Renting a car in Madeira is the best way to explore this magnificent island.
Below is my complete guide on how to rent a car in Madeira, covering:
- which type of car is best,
- tips on best rental companies and reducing costs,
- insurance recommendations,
- essentials to avoid any scam,
- rules and regulations,
I have tried listing everything you may need to know to enjoy a worry-free car hire experience.
This article contains affiliate links (Disclosure page). If you purchase using my link, I get a commission at no extra cost to you.
Renting a car in Madeira - Overview
Do you need a car in Madeira?
It depends what kind of holiday you want.
But if you want to be able:
- To enjoy some of the hidden gems such as viewpoints, cable cars, beaches,
- Visit a place early before the crowds or enjoy incredible sunrises over the clouds,
- Be flexible to adapt to the weather...
Then renting a car is the best option.
Is it difficult to drive in Madeira? Is it safe?
A lot of people are reluctant about driving in Madeira, thinking it might not be safe.
There is no need to worry, it is not that difficult.
Remember that only people who had a scare tend to write about it online,. On the other hands, the hundreds of thousand of people who had no problems don't write how fine it was...
Here is my analysis of the situation:
- Roads are overall in correct conditions,
- Rules are classic and road sign easy to read,
- Distances are short, so you are never driving for a long time. You can keep your attention sharp,
- Locals are used to tourists and are not too impatient
- Yes, there are mountain roads with big turns, but those are wide and there is always something on the cliff side: either trees or a small wall or protection. So, you don't feel as if you could just slip off the road.
- Yes there are tunnels, but they are wide and well lit
- There is not that much traffic outside the Funchal area, so you can take your time driving to feel safer.
- The only very difficult element, in my opinion, are a couple of extremely steep roads. Therefore you need a car with enough power.
In my personal experience:
I have not felt unsafe during my stay.
I felt a little bit of stress only once on a steep road to get out of Funchal. It was really steep. But I could have stopped on the side at any time, if I needed a break - so that was reassuring..
Absolutely essential tips - from my personal experiences
If you don't want to read the entire article with the step-by-step to renting a car in Madeira, here is a short summary of my top tips:
- The most important is to rent a car with good power. I would avoid the tiny tiny cars.
- Next, I recommend a car that is not too big to feel comfortable on the mountain road and to make it easier to park
- Book early to get the best prices and the choice of cars
- Always check the car upon arrival and take pictures of anything you see (don't forget the roof and under the bumper)
The booking platform I personally use
You will see a lot of mentions of Discovercars.com throughout this article.
This is the platform I personally use and one of the best customer-rated comparison sites on the market.
As soon as I decide on a destination and dates, I go check their deals and car types.
In Madeira, I have found some really deals times several times.
Plus, they have a practical coverage option at great price that will cover you in case of damage to the outside of the car.
#1 to 3 - How to rent a car in Madeira - required elements
Tip 1 - License to rent a car in Madeira
It is always better to have you International Driving Permit anywhere you travel out of the country.
This way you never wonder.
However, know that to be allowed to drive in Madeira (for a short stay), you can use a standard International driver’s license. It means a license that has:
- a licence number,
- a photograph,
- a valid date,
- and is in Latin letters,
A valid US license works.
A valid Canadian License works;
A valid UK License works.
Tip 2 - Extra age requirements / years of driving
Official driving age in Madeira is 18.
However, most car rental companies in Madeira:
- will require you to be 21
- will require you to have held a license in your home country for a year or more,
- may add charges, if you are under 25,
- may add charges, if you are over a certain age.
It’s best to make sure to read all the fine print.
On the platform Discovercars.com you can enter your age, to see any limitation in rental cars available and any additional fee.
Tip 3 - A credit card that can handle the hold charge
Remember that unless you have decided to purchase a full coverage insurance directly with the rental company, you will be asked for your credit card to hold a charge a.k.a. a deposit (on top of the payment). This amount, the "excess charge", is blocked on your account via your credit card.
