Driving a UK car in Portugal

A street in Guimaraes
A street in Guimaraes
A driving scene in Guimaraes.

Driving from the UK to Portugal is a fantastic journey, giving you the opportunity to enjoy the many toll roads in France (!), the long open roads and scenery of Spain and the windy rural motorways and villages of Portugal. If you plan to drive your own car from the UK to Portugal, though, you should bear some legal requirements in mind.

Apart from the fact that you have to drive on the left instead of the right, the law in Portugal is stricter for drivers when it comes to documentation. It’s illegal to drive without a bright reflective jacket (yellow, orange or red) in the car and an approved reflective warning triangle. In the event of an accident or breakdown, you must don the jacket and position the triangle on the road a safe distance behind your car as a warning to other road users.

If you are stopped by police, you may be asked for a driving licence, proof of insurance, proof of address and proof that your car has an MOT road-worthiness certificate, as well as proof of ownership of the vehicle. A UK licence is usually acceptable in Portugal, but it’s best to show the plastic version with a photo and an EU flag rather than the older paper version. You should always carry your passport as well as your identity document – Portuguese citizens always carry their ID card, because they can be asked to produce it and it is an offence not to do so.

If you are stopped by police, especially driving a UK car, you are likely to be treated with polite respect and you may not be asked to produce much documentation, but this will depend on the mood of the policeman and where you live. In the north, for example, the police stop very few UK cars, so these are often dealt with as tourists, but in the Algarve, the police often do sweeps looking for cars owned by residents who do not properly import them.

Speaking of importing vehicles, you should be aware that you can’t keep your UK car in Portugal for more than 183 days in any year. Some people mistakenly think the 183 days is consecutive, but it is actually a total number of days – so you can’t keep leaving and coming back if your total days in Portugal tops that figure.

Before you bring your car to Portugal, check your insurance, because you will most probably need to pay for additional European cover, if you don’t already have that, as well as breakdown cover for the period of your trip. You can get separate insurance in Portugal for a UK vehicle. Ibex Insurance, based in Gibraltar, covers Spain and Portugal for UK vehicles at competitive rates.

For additional tips on driving in Portugal, view The AA’s guide. There is also a great list of driving rules and regulations on the Anglo Info website.

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