Driving in Portugal

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Updated 2023-11-01 10:34

If you're relocating to Portugal as an expat and plan on driving, it is important to be aware of the administrative requirements for driving and obtaining a license. Portugal has invested massively in its road system over the past few decades, making the country a surprisingly good destination to drive.

Do you need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in Portugal?

If you do not have a Portuguese license, you may wish to obtain an international permit before arriving in the country, depending on your country of origin. However, this does not apply to citizens of EU Member States, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, since their license is entirely valid in Portugal. Visitors coming from other countries are required to get an International Driving Permit in order to drive in the country for at least 6 months. However, if they're planning to stay in Portugal for longer than six months, getting a Portuguese license is required since the IDP will no longer be valid.

You can apply for an international driver's license from your home country by producing the following documents:

  • Completed application form;
  • Recent passport-size identity photos;
  • Valid driver's license from your home country;
  • Application fees, which can vary from country to country.

Note, however, that you must also be in possession of your original driver's license while driving.

Driving in Portugal for EU driver's license holders

European Union and European Economic Area (EEA) nationals may drive in Portugal with their national driver's license without having to obtain an IDP since they are not obliged to exchange their national driver's license for a Portuguese one. As such, if you hold a valid EU-issued license, it will be recognized in Portugal.

However, expats hailing from these countries who wish to settle permanently in Portugal are required to register with the Transports and Mobility Institute (Instituto da Mobilidade e dos Transportes) within 60 days of their arrival in the country. You are required to produce your national driver's license (original and copy), your ID and a filled-out Modelo 13 IMT form.

Driving in Portugal for non-EU driver's license holders

On the other hand, non-EU nationals are required to exchange their driver's license for a Portuguese one within 185 days of legally settling in the country. During that period, you can either use your original license or the IDP to drive legally in the country.

If you come from a country with which Portugal has entered into a bilateral agreement or holds a reciprocal basis (Brazil, Switzerland, Morocco, Andorra, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, United Arab Emirates and Angola), or from a country that has acceded the International Road Traffic Conventions, you can request the exchange without conducting any driving test and use your home country's license until the process in finalized.

However, if your license was issued in a country that hasn't signed or acceded to the International Road Traffic Conventions, you'll need to pass a driving test in order to get access to a Portuguese license. However, enrollment in a driving school is not necessary, meaning you may simply visit an IMT office and schedule the exam yourself.

Driving rules and regulations in Portugal

Before you get behind the wheel in Portugal, it is essential to get familiar with all the rules and regulations of driving in the country. Naturally, we won't be able to list all driving rules and regulations here, but here is a quick introduction:

  • In Portugal, people drive on the right side of the road;
  • Speed limits, unless marked otherwise, are 50 kph in urban areas, 90 kph on rural roads, and 120 kph on motorways;
  • The blood alcohol limit is 0.5gr/liter;
  • Phones are not to be used while driving unless they are hands-free. Fees for using your phone while driving can go from 120€ to 600€;
  • Seatbelts are mandatory for every passenger;
  • While driving, always have your license, proof of insurance and vehicle registration (ID is also a plus in case of emergency);
  • Many motorways have tolls, which can be paid with cash, card or via an electronic sensor (Via Verde) that automatically bills you. If you enroll in Via Verde, you may then consult all your pending fees online or receive a letter in your mailing address every time you need to pay toll fees;
  • Some secondary highways have shadow tolls (SCUT's). Every time you pass through a shadow toll, you have 7 days to pay the fee online at the CTT website or through any establishment that supports “payshop” (usually kiosks and stationary shops – “Papelarias”). If you miss the timeline, you'll have to pay a fine that will later on be sent by mail to your address.

Fines and points system in Portugal

Once you get your Portuguese driver's license, the system will automatically give you 12 points. Afterward, every time you get a fine for unruly actions/behaviors, points will be deducted from your tally:

  • Parking over a zebra: 2 points
  • Speeding (up to 20km/h) or drinking and driving (between 0.5 and 0.8 gr/L): 3 points
  • Overtaking next to a zebra: 3 points
  • Missing a STOP sign: 4 points
  • Speeding (up to 40km/h) or drinking and driving (between 0.8 and 1.2 gr/L): 5 points
  • Drinking and driving (over 1.2 gr/L): 6 points

Once you're down to 4 points, you will be summoned to attend a mandatory road safety training. In case you only have 2 points left, you will be required to complete a new code test. Finally, if all your points get taken away, your driver's license will be revoked, and you'll have to wait 2 years until you're allowed to enroll in a driving school and start the whole process from scratch.

On the contrary, you get an extra 3 points for each 3-year period without any fines or charges until you reach the cap of 15 points.  

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.