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Driving and Public Transport for Expats in Portugal

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: August 2015

Driving

Great improvements were made to Portugal’s road network in the late 20th century. It is now serviceable, though still not the best in Western Europe. There is a fair number of motorways, though they are all tolled according to distance travelled and vehicle type. To avoid this expense, most locals simply use the dual carriageways, making them congested while motorways are comparatively clear.

Driving in Portugal is on the right, and road signs are in Portuguese. It is a moderately safe country to drive in; although fatality rates in road traffic accidents are low, they are higher than in most other Western European countries. You may encounter drivers who are impatient or aggressive; the best thing to do in such cases is to drive defensively and take evasive action as soon as possible.

If you are from a country in the European Economic Area, you are permitted to drive in Portugal with your existing licence indefinitely. Citizens of other countries may drive in Portugal using an International Driving Permit for up to six months. (Some national licences are also valid; check with your local embassy or consulate to confirm this.) After this time, third country residents will need to obtain a Portuguese licence. This will involve submitting the relevant documentation to the local traffic department and passing a driving test.

The minimum age for driving a private vehicle is 18. To hire a car, you need to have held your licence for a year and, if you are under 23, you will be subject to a surcharge. Some traffic violations are subject to a hefty on-the-spot fine.

It is illegal to carry cans of petrol in private vehicles. In addition to your driving licence, insurance policy, registration documents, proof of ownership and ID, whenever you are driving in Portugal, you will need to have the following with you at all times:

Typical speed limits in Portugal are given in the table below.

Road Type Speed (kph) Speed (mph)
Motorways 120 75
Built-up Areas 50 30
Other Roads 100 60

 

The drink-driving limit in Portugal is 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. If you are found to be up to 60% over this limit (80mg per 100 ml), you may be fined up to €1,250 and suspended from driving for one month. For exceeding this amount, the maximum fine is €2,500.

Trains

The Portuguese railway service is almost entirely run by the nationalised Comboios de Portugal (Portuguese Trains). Though nearly half of the 2,800km network has been electrified, it is not particularly extensive and is in some areas supplemented by buses and coaches. The main types of train, in descending order of speed, are the Alfa Pendular, the Intercidades and the Regional trains.

There are metro networks in Lisbon and Porto; the one is Lisbon is older and more developed. There are also trams in the major cities; the website for Lisbon gives details of trains, trams and buses in the city.

Buses and Coaches

Buses are a cheap and widely available means of getting around major cities. Buses run regularly along major city routes and between airports and city centres.

Long-distance buses and coaches are important in filling in the gaps where there are no train lines. This is particularly the case in eastern parts of the country and on the islands.

Planes

Taking a domestic flight is the quickest option for travel between the mainland and or Madeira (and the only viable option to the Azores.) Flights from Lisbon are quite regular. Flying within the mainland meanwhile is expensive and not normally worthwhile.

Boats

Sailing is option if you are travelling to Madeira and are not in a hurry. The main carrier is Naviera Armas. Note that there are no ferries to the Azores; flying is your only option in this case.

 

 

 



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