Driving in Portugal

Many of the basic rules of the road in Portugal are very similar to those across the rest of western Europe. Following years of high road death and traffic accident statistics from reckless driving and speeding, Portugal has recently clamped down on drivers not adhering to regulations.

Rules & Regulations

  • Drive on the right in Portugal
  • The legal age for driving a car is 18 years
  • It is illegal to drive with headphones connected to a sound device
  • Mobile cellular telephones (Telemóveis) may only be used with a handsfree system
  • It is compulsory to wear seat belts (both front and back seats if fitted) (Cinto deSegurança). It is the driver's responsibility to ensure all passengers wear their belts (and it is the driver who will be fined if the passengers are not belted)
  • Children under 12 years of age may not ride in the front passenger seats unless they are over 150cm tall. If possible special child seat belts (Sistema de Retenção para Crianças) should be used
  • It is forbidden to carry devices used to evade police vigilance (radar detectors, for example)
  • Dogs must be restrained in a moving car
  • Suitcases and baggage carried on the vehicle must not exceed the vehicle's length by more than 45cm at the rear and 55cm at the front
  • Headlights must always be used in tunnels
  • It is illegal to overtake on the right in free-flowing traffic
  • It is illegal for a motorbike to carry passengers under the age of seven
  • If involved in a car accident the driver is obliged to stop and help injured people, collaborate in avoiding danger and other possible accidents and call the police if there are injured people or the vehicle is blocking the road and cannot be moved (Police Tel: 112)
What to Carry in the Car

It is obligatory to carry the following items in the car at all times. Not having these can result in a fine if pulled over by the police, or failure of the vehicle roadworthiness test, the IPO (Inspecção Períodica Obrigatória).

  • A yellow, orange or red  The vest must be accessible without leaving the car reflective danger jacket.
  • Each car must carry one red reflective warning triangle
  • Spare bulbs and the tools required to fit them
  • spare wheel, inflated and the tools necessary to change it
  • Approved child seats for children under 12 and/or 150cm

Obligatory paperwork

  • It is compulsory for the driver to carry a  (or). Valid Portuguese and EU country  are accepted in Portugal. Certain non-EU licences are accepted for a period of time if accompanied with an International Driving Licence (Carta/Título de Condução)
  • Road tax (Imposto Unico de Circulação) must be paid
  • It is compulsory to carry vehicle registration documents (Título de Registo de Propriedade) and log book (Livrete), or DUA (All-in-One Vehicle Document - Documento Único Automóvel)
  • If a car is older than four years it is compulsory to have a valid IPO certificate (Documento de Inspecção Periódica Obrigatória) as proof of roadworthiness, along with the corresponding sticker placed in a pocket on the windshield
  • It is compulsory for the vehicle to have a garage service record (Livrete de Revisões)
  • It is obligatory to have at least Third Party Car Insurance (Seguro Automóvel Contra Terceiros) and display the corresponding sticker in a pocket on the windscreen

Vehicle registration documents

Note that under arrangements currently being phased in, the car registration documents (Título de Registo de Propriedade), log book (Livrete), and licence plate certificate (Certificado de Matrícula) have been replaced by a single document, the DUA All-in-One Vehicle Document (Documento Único Automóvel).

Road Tax in Portugal

Road tax (Imposto Único de Circulação, IUC) must be paid annually on the date that the vehicle was first registered. Drivers are required to keep a receipt as proof of payment.

The amount of tax paid is different for vehicles registered before and after July 2007. Owners of cars registered before July 2007 pay an amount of tax directly related to the age of the vehicle and its cubic capacity. The tax on vehicles registered after July 2007 will also take into account the vehicle's CO2 emissions and the power of the engine.

Types of Roads

Portuguese roads have been reclassified since the World Expo in Lisbon in 1998 and the European Cup Football Championships in 2004. The aim is to make them easier to understand and more consistent across the country. Many signposts and maps have been updated in the past decade. However be aware that in some cases a road may have two names and maps may be out of date.

  • The motorway network is the ; road signs are blue Autoestrada
  • The regional road signs are white with black lettering

Motorways/highways - Autoestrada

  • The speed limit on Portuguese is 120 Km/h for cars and small trucks (LGV) and 100 Km/h for tricycles and vehicles with a trailer "limite de velocidade Autoestradas"
  • Motorway entries (entradas) and exits (saidas) are numbered

Motorways have service stations with fuel, cafeterias, newsagents and supermarkets. They also have emergency telephones, information points and repair garages.

Orange emergency SOS telephones are positioned about every three to five kilometres. To use an emergency telephone, press the SOS button and wait for a reply (no charge).

In the event of a motorway breakdown, wear a reflective jacket and place the reflective triangles 30m behind and in front of vehicles to warn other drivers.

Rural and secondary Roads

  • Speed limits are 50 Km/h in rural areas and are sign posted if there are further restrictions – to as low as 20 Km/h in villages and residential areas
  • There may be railway crossings with no barriers on these roads
  • Mountain passes and bridges are closed in extreme weather
  • Snow tyres and chains are recommended in some areas such as Serra da Estrela in the winter
Toll Road System on Motorways and Trunk Roads (Autoestrada SCUT)

Introduced in 1997 by the government, SCUT (Sem Custos para o Utente, "No Cost to Users"), gives private companies the task of maintenance and operation of the highways. The companies are Autoestradas do AtlanticoAscendiBrisa and Lusoponte.