As it is on top of the payment, you may be hitting the limit of your credit card daily/weekly or monthly protection limit.
Once the car is returned without any damage, this amount is unblocked from your card.
So be prepared! Your options are:
- Use a different credit card for the hold charge,
- Contact your bank prior to traveling to change your limits,
- Purchase a full coverage insurance with a 0 excess charge.
On the platform Discovercars.com:
- once you open one option, you can click on Rental Conditions, and you will see the Security Deposit amount.
- And if this is an issue for you, you can pre-select the amount you are willing to have blocked as security deposit in the filters
#4 & 5 - When and where to hire a car in Madeira
Tip 4 - Best period
Madeira is a very popular destination, especially in Summer and Christmas.
So, if you want the choice of your vehicle types and good prices, it is better to rent your car as early as possible.
You won't find last-minute deals in Summer. As soon as you have picked your dates, book the car!
Tip 5 - When and where
There are several options to pick up your rental car:
- The ferry port
- The main towns, especially Funchal
Pro - you don't have to rent a vehicle for the whole time you are on the island, you can pick it up for one or two days only
Cons - this means driving in Funchal
- The airport
Pro - it is quite well organized, it is easy to find your company, you will start driving on wide good road, giving you time to get acquainted with the car - it is easy to fill up the tank before giving it back
Cons - there is often a few euros more for the Airport
- What I recommend
I think getting your car at the airport when landing in Madeira is the best option. It is easy.
This is where you get the largest choice. And it is very practical, you are directly on fast roads to reach your destination.
If you have booked several accommodations, I recommend finishing in Funchal. Drop your car rental back at the airport before your stay in Funchal. And take a taxi to go there.
The largest car rental hubs in Madeira are:
#6 to 10 - What type of car to choose
Tip 6 - Recommendations for size of car / power - does size matters?
I know it depends on how many people are traveling and how much luggage you are traveling with.
But here are a few things to keep in mind when traveling in Madeira:
- The mountains are high and the road steep - you will feel much safer with a car that has enough power. I recommend that you avoid the smallest ones. A Peugeot 208, for example, was enough.
- Parking can be difficult at some attractions. Choosing a car that is not too wide and not too long can be helpful
Tip 7 - Transmission type - Manual vs Automatic
Most cars in Portugal have manual transmission.
You will pay more for automatic and they are fewer options.
Tip 8 - Fuel choice - Diesel, Gas or electric
- Unleaded petrol is called "gasolina sem chumbo".
- Diesel is called gasoleo
- LPG is called GPL
- See the concentration of electric car charging station, where you are going in Portugal on this website
Tip 9 - Is it useful to have a 4WD?
No. There is no point.
And you should know that even if you have a 4WD, the insurance protection associated with the rental probably does not cover use of the car out of paved roads.
This is frequent in many countries. Read the fine print.
Tip 10 - Consider vehicles with sleeping options
Another idea is to rent a vehicle in which you can sleep.
I would not recommend bringing your own vehicle. There are just a few official campsites.
However, if you rent a a van with MadeiraRoadTrip they have authorization for their van to park anywhere.
All my favorite locations are included (with GPS coordinates, map and tips) in my travel guide eBook that helps you easily plan your Madeira road trip:
Plan your perfect trip around Madeira!
#11 to 17 - Best rental car companies in Madeira
Tip 11 - Cost of car rental in Madeira
To give you an idea, based on data from Discovercars.com, prices are around:
- The average prices throughout the year vary from 15 to 75 USD per day
- The cheapest prices are generally for when you travel in Madeira in January (after the holidays)
It is very easy to compare prices online on platforms.
