Renting a car in Portugal can be a great way to get around this gorgeous Southern European country. Opting to drive here gives you a lot more freedom and flexibility than if you have to depend on bus and rail schedules.
This comprehensive guide runs through all the practical considerations that you need to think about before renting a car in Portugal and how to find a rental car at the best price.
Renting a Car in Portugal in 2023
Is it a good idea to rent a car in Portugal?
Whether or not renting a car in Portugal is the best option for you depends largely on your itinerary and your budget. You don’t need a car if you are going to be spending most of your time in Lisbon or Porto as you can easily get around on foot and using the trolleys and metro.
Day trips from Porto and Lisbon can easily be done via the country’s excellent bus and rail networks. Even travelling across the country from north to south – all the way down to the Algarve, is doable by public transport.
Not to mention, it makes it easier to reach lesser-known beaches, villages, and vineyards that would be difficult to reach without a vehicle.
Cost of renting a car in Portugal
The cost of renting a car in Portugal can vary significantly depending on the time of year and what type of car you choose to rent. If you rent a small, economy car from Lisbon or Porto during the summer months, you should expect to pay around $40/£33 a day for your rental.
This works out at about $282/£234 a week. This price includes unlimited mileage, collision damage waiver, and third-party liability insurance.
If you are renting a car in Portugal in the winter, you can get an economy car for as little as $5/£4.17 a day. So, if you are on a budget, travelling out of season can save you a lot of money!
The price can vary somewhat depending on whether you pick up your rental from an airport or from a town so this is worth looking into. (In Portugal it actually works out cheaper to have your vehicle waiting for you at the airport when you arrive, rather than to collect it from a rural/coastal town somewhere).
What rental companies are there in Portugal?
Various well-known international rental companies operate in Portugal. This includes Europcar, Enterprise, and Thrifty.
However, smaller, independent Portuguese rental companies can be just as good (and often cheaper!) so they shouldn’t be written off. You should use a rental comparison website such as Discover Cars.
This will help you compare and contrast the various deals offered by different rental companies and secure the best price. You can also then filter the results by vehicle specs, pickup location, number of seats, and added extras.
It is a good idea to always check past reviews of the rental company you are considering before you commit to a purchase. This is a good practice to follow whether you are using a renowned global brand or a smaller local business.
You can read reviews via Discover Cars, Tripadvisor, Google reviews, etc.
One-way car rentals in Portugal
One thing that has the potential to massively and adversely impact how much you pay to rent a car in Portugal is opting for a one-way rental. (In other words, where you pick up your rental car in one city and drop it off in another).
This works out a lot more expensive. It is not a marginal price difference.
If you can, try and plan out your Portugal itinerary in a loop. For instance, maybe you want to start in the city of Porto and go wine tasting in the Douro Valley.
Stop by Braga and Guimarães before continuing onwards to Fatima, Sintra, and Lisbon. Loop back around and then on your return journey back up to Porto, stop at Coimbra and Aveiro.
Requirements for renting a car in Portugal
You generally need to be between 21 and 70 to rent a car in Portugal. Some companies may rent to drivers aged 18+ or they may have a slightly higher maximum age limit.
But most require you to fall into the above age bracket. Younger drivers may be charged a much higher rate.
Documentation-wise, you need to have a full driving license that you have had for at least a year, a passport, and a credit card. Some rental companies may allow you to rent a vehicle with a debit card and a cash deposit but these are the exception, not the rule.
Portuguese law requires all drivers to have unlimited third-party liability insurance but this is automatically included in the price anyway. You do not need an International Drivers Permit if your driving license is in English and has a photo.
If your license is written in a non-English alphabet (e.g. Cyrillic, Arabic, etc), you need to obtain an international driver’s permit before you travel. The process for obtaining this varies from country to country.
What type of car to choose when renting a car in Portugal
Small, economy-style cars are the best option for your Portugal car rental. They are budget-friendly, consume less gas, and are better for navigating some of the narrow streets that you will find in the towns and cities here.
If you are coming from the US or Canada, it may be a bit of a culture shock to see that all of the cars are smaller in Europe. Because so many European cities are old and have narrow streets, maneuvering large vehicles or SUVs is a nightmare here.
Expect to pay around $40/£33 a day for a vehicle with five doors and four seats. Cars like Volkswagen Ups, Fiat 500s, Toyota Aygo, and Fiat Puntos are great, simple choices for Portugal.
