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    Driving in the Algarve - How to handle tolls in the A22

    Heading down to Portugal this time of year is in the books for many Britons and with good reason: this sunny country in the westernmost corner of Europe is home to great beaches, amazing weather and food to die for, and makes for an incredibly inexpensive holiday to boot. If you're joining the crowds flocking down to the Algarve for some sunbathing and a bit of sightseeing, here is everything you need to know about driving in the Algarve.

    The main highway in the south of Portugal is the A22, also known as 'Via do Infante'. It runs across the entire region and connects all the main cities, including Faro, Portimão and Lagos, reaching all the way to the Spanish border. Originally, the A22 was not a toll road, but this changed in late 2011 when tolls were implemented. Because it was not originally meant as a toll-road, the A22 and the other former 'SCUTs' in Portugal don't have toll booths, making it remarkably easy to miss the fact that you're using a toll road, and making it more than a little complicated to pay for the tolls even if you are inclined to do so.

    In order to facilitate the process with rental cars, car hire suppliers give clients picking up their car in Portugal the option to acquire an electronic device that can be used to automatically pay for tolls. This device is associated with your credit card and the tolls are charged automatically every time you drive through a toll road. This device can be used both with the new automated system in more recent toll highways and with the existing system in traditional toll-roads, which have a fast lane for cars with automatic devices.

    Please note that this device is optional and clients can refuse to take it if they so wish. Should you opt out of the device, you have two choices regarding the A22. On the one hand, you can simply pay for it the old-fashioned way, which means either at a Payshop or at the post-office. To pay for it in this manner, you must wait at least 48 hours after you have used the highway, but you have to pay for it no later than 5 days. If you go back to the UK without paying for the tolls you're due, the Portuguese police will issue a fine, which will be sent to the UK address on your rental information. On top of that, the car rental supplier will often charge an additional administrative fee on top of the fine.

    Alternatively, you can simply choose not to use the highway A22. Contrary to popular belief, it's perfectly possible to drive in the Algarve using only national roads. Please note, however, that unlike highways, national roads only have two lanes, one going in each direction. Furthermore, they tend to go through towns instead of around them, and traffic bottlenecks often occur on the roundabouts and traffic lights right before a town or city. It is also worth noting that Portuguese drivers usually avoid the highway, which is considered expensive by national standards, so you are likely to find more considerably more traffic in national roads than in highways. This is particularly true during the high season, since the Algarve is also a popular destination for Portuguese holidaymakers.

    If instead of booking in Portugal you are holidaying in Spain but want to pop to the other side of the border for a quick getaway, fear not. Right across the border on the side of the highway there are vending machines where you can sort out everything you need to drive on the A22. And if you run into any difficulty using the machine, there's a direct line to a help centre, with agents usually speaking - besides Portuguese - Spanish and at least rudimentary English.

    We hope you found this article informative! As always, you are welcome to leave your comments or questions in the comments section below, or come pay us a visit on Facebook or Twitter!

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