- How to rent a car?
- Is it easy to drive?
- Tips for renting
- Price for a rental car
- Where to rent a car?
How to rent a car in Portugal
When you hear of Portugal, you quickly think of the colorful Lisbon with her charming streets or the famed southern Algarve region. However, in between and above, much more remains to be explored. Once you set outside of the big cities, public transportation options are limited and, per usual, tied to timeframes. Discover lush vineyards, impressive coastline cliffs, and old cities on your own schedule by traveling by car. This guide will tell you exactly how to rent a car in Portugal and what it’s like to drive there.
What do you need to rent a car in Portugal?
When you rent a car in Portugal, you’ll need to bring the following documents:
- Your driver’s license from your home country
- Your ID (passport)
- Credit Card in your name
- International Driver’s Permit (recommended)
The legal driving age in Portugal is 18 years old. In order to be able to rent a car, however, most rental car companies in Portugal require you to be at least 21 years of age. On top of that, some companies might also require that you have had your driving license for at least one year. All drivers must present a valid driver’s license, an ID as proof of their identity, and a credit card to make the payment.
It is not required by law to have an International Driver’s Permit if you’re a non-EU citizen driving in Portugal with an English or Portuguese license. However, if you plan on driving into other countries in Europe, such as Spain, it is a good idea to arrange one. This is because, in some countries, it is required by law that you have one. An International Driver’s Permit costs just 15 USD and is valid for one year. You can arrange yours here.
Rental car insurance in Portugal
When renting a car in Portugal, it is compulsory that you have basic third-party liability insurance. With most companies, this is automatically included in your car rental price in the form of a Collision Damage Waiver (CDW). It is important to note that this often comes with a high deductible on your credit card, so make sure you’ve got enough available credit on there for the rental agency to hold.
Additional insurance is not mandatory; however, if you decide to add additional coverage, make sure to arrange that in your initial booking, as the prices are best when booked like this. You can also check if your credit card policy covers car rental insurance in Portugal.
If you’re planning on driving into Spain or any other country, make sure to inform your rental company. Often an extra fee applies; however, failing to inform the rental company will typically void all your insurance. Besides, different insurance may be required in different countries. It is always a good idea to clarify these points before you sign the contract.
Is it easy to drive in Portugal?
Before you rent a car in Portugal, it’s good to know some of the road rules and customs of the country.
Driving in Portugal is fairly easy, and the road network is overall in good condition. Many roads have recently undergone construction and are very well maintained. When you decide to go on a road trip through Portugal, you’ll most likely come across the following different roads. Firstly, there is the motorway, which has a speed limit of 120 km/h. Departmental roads, open roads outside urban areas, can be found all over the country and have a speed limit of 90 km/h.
On mountain roads and in residential areas, you can drive no faster than 50 km/h. It’s good to know that almost all residential areas have a ‘velocidade controlada’ traffic light. This is a sign that announces the traffic light that’s coming up ahead and indicates that you’re supposed to slow down to 50 km/h while approaching the entrance to an urban area.
Note: Are you traveling with a trailer? Make sure to drive a bit slower on the roads. Speed limits for car towing are 100 km/h on motorways and 70 km/h on open roads in Portugal.
Traffic in Portugal
Once you get closer to larger cities or drive in the Algarve region, the roads will get much busier. Traffic jams and long waiting lines are not unheard of in these tourist regions. When you decide to visit historic centers in cities or villages in the hills, be aware of the narrow streets. It is recommended to explore both on foot – more on that can be found further in this guide.
Next to beautiful cities and old towns, there are numerous mountain areas to be found in Portugal. Most of the mountain roads are in good condition but driving cautiously is always a good idea. If you’re visiting Portugal’s mountains in the winter, your car might require snow chains. When picking up your rental car in Portugal, make sure to ask the agency about it.
Top tips for renting a car in Portugal
1. Do a walk around and check the car
When you pick up your car rental in Portugal, make sure to do a walk around and check if everything’s there. It is mandatory to have a warning triangle, reflective vest, and spare wheel in your car in Portugal. If you’re traveling in winter, see if there are snow tires on the car or snow chains in the trunk. Many areas, especially in the mountainous regions, require these between November and April.
If your rental car has any scratches or other types of damage, check if they are listed on your contract or check-out form. Make sure to point them out to the employee and have them noted down before signing the form. This form will also list the mileage and the amount of fuel the car has upon pickup time.
Take photos of the rental car’s damages, the amount of fuel in the tank, and the mileage on the car. Most companies use a full-to-full fuel policy, meaning that the gas should be full upon pick up and drop off. It’s always a good idea to check this before you leave the rental company.
2. Opt for a smaller car and avoid driving in cities
Unless you’re going to need a lot of space or are planning on driving in the mountains, it is best to opt for a small car when you rent a car in Portugal. This is because many streets are narrow, parking spots are often small, and gas is relatively expensive. So, if the rental agency proposes to upgrade to a bigger car, it’s best to decline this.
Portugal has kept the historic atmosphere in towns and cities alive. You’ll find many narrow and often steep roads. Navigating these roads can be quite a challenge. Making sure you have an up-to-date navigation system and following the road signs is definitely recommended.