These should give you plenty of space if each passenger has just a small bag, for up to 2-4 people. If a larger group of you are travelling together, or you need to travel with things like baby strollers, pet carriers, etc, you should opt for a slightly larger vehicle that falls into the ¨wagon¨ category.
When to organise your Portugal car rental
You should try and organise your car rental several months in advance of your trip, particularly if you are travelling between June and September. Prices increase phenomenally as the summer approaches and if you leave it too late, you may find that there is limited stock of certain vehicles.
(Booking in advance is especially important if you want an automatic car as most European rentals are manual!) If you are traveling out of season, you are probably fine to reserve your car a couple of weeks before you travel. But for your own peace of mind, you might want to get everything sorted in advance.
Manual vs automatic cars
Most European cars are manual. Automatic vehicles are in shorter supply and tend to sell out first.
They are generally slightly more expensive, but not ridiculously so. Book your vehicle as soon as you confirm your travel dates if you specifically want an automatic car and you cannot drive a stick shift.
Trying to learn how to drive a manual car for the first time in rural Portugal is both nightmarish and dangerous!
Car insurance requirements for renting a car in Portugal
Portuguese law dictates that you must have unlimited third-party liability insurance though this is pretty much always included. For your own peace of mind, consider purchasing full coverage insurance with zero deductibles.
That way you are covered for any eventuality. Expect to pay around $20 extra per day, on top of your car rental fee, if you decide to opt for full coverage insurance.
Some credit cards offer car insurance coverage across Europe and a lot of US and UK plans include Portugal. Always read the small print and clarify if you are unsure.
Some policies may include Portugal, some may not. Some may cover Portugal but they may not cover every type of vehicle.
Purchase your car insurance online in advance when you reserve your rental car. Platforms like Discover Cars allow you to do both at once. That way, you know that everything is covered before your trip.
Book a vehicle with free cancellation
If you have found a great deal on renting a car in Portugal but you are not 100% sure about your travel dates, or you need to confirm with a partner/friend/etc, you can book a car with free cancellation. Discover Cars offers free cancellation at any point, up to 48 hours before you are due to travel.
Picking up your Portugal rental car
You will need to present your passport, driving license, and credit card when picking up your rental car. You will also be asked to sign an inventory checklist that confirms the condition that the vehicle was in when you collected it.
At this point, you should do a thorough check of the interior and exterior of the vehicle to make sure that everything is okay. Take photos with your cellphone so that you have time-stamped evidence of what the car looked like when you picked it up.
If you notice any issues, however minor they may seem, point them out to the rental company at this point. A temporary hold will typically be placed on your rental car at this point.
This may be around €1,000.
Returning your Portugal rental car
When renting a car in Portugal, you usually need to return your vehicle with a full tank of gas. It is important to make sure it is full right before you drop it off.
If you return your vehicle with a gas tank that is 50% or 75% full, you will be billed for an entire tank. Make sure that you clear any trash or personal items out of the car so that you are not charged any additional cleaning fees.
Follow the same process of checking and inspecting the vehicle when you drop it off at the rental office. It is arguably even more important to do this at this stage so that a potentially sneaky company cannot pretend that you dropped the vehicle off in terrible condition.
If you damage your rental car
Sometimes accidents do happen despite our best efforts. If you do damage your rental car in any way, let the company know right away.
You will pay any fees and charges to the rental company directly and then claim it back from your insurance. Keep in mind that you are entitled to full visibility on this process and you can request itemised receipts, etc.
Important things to know about driving in Portugal
Driving in Portugal can be a pleasant and enjoyable experience. Road rules are enforced and people generally respect speed limits and other drivers.
In Portugal, like the US, most of Europe, and most of the world, you drive on the right-hand side and overtake on the left. Portuguese roads are modern and well-maintained.
The only exception to this is when you are visiting hiking trails and beaches in the Algarve and other coastal areas, where you may encounter gravel/dirt paths. It is usually only the final stretch of the road that is like this.
So, you can generally find a place to park and follow the remainder of the road on foot. Cars driving on a roundabout have the right of way, and on crossings without stop signs or traffic lights, vehicles from the right have preference.
Speed limits in Portugal
The speed limits in Portugal are displayed in kilometers per hour (km/h). These are as per the below.