Since 2010, many dual carriageway roads in the Algarve, North (around Porto) and the Silver Coast (Costa de Prata) charge moderate tolls. Further changes to be introduced 15 April 2011 have been postponed.

Despite proposed changes, the Via Verde system stays as is and motorway tolls can be transited with either the Via Verde device or another form of electronic device (DE), or with payment by credit card or cash at the toll booths.

To use a toll road, take a ticket from the dispensing machine at the start of the route and hand it over at the toll booth (Portagen) at the end where a toll fee (Portagem) is charged. Each of the companies has its own pricing structure; toll fees vary.

Via Verde subscribers

Frequent toll road users can subscribe to the Via Verde (Green Route) system which allows drivers to pay monthly via Multibanco. An electronic device (Entidade de Cobrança de Portagens - DECP) is attached to the windscreen and automatically registers the vehicle when it passes through the toll. The cost of passage is calculated and deducted off the subscriber's account. The Via Verde system gives priority passage at the toll points and discounted toll fees. Only subscribers may use the green Via Verde motorway toll gates.

Electronic tolls

Some roadways have an overhead electronic toll gantry system (they do not have toll booths allowing for for cash or card payment) and tolls are collected automatically by reading the electronic device (dispositivo electronico - DE) fitted to the car windscreen.

DE are sold at Via Verde shops (Lojas Via Verde) and the post office (CCT). Payment for passage can be made in one of the following ways:

  • : as with  DECP device, payment for passage is charged directly to the bank account of the subscriberVia Verde Automatic payment
  • Prepayment: either specific to a vehicle owner or to the device, the passage fee is paid for in advance and "loaded" to the device then deducted each time a toll is passed

In the case that a vehicle does not have a DE, the vehicle registration is logged and payment plus a small administrative fee must be made within five days at the post office or Payshop. This option is not available for foreign-registered vehicles.

Foreign-registered cars

A DT (Dispositivo Temporário) may be leased from certain motorway service stations or post offices (CTT) for use in foreign-registered vehicles. These are not specific to a particular vehicle and are designed for short-term use of up to 90 days.

The price for leasing the device is proportional to the period it is needed, for example one week rental costs €6 with a small additional fee for subsequent weeks. A refundable deposit is also charged.

There are two ways to pay when leasing the device:

  1. : toll fees debited or credit card;via multibanco Automatic payment
  2. Prepayment: preloading a minimum of €10 (light vehicles) or €20 (heavy vehicles). In this case, the preloaded and unused balance is non-refundable.

Residents' discounts

Discounted tolls for residents of some areas are available if certain criteria are met. Residents and local companies are exempt from toll fees for the first ten passages per month, with additional discounts of 15 percent being available for use of certain roadways if an electronic device is registered to the vehicle.

To qualify, a resident must provide a property registration certificate or the vehicle registration (and if the vehicle belongs to a leasing company, they must confirm the name and address of the lessee).

Speed Limits
Road TypeSpeed Limit
Motorways 120 Km/h for cars and LGVs
100 Km/h for tricycles
Main Trunk roads 100 Km/h for cars, LGVs and motorbikes 50cc plus
motorbikes under 50cc may not use these roads
Built-up areas 50 Km/h for cars, motorbikes, tricycles and LGVs 
40 Km/h for quadracycles
Rural and Secondary roads 50 Km/h unless signed differently

Full table of speed limits for specific vehicle types

Type of Vehicle/
Speed Limit (Km/h)
Built-up areas
(Dentro Localides)
National Roads
(Fora Localides)
Roads reserved for cars & motorbikes
(Vias Reservadas)
Motorways (Auto-Estradas)            
Cars (Ligeiros de passageiros) with trailer 50 90 100 120           
50 70 80 100
Cargo Vans(Ligeiros de mercadorias) with trailer 50 80 90 110
50 70 80 90
Bus (Pesado de passageiros) with trailer 50 80 90 100
50 70 90 90
Truck (Pesado de mercadorias) with trailer 50 80 80 90
40 70 70 80
Motorbikes50cc plus
- under 50cc
50 90 100 120
40 60 - -
Tricycles(Triciclos) 50 80 90 100
Quadracycles(Quadriciclos) 40 45 - -

Information from the Autoridade Nacional Segurança Rodoviária

Parking, Penalties and Drink Driving

Parking regulations vary depending on the time of day, day of the week or even the month. Towns and cities have different regulations.

  •  (No Parking Signa) are often white or blue with a red line across Estacionamento Proibido 
  • Yellow or red painted signs and lines on the curb also indicate No Parking
  • Where the words "Proibido Estacionar" appear beside a police code number on a garage door, police have authorisation to tow away the illegally parked vehicle
  • It is illegal to park within 5 metres of a road junction, 25 metres before and 5 metres after a bus stop and within 6 metres of a tram stop
  • Parking offenders risk getting points on their licence for persistently breaking the law
  • Always park facing the same direction as the traffic on one-way streets.
  • Some places require a residents or company parking permit (Cartão de Residente) during work hours between 08:00-18:00
  • Some places require residents parking permits at all times, particularly in residential zones
  • Official parking attendants are normally in uniform

Driving and drinking

The legal blood/alcohol limit for driving when drinking in Portugal is under 0.5g/l (grams of alcohol per litre of blood) for all drivers. Those tested and found with between 0.5 and 0.8g/l face fines of between €250 and €1,250 and licence suspension between one month and one year. Levels between 0.8g/l face fines of €500 to €2,500.
Those found with 1.2g/l or above face up to one year in prison and a three year driving ban.