Top Ten Tips for Driving in Portugal

Driving in Portugal isn’t as scary as many people think, but it can seem so the first time you hit the roads to quickly find someone driving just inches away from your rear bumper. 


Tailgating is something of a dangerous national past time, but thankfully the (generally) low volume of traffic in Portugal goes some way to compensate for some of the hair-raising driving you witness on a daily basis.

Here are ten useful tips regarding driving in Portugal:


  1. Portuguese residents cannot drive UK registered cars

If you plan to remain in Portugal beyond three months, you are legally required to register your residence. Once you have, you are no longer allowed to drive a UK registered car.

Plenty of expats ignore the rules. They will tell you that you don’t need residency, and come up with half-baked theories about how driving to Spain and back twice each year makes it legal to drive a UK car. They’re wrong, and most of them eventually get caught.


  1. A UK licence is invalid if you don’t live at the address on the photo card

This is another topic that ill-informed expats argue about. However, if you have moved to Portugal full time, and no longer live at the UK address on your licence, you must visit an IMTT office (the Portuguese DVLA equivalent), and request a document to accompany your licence to validate it.


  1. Exchanging a UK licence takes months

Eventually you will probably find you need to exchange your UK licence for a Portuguese one—usually because of the expiry of your UK photocard.

When you do this, you’ll be given a temporary document in place of your licence, usually valid for three or six months. The Portuguese authorities never seem to manage to swap the licence in this time, so you have to return to the IMTT for a renewed document. If you need to hire a car in another country in the meantime, expect problems!


  1. Drinking and driving carries harsh penalties

Many expats and locals alike have a worrying disregard for drink driving laws, but the legal limit is in fact lower than that of the UK, and penalties can be punitive.


  1. You must carry reflective jackets and warning triangles

It is a legal requirement to carry reflective jackets and warning triangles at all times in Portugal, to use in the event of a breakdown. Some local drivers even hang their reflective jackets from the backs of their seats to prove they have them!


  1. Roundabout etiquette is unusual 

In the UK, you remain in the outer lane (nearest the kerb) if you are going off at the first exit or straight on. In Portugal, you should only use this lane if you are taking the first exit. All other traffic should use the inner lane. This is a bizarre rule change that came into effect in early 2014, and is widely disregarded. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get fined for doing it wrong.


  1. Petrol is far more expensive on motorways

This is perhaps the same the world over, but useful to know. Fill up in town before a long journey.


  1. Motorists use the hard shoulder to let people pass

As was mentioned in the introduction, tailgating is common in Portugal. However, most major roads have a wide hard shoulder, and it’s customary to pull onto it (when safe) to allow less patient drivers to pass.


  1. Comprehensive insurance is hard to get

If you have a brand new Portuguese car, you can (broadly) access the same selection of insurance policies as in the UK: comprehensive, third party, fire and theft. However, once a car is over ten years old, you will find it very hard to arrange comprehensive cover.


  1. Beware the tolls!

The main (and only) Algarve motorway, the A22, uses a fully electronic toll system. While many locals have a transponder that automatically logs their journeys and takes payments, visitors to Portugal must use an alternative payment option.

Further reading for Living In Portugal


Finding work in Portugal

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


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.



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


Education in Portugal

Are you emigrating to Portugal with school-age children?


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