Planning on driving in Portugal? Well, we have a few tips to help you out. First we will thrill you with our story and you will find some resourceful information at the end.
We’ve enjoyed 2 road trips driving to Portugal. The first was to the Algarve and Lisbon and our most recent was to Porto. Both times we felt that driving in Portugal was pretty similar to Spain or even the USA. The roads are well-marked and it was easy enough for us to find our way around.
We hit a snag driving in Portugal!
There was however one thing that just flat-out puzzled us each trip. On our way home from Porto, we finally figured out the answer.
You see, as we were driving Portugal, along the highway, each time we noticed there are “free” roads and “toll” roads. The peculiar thing on some of the toll roads was the sign with the Euro symbol and below that a listing of how much the toll was, but no booth to pay. Eventually we would happen upon a station to take a ticket and then continue on the toll road and eventually a booth to pay. The problem was the fee we paid didn’t always add up to what we calculated as we passed each sign. We just chalked it up to being in Portugal and thinking “they just don’t know how to calculate”. It was to our advantage, so we just let it be.
We did it again!
On our second trip, again we noticed the same thing but did nothing about it. On our return home we followed a new route back to Spain for a change of scenery. We cut across Portugal from Aveiro to Spain. We noticed far more of these toll signs again with the price as well as overhead cameras. “Assumption”- these cameras were capturing all of the speeders out there and ensured we were driving the speed limit as we passed each of them. I began to do the calculations and we were up to about €14 and still no toll booth. After driving a good hour on this nice toll road, we pulled off at a gas station to use the restrooms. We all had a little stretch and walked around.
Being confronted driving Portugal
As we were packing back into our car, we noticed a “road side assistance car” pull up ahead of us and park. Two uniformed men exited the car and approached us. We had our friendly hello’s, and then they began to ask us questions about where we were going and where we came from. We explained as best we could with a bit of a language barrier.
They then explained to us that we were on an “Electronic Toll” road and we said we knew, but didn’t see a booth to get a ticket. Apparently there are no tickets. You are just supposed to know, when driving in Portugal, there are electronic toll only roads and you need to purchase a “reader/transponder” in advance. This transponder will debit your credit card each time you pass a camera.
Time to pay the piper
After much discussion with the gentlemen, it was determined that we needed to pay them on the spot for our tolls via credit card only. We showed them on the map, where we came from and where we were heading. Apparently they had been following us (trying to catch up) for about 40 km, to inform us that we were not compliant. It felt a bit weird, like being pulled over in Mexico and trying to bribe your way out of a false accusation.
We reluctantly paid up, asked for a receipt and were squared away. They also provided us with a small road map outlining the electronic toll roads, for future reference. They weren’t police and we didn’t receive any ticket, but we had their info on the receipt if anything turned out to be fishy. At this point we just wanted to get back to our roads in Spain. Luckily the border was very close and we were back in our “homeland” in no time.
Alan’s Note: At first, I was about to call B.S. on this “Pay us the toll” thing. But they were in a very conspicuous car that had safety markings all over it and an orange light bar. Both of the men in the car were wearing safety uniforms. They had safety gear in the back of the car, and lastly, had a credit card swipe machine. Had they asked for cash, I would not have paid. Were we lucky? Luckily they spoke with us while we were at the gas station, because I probably would not have pulled over if they had turned their lights on.
What You Must Know Before Driving In Portugal
- Completely understand the Toll Roads
- Calculate your route and tolls in advance. This will help you determine which advance payment option is best for you.
- If you have “foreign plates” (non Portugal) you may want to look at the above options.
- If renting a car in Portugal, it is very important when picking up your car that you ask the car rental company how payment is to be made regarding electronic tolls and whether you can rent a‘Via Verde’ device or determine your options.
- General Driving in Portugal information –
- A very helpful map
- Frequently Asked Questions about tolls
This should provide you with an excellent start if you find yourself wanting to drive in Portugal. Stay safe!
More resources for visiting or driving Portugal