Portugal Driving Tips: How to stay safe and legal when driving in Portugal


Keep an eye out for “No Parking” and “Do Not Enter” signs! Photo: miguelb

We all know that renting a car in Portugal offers travelers much more freedom that being constantly tied to public transportation. (And, in case you haven’t already read it, be sure to check out our tips on saving on your car rental in Portugal.)

But what do you need to know about driving in Portugal before you hop in your rental and hit the road? To stay safe and on the right side of the law during your time in Portugal, consider the tips below.

• How to save on your rental car in Portugal
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Portugal driving tips

1. Get an International driver’s license before your trip

Consider getting an international driver’s license before you arrive. While most rental companies don’t require one for U.S. drivers license holders, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

2. Be smart about parking

Be careful about where and how you park your car in Portugal. Locals aren’t an example to follow — leaving your car running with emergency lights in a no-parking zone won’t save you from a ticket. Also, when parking roadside, always be sure to park in the same direction as traffic.

3. Protect your car and valuables

Lock the car when you park and secure your valuables in the trunk. Even if you’re just stopping off for a moment to get a picture of an amazing view along the way. Portugal isn’t dangerous but petty theft is unfortunately quite common. Don’t make yourself an easy target.

4. Lost? Don’t panic.

Be prepared to get a little lost when driving around Portugal. The trick is staying calm and being prepared. Be sure to bring a paper map, and either rent a GPS with your vehicle or use Google Maps on your smartphone or tablet — learn how to switch out your US sim card with a local sim card.

5. Keep an eye out for gas stations

Fill up whenever you see a station — running out of gas in a foreign country is even less fun than it is at home (even if it has the makings of a great story to tell at dinner parties). And be sure to fill up with the right fuel. Learn the name of the type of fuel your car uses in Portuguese.

Note: Diesel is “gasóleo” (or “diesel”) and unleaded gasoline is “gasolina.”

Madeira car view

Rental cars let you enjoy stunning views like this one in Madeira. Photo: Tobias

6. Don’t speed

Follow the speed limit, even if the rest of traffic is speeding along over the limit. In Portugal, there are flashing orange speed traffic lights that operate using a sensor, and if you’re over the limit (or the person in front of you is), they’ll turn red and you’ll have to stop.

7. Put that smartphone down

Don’t use a cell phone while driving unless it’s hands-free. It’s illegal, unsafe and could get you a big fine.

8. Use turn signals (even if others don’t)

Turn signals might seem to you to be optional in Portugal — which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them, just that you can’t expect other drivers to do so. So give yourself a little extra distance between you and the car ahead of you, and pay close attention so you can brake hard when the person in front of makes an unexpected turn or maneuver.

9. Watch it on the sharp turns and ramps

On and off ramps are usually very short — you’ll want to slow down a little before you exit the main road or highway you’re on.

Your Portugal driving tips

Have some driving tips to add to our list? Leave them in the comments section below!