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    A Guide to Driving in Portugal

    A comprehensive guide to driving in Portugal

    The prospect of hitting the open road in another country is endlessly exciting - after all, not only will you be on holiday and free to spend your time as you please, but having your own set of wheels will mean you're also able to explore to a far greater extent than you would be if you had to rely on public transport.

    If you're hoping to drive in Portugal, it's usually quickest and simplest to fly there and pick up a hire car at the airport. This way, you can combine the speed of flying with the convenience of having your own vehicle. Of course, it's important to familiarise yourself with the rules of the road beforehand, so we've put together a guide to the main things you need to know before your trip to sunny Portugal.

    Hiring a car

    Before doing anything else, it's important to establish whether you are eligible to hire a car in Portugal - which is largely a matter of age and how long you have been driving for. You need to be at least 18 years old to rent a vehicle, while you also must have held your licence for a minimum of one year.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that these numbers are a guide only. Both the age limit and how long you are required to have held your licence for can change depending on the type of vehicle in question. And younger drivers should be aware of the fact that those under 25 might need to pay a surcharge.

    Basic information

    Once you have established whether you will be able to hire a car in Portugal, it is time to familiarise yourself with the rules of the road. Here, as with most European countries, you drive on the right and overtake on the left.

    The speed limit is 50 km/h in built-up areas, rising to 90 km/h on open roads and 120 km/h on motorways. It's also worth bearing in mind that motorways require a minimum speed of 50 km/h. Other basic things to bear in mind include that vehicles already on roundabouts have right of way, while you shouldn't use your horn at night unless absolutely necessary.

    Motorways and toll roads

    In Portugal, most of the motorways are toll roads. So, if in doubt, it is always safest to assume there will be a charge. Typically, newer highways have a fully automated toll system which corresponds to transponders fitted in cars. You will usually find that hire cars come equipped with this piece of kit, but do check - if yours isn't, you will need to pay for use of the toll road at local pay shops or post offices. Generally, it is best to take advantage of the transponders if possible though, because you have to wait 48 hours to pay manually, while also settling the balance within five days.

    Older toll roads, meanwhile, will have toll booths, like you will be used to dealing with in the UK. Another thing worth bearing in mind is that you need to avoid driving in the green lanes, which are only for drivers using the automatic payment system.

    Driving with children

    If you're planning a family holiday in Portugal, you also need to make sure you understand the rules for driving with children in the car. And of course, you should also make sure you hire a family-friendly vehicle that works well with your needs - as well as suitable space in the seating areas, look for cars with plenty of room in the boot, particularly if you will be carrying things like buggies.

    In terms of seating arrangements, children under the age of 12 or under 1.35 m in height are not allowed to sit in the front passenger seat. The exception is children under three, provided suitable child restraints are used and front passenger airbags switched off.

    Petrol stations

    You'll find petrol stations in all towns and cities, as well as dotted along the highways. Normally, these will be open from 8am to 8pm, though those located on motorways or in major cities are sometimes open 24 hours a day, which is of course handy if you're travelling late at night. Just be mindful, however, that this will not necessarily be the case, so always be sure to refuel in plenty of time. While you can pay by credit card in most petrol stations, you'll usually have to pay extra for doing so.

    Other things to bear in mind

    There are plenty of other things that are useful to know before hitting the road in Portugal - particularly in terms of driving etiquette. Here in the UK, we usually flash our lights at someone as a means of indicating we are giving way to them. However, in Portugal, the opposite is true - if you see someone flash their lights at you, it means they expect you to give way. So always be particularly cautious when interpreting signals from other drivers.

    As in the UK, drinking and driving is strictly prohibited, and blood alcohol limits are actually lower in Portugal, at 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. And considering alcohol measures are larger in Portugal, it is definitely wisest to steer clear of alcohol altogether if you're planning to get behind the wheels.