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Driving in the Algarve - Part 1: Rules and Regs

by Almonds & Oranges        

This series of blogs covers the basics of driving on Portugal’s roads, including general safety rules, which documents you need to carry with you, driving licence laws, toll roads, buying a Portuguese registered vehicle, registering a foreign vehicle in Portugal and owning a vehicle in Portugal.

PART 1 - Rules and regulations of the road in Portugal

Driving abroad can be a daunting prospect even for the experienced driver but, in reality, it’s not that different from driving in your homeland. Having driven in numerous countries and negotiated my way around some of the busiest cities in the world, I find the Algarve one of the least stressful places to take to the road.

Algarve coastal road

If you’re used to driving on the left, it may take a while to adjust to using the opposite side of the road and changing gear with your right hand but, believe me, it soon becomes second nature. But, always be prepared for the unexpected. If you’re driving through the countryside, don’t be surprised to be slowed down by a tractor, a herd of goats, a horse drawn cart or an ancient motorbike towing an equally ancient box trailer.

As motorbikes under 250ccs don’t yet require an IPO (roadworthiness inspection) in Portugal, it’s not unusual to turn a corner and find yourself behind a two-wheeled relic chugging up a steep hill with rider, pillion, trailer and a couple of shopping bags swinging from the handlebars. They’re probably more of a danger to themselves than to other road users, particularly as it seems to be the trend among them to wear unfastened vintage helmets. Seriously though, I've encountered some unusual hazards, so do take extra care.

In general, the main highways here are good and are well maintained, though some roads and vehicles aren't that well lit at night, so you need to be extra vigilant. Signage isn’t always great either, particularly in the dark, so it helps if you plan your route before setting off.

Admittedly, for a region with such a slow pace of life, there’s a surprising number of tailgaters regularly using the N125, some of them driving far too close for comfort. Back home in the UK, such driving would have triggered an episode of road rage on my part, but here in the Algarve I tend to ignore them and slow down to let them pass at the first safe opportunity. Maybe I’ve mellowed with age, or maybe I've just adjusted to the laidback lifestyle here.

Algarve tractor driver

N125 serial tailgaters aside, Portugal's making a big effort to better its reputation on the roads and this is evident across the Algarve. Over recent years, the country has improved its previously poor record of road deaths and traffic accidents, by clamping down on drivers who don’t toe the line. The rules and regulations in Portugal are pretty similar to those across Western Europe. The key rules for driving safely apply worldwide:

  • ·You should always be aware of your surroundings
  • ·You should know what vehicles are around you at all times
  • ·In all situations, you should always take the safest course of action

Age limits for driving in Portugal

  • ·The legal age for driving a car is 18 years (17 for a Portuguese national)
  • ·The minimum age to hire a vehicle is 23 years

If you've had your licence for less than a year you must obtain a yellow disc with the number 90 on it which indicates that 90km is the maximum speed you can travel.

Algarve highway A22


  • ·Drive on the right
  • ·Give priority to traffic from the right unless otherwise stated
  • ·Vehicles on roundabouts have priority over those which are about to enter
  • ·Overtake on the left only. It's illegal to overtake on the right in free-flowing traffic
  • ·Always use headlights in tunnels

Do you drive in the Algarve? Do you have any experiences to share with us?


Do you want to find out more about driving in the Algarve? You can read about it on Meravista’s blogs:

Driving in the Algarve - Part 6: Owning a car in Portugal

Driving in the Algarve - Part 5: Using Toll Roads

Driving in the Algarve - Part 4: Driving Licenses

Driving in the Algarve - Part 3: What to have with you

Driving in the Algarve - Part 2: Safety First


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While driving my own (Portuguese reg ) car in Portugal I understood that as long as I had certified COPIES of all my car docs/passport/UK licience,etc that was ok. However last week my agent told me that from Jan 2014 all persons ( even nationals ) must have all the original docs not copies and that it is now a 30 euro spot fine for each one missing. Can anyone shed any light?

Hi Sam, There have been a number of changes to the highway code in Portugal. These changes came into effect on 1/1/14. See AngloInfo's update As you will see here, the new rules require you to carry Fiscal documentation (official paper or card, depending which you have, assuming of course that you have a Fiscal number). To the best of my knowledge: All the documents that you carry do need to be originals, I don't believe that this is a new rule. From your question, I assume that you are driving here with your UK issued driving licence, in which case you do need to carry your passport with you as ID (a UK licence doesn't qualify as ID here. A Portuguese issued licence does). I hope this helps. As I say, this is to the best of my knowledge. I will try to check out the information.

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