- Towns and built-up areas: 30km/h
- Dual carriageways: 100km/h
- Motorways: 120km/h
General road rules in Portugal
Fines for driving dangerously or not adhering to road rules in Portugal can be steep. So it is important to always drive carefully, be aware of your surroundings, and not do anything you wouldn’t do when driving at home.
If you don’t come to a complete stop at a stop light in Portugal, you can be slapped with a hefty €2,500 fine. (Not really the type of souvenir you want!)
It is illegal to use mobile phones or headphones while driving (unless in hands-free mode) and drivers and passengers must wear seatbelts at all times. In Portugal, like in most European countries, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit is 0.5 g/l (50 mg per 100 ml).
Crossing European borders with your rental car
Lovely Portugal sits on the Iberian Peninsula, bordering Spain. (Spain is the only country that Portugal shares its land borders with).
Both are EU nations. Although a lot of rental companies across Europe can be iffy about letting people drive their rental cars across international borders, a lot of Spanish and Portuguese rental companies let you drive between the two countries.
Of course, this is something that varies from company to company so it is important to clarify in advance if this is what you plan on doing. You also need to make sure that your car insurance will then cover you in Spain.
Spain and Portugal make a great travel pairing. For instance, if you are in the Algarve, Albufeira, or Faro, you can drive across into Andalusia, Spain to visit Ronda, Cordoba, and Seville.
Alternatively, if you find yourself in historic Porto, you might want to drive up towards Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.
Gas stations in Portugal
Gas stations in Portugal are usually open from 7:00 to 22:00, but there are a number of 24-hour service stations. You don’t need to worry about gas stations being closed on a Sunday here as you do when driving in Greece, for instance.
In Portugal, unleaded petrol is called gasolina sem chumbo. Diesel is called gasóleo and LPG is called GPL or gás líquido.
FAQs about Renting a Car in Portugal
Do you have any additional questions or concerns about renting a car in Portugal? Hopefully, you will find the answers you are looking for below.
Otherwise, feel free to reach out!
Is it easy to rent a car and drive in Portugal?
Yes. It is very easy to rent a car and drive in Portugal.
There is an abundance of rental companies all over the country here. They are found in major cities like Porto and Lisbon, in the gorgeous Algarve, and at most Portuguese airports.
Portuguese car rentals are affordable and you can easily book your car and your insurance online in advance of your trip. So, provided that you meet the rental requirements, when you arrive in Portugal, it is a straightforward process of signing papers, showing your ID, inspecting the vehicle, and setting off on your great Portuguese road trip!
Do you need an international driver’s license to rent a car in Portugal?
To clarify, there is no such thing as an international driver’s license. An International driver’s permit can be purchased for $15 and is a handy thing to have if you travel a lot.
You do not need an International driver’s permit to rent a car in Portugal.
Some European countries require this in order to be able to rent a car there. (This rings true for renting a car in Italy and renting a car in Greece if you are not from certain countries). Provided that you are visiting Portugal as a tourist and you will be in the country for less than six months, all you need to display is your driving license from your home country.
What documents do I need to rent a car in Portugal?
You need a full driving license and your passport (as proof of identification) to rent a car in Portugal. You also need to have unlimited third-party liability insurance, although most rental companies include that in their standard rental deals.
Some companies will require you to have a valid credit card whereas others may accept debit cards. Double-check in advance, particularly if you don’t have a credit card or prefer not to use one for whatever reason!
What license do I need to rent a car in Portugal?
You need a full driving license from your home country to be able to rent a car in Portugal. You do not need an IDP and you will need to have had your license for a minimum of one year.
Can tourists rent a car in Portugal?
Yes. Tourists can easily rent a car in Portugal and you can find a lot of good deals on rentals. This is a great way to get around the country independently.
How much is car rental deposit in Portugal?
Most Portuguese rental companies will place a hold of €1000 on your credit card as a deposit. This is just a hold, rather than an actual charge.
Provided that you return the vehicle in good condition, this will be automatically refunded. Car rental deposits are one reason why you should always book your car rental on a credit card rather than a debit card.
If you reserve the rental on a debit card, you may have to pay a sizeable cash deposit.
Final thoughts on renting a car in Portugal
Renting a car in Portugal should be a pain-free process and having access to a vehicle here will make it easier to explore independently and travel off the beaten path.
Have a wonderful time travelling in Portugal! Safe travels! Melissa xo