Driving and renting a car in Portugal – 6 things to know before you go
March 23rd 2017
With white-washed villages around every corner and dramatic, sweeping coastlines, Portugal is an ideal country to drive around. If you don’t know the ropes, however, it can be daunting. This guide to driving and renting a car in Portugal gives you a few pointers.
1. Never trust anyone
Signals are used sparingly in Portugal, if at all. Drivers will change their mind at the last minute without warning, and when it comes to road safety if the police aren’t around it often seems there are little or no rules. Anything goes here.
In other countries you might be able to use your judgement to predict a driver’s next move, but forget that in Portugal. If you live by the rule of never assuming when someone might turn or which exit they’re taking on a roundabout, you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.
2. Park wherever you want
The Portuguese are very creative when it comes to parking – it’s one of our favourite things about driving in Portugal. They’re relaxed about where you can park, often mounting pavements or leaving their car on a deserted piece of land just to get out of paying €1 to park in a designated space.
Don’t overthink where you park your car in Portugal. Do as the locals so and park wherever you please – as long as it’s not right in the middle of the street or below a no parking sign you’ll probably get away with it ticket-free.
3. Rental companies work like well-oiled machines
As the country sees so many tourists, renting a car in Portugal is simple and affordable. The companies here are busy and because they process so many travellers each day they really know their stuff. This can be a little intimidating if you’ve not rented a car before or you’re not used to the questions an agent will fire at your when you pick your vehicle up.
Don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat something if they’re running through the information too quickly. You want to make sure you’re on the same page before you sign anything so that you don’t end up being charged for something accidentally. If it’s busy they might want to rattle through everyone as quickly as possible, but don’t be pressured by this. Take your time and make sure you’re clear on everything.
4. Lanes are really just vague guidelines
In Portugal, you can forget about staying in the correct lane on a roundabout. No one else is overly concerned about it so you shouldn’t be either. We’re not recommending you fly between lanes willy nilly, of course, but know that they’re not as structured as they are elsewhere in the world.
This goes back to trust; just because someone is in a right-turn lane doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to stay there. Be cautious and keep your wits about you, and when driving yourself know that you can play a little fast and loose with the rules.
5. The motorways are empty
Many of the roads in Portugal are tolled. Some are expensive (such as getting from the Algarve to Lisbon or Lisbon to Porto), but others are quite cheap, which can work to your advantage if you’re renting a car to get around. If you’re using these roads all the time it gets very pricey, so the large majority of the locals will use alternative roads to avoid paying high prices – which means you’ll never get stuck in a traffic jam on the motorway here.
When you’re here for just a few days it’s worth forking out a few euros to hop on the motorways because a few miles outside the larger cities they are almost completely deserted. At your rental company’s pick-up desk they will usually ask you if you want to activate the car’s toll tag, an electronic device that clocks up all your toll spending and takes it from your credit card a couple of weeks after your return. These usually cost about €2 a day plus the toll fees themselves, so are very affordable and it means you don’t have to worry about these costs while you’re travelling.
6. Watch out for the police
Despite the more laid-back approach in many facets of driving in Portugal, the police are still not afraid to crack the whip when they have to. A collection of patrol cars will station themselves in one place for a few hours and pull over cars they think look suspicious. This is nothing to worry about and if everything is above board you’ll have no problems, but if you see a police vehicle make sure you have your seat belt on and are going at an appropriate speed.
If you’re driving a car with a British license plate in Portugal, you’re more susceptible to the police pulling you over. This is because many people have their cars from the UK over in Portugal permanently on an illegal basis, so the police do random sweeps to enforce these rules. If you do get stopped in a UK car, just stay calm and explain that you’re simply in Portugal on holiday. Carry a photocopy of your passport with you and have your flight details on-hand in your phone.
Do you have any driving in Portugal tips?
Have you found renting a car in Portugal easy?