However, a car is simply also not needed in big cities such as Lisbon or Porto. Apart from the traffic, small one-way roads, and few expensive parking options, they typically have a good public transportation system. It’s best to visit Lisbon or Porto before renting a car or otherwise park it outside the historical centers.
Tip: If you do decide to drive in the cities, your navigation system will sometimes suggest a shortcut from the departmental route – don’t follow these routes blindly. These shortcuts are often through narrow and steep back roads and can end up taking more time than following the bigger roads. Backing up your car in narrow streets is the last thing you want to do!
3. Know how the toll roads work
There are many toll roads along Portugal’s motorways, and they are often significantly faster than the smaller departmental routes in the country. The toll roads in Portugal work a little differently than in other European countries – instead of toll booths, you’ll find electronic gates.
Portugal is the only country that uses an Electronic Tolls payment system, which means that tolls can no longer be paid in cash or by card. Instead, they use an e-toll device, a Via Verde transponder, that’ll be attached to your car’s windscreen and records the times you drive on a toll road.
Rental companies always offer an e-toll device when you rent a car in Portugal. Your credit card will be connected to the transponder and will cost no more than 1 or 2 EUR a day. In some cases, a deposit of roughly 50 EUR will be held on your credit card for this device. The costs of driving on a toll road in Portugal are about 1 EUR per 10 km of road. After your rental, you will settle the total toll on your credit card at the rental company. If you pay with a transponder, you have a separate green lane with the letter ‘V’ to drive on.
If you’re coming from another country, another option is to sign up for EasyToll, which you can do online here. You’ll need to link your car plate with a valid credit card to allow the fees to be charged to your card each time you pass a toll gate. To complete your registration with EasyToll, you have to go through one of the four EasyToll entries that can be found on the borders of the country. Here you’ll validate your credit card, which will be valid for 30 days. You can then use the toll roads without any problems.
Note: Entering the toll roads without either one of these options can result in a fine. This is only possible in the South of Portugal, where there are tolls without booths. If this happens, head to a post office in the following days to pay for the toll.
4. Fill your car with the right fuel
In Portugal, you can find gas stations everywhere, however, plan a bit ahead when visiting the Alentejo. Google Maps and other navigation services typically show you which one is nearest to you. To find the cheapest gas stations on your route, the 1-2-3 Fuel app can help. Portugal is among the countries with the most expensive fuel, with an average price of 2,04 EUR per liter (5,00 EUR per gallon).
You can either get diesel (gasoleo) or unleaded petrol 95 and 98 (gasolina sem chumbo). If you’re ever in doubt about which type of fuel you need, try to find the sticker in your rental car that provides that information. This can usually be found on the car key, on the dashboard, or on the fuel door. Gas stations can be found in the country, in small towns and big cities, and on the motorways.
How much does a car rental in Portugal cost?
Portugal is quite fairly priced when it comes down to car rentals. The price typically depends on a few things; the time of the year that you’re visiting, the duration of your trip, and the type of car that you want to rent.
During the summer months, there’s always an increased demand to rent a car in Portugal, which drives up the prices. If you’re visiting in the other seasons, including winter, the prices are considerably lower, sometimes no more than 5 EUR a day.
The time you decide to rent a car also influences the total price. Renting a car for a longer period usually brings down the daily price, meaning that 5 days of rental might just be slightly more than 3 days, for example. If you can, consider exploring Portugal for at least a week! Lastly, if you’re thinking of picking up a rental car at an airport, note that they come with an airport surcharge, making your rental a bit more costly. However, these offices do typically have a wider selection of vehicles to choose from.
Getting the right vehicle
The general rule in Portugal, like neighboring countries, is that the smaller the car, the lower the price. Bigger cars are more expensive because they require more fuel. Opting for a smaller car will also benefit you on the many small roads. If you’re thinking of getting an automatic car, be aware that these cost more than manual cars and that you’ll need to arrange this in advance. As these aren’t as commonly used in Portugal, there is only a limited supply.
Browse your options online via a comparison site to make sure you get the best deal. If you book in advance, it’ll also be much more affordable than stepping into the office and arranging it there.
Tip: Try to look at the rental conditions before booking a car. Differences in mileage policy, for example, can also influence the final price of your car rental.
Where do I rent a car in Portugal?
There are numerous reputable car rentals in Portugal to choose from. Car rental companies have offices in all major cities and airports, both in mainland Portugal, Madeira, and the Azores. If you’re planning on renting a car in Portugal in the summer, try to arrange this in advance. Reserving in advance ensures that you secure the type of car that you want, possibly at a lower price, and gives you the opportunity to compare all options.
If it makes sense on your route, pick up and drop off the car in different locations. Many car rental companies in Portugal offer one-way rentals, which give you the freedom to travel around the country without the need to travel all the way back to where you picked up the car. It might be a bit more expensive, but it can be worth it if you consider the tolls, gas, and time. When you return the car, make sure you know if it’s necessary to fill up the gas and have someone check the car for damage when you’re still there.