How to rent a car in Portugal: Everything You Need to Know About Driving in Portugal

If you’re wondering how to rent a car in Portugal, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the entire process step-by-step so that you can rent a car with ease.

We’ll cover everything from how to find the best deals on rental cars to how to navigate Portuguese roads to important things you need to know about driving in this country.

So whether you’re planning a road trip through Portugal or just need a car for a day trip, read on for all the information you need!

Ready? Let’s go!!

How to rent a car in Portugal: Is renting a car in Portugal easy?

how to rent a car in portugal

Renting a car in Portugal is pretty easy. It does require some planning though, lucky you i’m discussing all the must-know details below so keep on reading.

First, it’s never too early to book a car rental so book it as soon as you can, especially if it’s an automatic transmission you are looking for.

Should you rent a car? Absolutely! It is a great way to see the country, especially if you’re planning on driving to remote areas.

With a rental car, you won’t have to worry about public transportation schedules or finding parking in busy cities. You also won’t have to be on a strict schedule with a tour group.

But before you can hit the open road, there are a few things you need to know about renting a car in Portugal.

How to rent a car in Portugal: What documents do I need to drive a hire car in Portugal?

First, you’ll need to have a valid driver’s license and passport from your home country. You’ll also need to present a credit card when you pick up your rental car, as most agencies require a deposit or process a hold.

Some rental car companies demand that the credit card name is under the driver’s name, so make sure you have a good understanding before you put a certain driver’s name on a reservation.

And if you’re planning on driving into Spain or another country, be sure to check with your rental agency about their cross-border policies. Specifically, if that’s even allowed and what roads you can take.

This is important because you certainly do not want any tickets or any legal issues being sent to your house.

Remember the rental company has all of your legal information so they will find you quickly if you break any rules.

How old do you need to be to rent a car in Portugal?

The legal driving age in Portugal is actually 18. However, you’ll most likely have to be at least 21 to rent a car. It is also required to have had your license for at least a year or ideally more.

You might come across additional young driver fees under 25. On the contrary, you might be charged an additional fee if you are over a certain age.

I probably sound like a broken record, but always read the fine print before you sign or pay for anything so you know you are aware of the terms and conditions.

Booking a rental can be annoying with all the small things you need to pay attention to, but it’s simply not the time to sleep on details.

The hefty credit card hold

Make sure you have a credit card that can process a transaction of around 1000 to 2000 euros. It depends on the rental company and their fee but this is usually the ballpark.

This is simply to ensure you bring the car back in the same state you received it. It is quite a hefty fee, you can opt-in for extra insurance if you don’t feel comfortable with this.

In my opinion, you don’t need the extra insurance. For example, when I rented my car in Algarve, I paid around 50 euros for full coverage insurance when I booked it.

They then told me the hold is processed for all renters, and if not I can buy more insurance. I didn’t think that really made sense so I told them to process the hold.

It actually doesn’t even charge you as it’s usually only held for a certain time, so you won’t even see it on your credit card statement.

When you drop off the car they release the hold so you don’t see a credit because they didn’t charge you anything. Do ask for a receipt so you know you’re good to go once you’ve dropped off the car.

Still with me? Haha, I know it can be confusing. If you have comments just let me know in the comments and I’ll get back to you.

When should you not rent a car in Portugal?

A rental is not recommended for Portuguese cities where you can easily take public transportation or walk.

In fact, renting a car in a city might be more inconvenient than convenient. Keep in mind, that drivers tend to be much more aggressive and parking can be extremely complicated. Not only in parking garages but in street parking where spots are super tight.

Once you leave the big cities like Lisbon and Porto, you will notice immediately that public transportation is very challenging to understand and it’s not super frequent.

You’ll need ideas on where to go in Portugal so make sure you read:

Is renting a car in Portugal expensive?

Portugal is a cheap country and luckily so are the rentals!

To give you an idea, a car rental will range from 20-50 USD per day. Prices range depending on the car model, the transmission, location of pick up and drop off, and the insurance you select.

Do note, that European cars drive mostly with a manual transmission. If you are opting for a manual car, it will be much cheaper. Why? Because manual cars are the norm.

