring their UK cars with them, and while some manage to work easily through the matriculation process, many people find themselves bound in Portuguese red tape.

In theory, you should be able to bring one car per person “tax free,” provided you have owned it in another member state for at least a year. If this all goes to plan, you can end up with a legal Portuguese car (albeit with the steering wheel on the wrong side) for a bill of hundreds rather than thousands. Suffice to say, it doesn’t always go well – you are advised to seek out a recommended matriculation agent for advice.

If you haven’t owned the car in another member state, you can expect a matriculation bill of many thousands of Euros.

Car tax, as in many EU countries, is based on emissions, so can range from about €60 per year right up to around €800 for a gas-guzzler.

Insurance is straightforward to arrange, but it’s good to be aware of a few key differences to the UK. Firstly, fully comprehensive insurance is usually only offered for cars less than ten years old. For older cars, third party is all that’s available.

Secondly, many Portuguese car insurance policies insure the car itself, rather than specific people driving it. In many cases, if the car is insured, you can let anyone drive it – but be sure to check the terms of your policy in detail!

Finally, breakdown cover is usually included in a car insurance policy in Portugal, rather than arranged separately via the AA or RAC as it is in the UK. If you plan to travel to Spain or beyond, you need to ensure your policy covers border-exit.
 

Once your car is over four years old, it must periodically pass an IPO (MOT) test. These then take place every two years until the car is seven years old, and every year subsequently.

Organising a car can be daunting in a new country. The most important thing is to take your time – you can always hire a car until you find the perfect vehicle.

In all major towns and airports there are a number of car hire companies. Proof of identity and a valid current Driving License is required. Please note: you are advised to book at least a few days ahead in high season


Further reading for Living In Portugal

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Finding work in Portugal

There are a number of ways that UK expats can fund their lifestyle in Portugal.
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Social life in Portugal

The best way to get settled in Portugal is to find out as much as you can about your new community.
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Heathcare

One of the first things you need to do once you arrive in Portugal is find out where your nearest hospital is.
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Education in Portugal

Are you emigrating to Portugal with school-age children?
 

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