Driving in Portugal invariably means you will have to pay tolls occasionally. The traditional motorway toll sections are known as “portágems” – so where you see this sign you have to pay. Driving is a lot more confusing now, though, since the introduction of a new type of toll payment on 15th October 2010.
Colloquially known as the SCUT, the new electronic tolls do not require you to take a ticket or stop at a payment booth. They work by scanning your car registration as you drive under a gantry full of cameras and automatic number recognition devices. Each time you drive under a gantry, you are charged the appropriate fee listed on the sign just before it.
What’s confusing about the name SCUT is that it stands for “Sem Custo para os UTilizadores” – which basically means “no cost to users”. This is because the SCUT roads are known as such because they were designed to be free, as opposed to the toll roads. So, it’s ironic that we call the new toll systems by a colloquial name that means they are free. When we pay at the Pay Shop, for example, we say “I need to pay the SCUT.”
Now, if you are a foreigner driving your own car, or even a hire car, you will ask the obvious question – “How am I supposed to pay? And will I be fined if I don’t?”
The answer to the first question is that you need, legally, to have a temporary device which you can rent from service stations, such as a Via Verde device, which you then charge up with €50 or €100. The answer to the second question is that, while Portugal and the UK don’t enforce each other’s fines locally, you can probably get away with not paying – but if the Portuguese police stop you in a UK registered car and you don’t have a SCUT payment device (properly called a “dispositivo electrónico”) in the car, you may be liable for an on-the-spot fine.