Automatic cars are more expensive because they simply don’t have that many accessible and it’s sometimes looked at as more of a luxury.

If you are opting for an automatic car, make sure you book early!!! This is so important if you can only drive auto and are traveling during high season – book in advance as soon as possible.

Where to rent a car in Portugal

how to rent a car in portugal

There are 2 main websites that are highly recommended, it is discovercars.com and rentalcars.com. The reason why everyone uses these is that they compare a bunch of other rental companies for you.

My experience with discovercars.com

I personally used discovercars.com and I liked them but I did notice that they take up to 3 days to confirm the reservation. Hence why I keep repeating to book early. The first reservation I had was canceled because they didn’t have a car, leaving me to find a car last minute 3 days before I arrived.

This was nerve-wracking because you obviously want a rental car if you book one. I don’t think it was discovercars.com fault though, it was definitely mine for doing that last minute haha.

Book earlier than I did. I would recommend at least 7-14 days in advance if you can.

This will help you get the best rate and avoid any last-minute surprises. Second, make sure you understand the agency’s policies on things like mileage and insurance. And third, dont be afraid to ask for help! The staff at most rental agencies are happy to answer any questions you have about driving in Portugal.

Getting a rental in Algarve – everything you need to know right here

Before dropping off the car, make sure you do a few things to prevent any sneaky charges.

First, leaving the car clean

Return with the same amount of gas you got it

Renting a car in Portugal as an American: Do I need an international driver’s license?

I have never been asked for an international driver’s license in Portugal or the 4 other European countries where I’ve rented. You don’t technically need one to drive in Portugal as an American.

HOWEVER, I do want to emphasize that your car rental company might ask for this because those are their policies. You will know before you book, it should say it in your booking.

Always, I mean always, make sure you are reading the fine print and are looking at terms and conditions prior to booking.

I have always stuck to an automatic car too, not sure if that matters or effected my experience but figured I’d mention that.

Simply put, the expectations and terms for your license depends on the rental company.

How to rent a car in Portugal: Driving

First and foremost, before you even start your Algarve road trip, it’s important to know crucial details of what it’s even like to drive in Portugal. Safety first!

Portugal is a left-hand drive country. In other words, the steering wheel is on the left side.

This can take some getting used to if you’re coming from a right-hand drive country, but it’s not impossible. This is specifically important to note for UK drivers and some parts of Asia.

Just be extra careful when pulling out onto busy streets and always use your turn signal!

If you’re American, or from most European countries (France, Germany, Spain, Italy, etc), this won’t be much of a difference for you since these countries all drive on the same side.

Portugal has a well-developed network of highways and main roads, making it easy to get around the country by car. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. Please keep reading to be informed.

How to rent a car in Portugal: Roundabouts

how to rent a car in portugal tips

Second, Portugal in general has a lot of roundabouts. And when I mean a lot, I mean like every other kilometer, especially when driving within a local area.

When driving on your Portugal road trip, these can look confusing and intimidating, but it’s not. If you pay attention and focus when you drive, you will have no issues.

Just remember to yield to traffic already in the roundabout and then enter when there’s an opening. Yield doesn’t mean stomping on your breaks, it means slowing down to let other road users go first.

You’ll notice there will always be cars coming from the left, so look to the left before unyielding and proceed.

Always stick to the right lane if you know you are going to exit, this way you don’t have to go onto the right from the left lane to then exit.

Basically, exiting like this makes things 20x easier. Roundabouts are actually statistically safer than signal light intersections and you will see them all over Portugal and Europe in general.

Overtaking everywhere

As mentioned above, Portugal is a left-hand drive country and when people are passing, they pass on the left. On the highway, the first left lane is the passing lane.

Alternatively, in some parts of Portugal, you’ll notice you can still pass on the left even in the small towns with just 2-way streets.

Specifically in Algarve, you’ll notice streets that let people pass on the left. This is legal where you’ll see the 2-car road sign as seen above. Do this with extreme caution as there are cars coming in the opposite direction on your Algarve road trip.

If you do not feel comfortable passing like this, simply don’t. You don’t have to, but do expect people to potentially pass you if they want to go faster.

This can be very dangerous (borderline fatal) so just make sure a car is not coming in the opposite direction. Safety first!!

Incredibly narrow and curvy roads

Algarve specifically has so many different types of roads. Some are smooth and modern, some are poorly maintained. Regardless, one common trend you will see over and over in Algarve is narrow curvy roads.

Please drive slow, some of these roads are so thin, 2 cars won’t fit. That means, drive with extreme caution, and do not speed.

The last thing you want is to be driving full force in a narrow street and crash into someone. Also pay attention to where there are mirrors, this can help you notice if a car is coming and if you need to shoulder (move to the side to let them pass.)

Parking

Parking can be a challenge in Algarve, Portugal. Especially if you travel during the high season. To summarize, there are thousands of people in one small area with limited parking.

Many towns have limited street parking, so you may have to park in a paid area or garage. This is easy, just be sure to read the signs carefully so you don’t get a ticket.

More so, make sure you are driving and parking in an area that is for tourists and NOT residential areas. You’ll always get a warning if you are going into a residential area, so just pay attention to the signs. They are both in Portuguese and English for the most part.

If there’s no language, try to use common sense for the road signs, in my opinion, it’s pretty self-explanatory. There are cameras controlling speed and security monitoring parking so don’t do anything that is going to cause more issues or get you into trouble.

Also, make sure you pay if it’s not free parking. You will see a euro sign and a p which means you have to pay for parking. There should be a machine nearby. Simply put the time you need, pay, and it’ll print you out a ticket to go on the car dashboard.

The beaches, some of them are super secluded and don’t have complete roads to travel.

Instead, you’ll find sandy streets or rocky roads. Drive slow, some of the conditions are terrible. The reason is that the last thing you want is a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. You can pretty much park anywhere that makes sense on beaches like this. Just make sure your car is not blocking anyone, or anything to come out. Also, make sure that you’re leaving the car in a reasonable spot, i.e its not wet sand that might get you stuck or in a big pothole.

How to rent a car in Portugal: Via Verde Tolls

Via Verde stands for greenway in English and is a very popular toll route. It’s so beautiful, definitely try to go on the toll routes. It not only saves time but it’s aesthetically pleasing and gorgeous!

When you get a rental, your rental company will ask you if you want to pay extra to use the toll device.

You basically pay around 14 euros for a flat fee for the device. That’s what I paid with auto rent. When you drop off the rental, the company will tell you how much you owe them and you pay it there.

I paid about 11 euros and I took tolls like crazy for 9 days. You won’t really spend much on tolls but the reason you need this device is that tolls are automatic.

There are no tellers so you’d either have to have your rental car registered with the toll device or take the non toll routes. If you do go through tolls, you’ll probably get a ticket or toll in the mail. Make sure you pay attention to where you are going because this can be a hefty fee if you are doing that with

It saves so much time so I would highly recommend it. The non toll routes added 1-2 hours each way on some of the routes I did so its definitely worth it.

Secondary roads can be more challenging to navigate. So if you’re planning on driving off the beaten path, make sure you’re comfortable with your rental car and know how to change a tire if necessary. You simply never know and in situations like that, it’s always better to be prepared.

What you’ll need to rent a car in Portugal

So to recap you’ll need a driver’s license, a credit card, a passport, and yourself to check-in. The pick-up of the car should be easy, not necessarily quick.

Always go through the car inspection with the agent. I like to make a video just in case to historically cover myself so this way I have a recording and know the condition prior to dropping off.

How to rent a car in Portugal conclusion

And that my friends, is how you rent a car in Portugal. I hope this blog post has been helpful in your planning process. Renting a car can be a great way to see Portugal, but it’s important to do your research and be prepared before you hit the road

We talked about what documents you need, if you need a rental, driving in Portugal, the renter’s age, credit card details, and more!!!

Phew, that was a lot of information. As always, thank you for reading and I hope this helped make your trip planning easier. Portugal is an amazing country (I love it so0o0o much) and I hope you do too!

Questions? Let me know in the comments.

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