Tip 12 - Things to consider when choosing your car rental company
- First, of course, the company must have the type of car your needs
- Then, check out the cancellation fees - on Discovercars.com, cancellation is free
- Authorized milage - depending on what you are planning, have a look at unlimited or defined daily milage allowance
- The pickup location - some require a shuttle to the get to the rental area
Tip 13 - Best rated car rental companies in Madeira
On the platform Discovercars.com, each rental company has a mark on 10 points. This is an average of the marks given by actual customers - Don't forget that on Tripadvisor or Google for example, anyone can write a review even if they have not used the company. On the search page, you can select only the best rated ones:
Some of the best rated rental car companies at the Madeira Airport are:
- MadeiraRent - this local company is the one I have chosen every time and I had better deals on Discovercars than direction their website
Tip 14 - How to save money - cheap car rental in Madeira
If keeping the cost down is your main concern, you should:
- Book very early
- Return the car where you picked it up
- Book a smaller car
- Pay attention to pick-up and drop-off times - Car hire is typically charged per 24-hour period
- Choose a rental without cancellation or with limited cancellation
- If renting for 6 days, check the price for 7 days - sometimes companies have a discount for 1 week rentals.
- Book with limited milage
Tip 15 - Check opening hours if picking a company not at an airport
If you are picking up your car at the airport, the companies are normally open as long as flights are arriving.
However, if you are renting a car from a town, especially a smaller one, they will have shorter opening hours (especially on weekends). This may mean that you have to rent for an extra day if you can't drop off the car.
Tip 16 - Car rental scams in Madeira
There is no specific scam in Madeira, that I am aware of.
As in most country, if the price is very very low there must be conditions and tricks behind it.
My advice is to always take date pictures at pick-up and drop-off.
Tip 17 - Be careful if changing island
From Madeira, you could also visit Porto Santo.
However, that implies taking a ferry.
This is not allowed by all rental companies. And for others, there are fees included.
If renting with Discovercars.com, once you selected a car you can click on "Rental conditions" and then again "Rental conditions" or "Additional conditions" to find the "geographical restrictions".
I recommend crossing without a car and renting another car in Porto Santo.
#18 to 20 - Understanding Insurances
Tip 18 - Choose the types of insurance you need + requirements in Madeira
Many levels of insurances are available. And their wording is often not very clear.
Here is a high-level overview of the different types of insurances - which are not really insurances, but waivers to limit your liability:
- Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) - It limits the customer’s responsibility during the rental period and sets the maximum amount of money the customer will have to pay in case of damages -
- Theft Protection (TP) - this waiver limits your liability up to the vehicle’s deductible/excess amount in the event the car is stolen (proof required are a police report and the car keys). TP is frequently included in the car rental price.
- Third Party Liability (TPL) - also known as Supplemental Liability Insurance, Extended protection, liability protection... - it covers personal and material damages caused to other people’s cars, property and even medical expenses. They have different limits.
- and many others...
The mandatory insurance in Madeira / Portugal are:
- unlimited third-party liability insurance - it is automatically included in the price of all car rentals.
Tip 19 - 4 ways to purchase insurance
- Option no insurance - apart from the mandatory one, you don't have to take extras. Just know that in case something happen, you can be liable for your entire deposit.
- Option 1 - Use your credit card insurance/ or your own car insurance
Many credit cards have some kind of coverage for rental cars. They all differ.
Similarly, your home car insurance can be covering you as well when renting a car.
You need to read all the fine prints to clearly understand what is covered or not.
- Option 2 - Purchase upon booking your rental car
When you book your rental car, you normally have the option to select the insurances you want. The deals are most of the time better than at the counter (I have seen 3 times less, once).
On direct websites, you get the dealer's insurance, but on platforms, you get a special insurance created by the platform.
For example, on Discovercars.com, they have their own Full Coverage Waiver Insurance Option
Personally, this is what I used. I know I may already be covered by my credit card and all, but this just seems the easier route, more straightforward in case of an issue. Personal feeling.
- Option 3 - At car rental
This is the more expensive option, but if you have not done it before, you could purchase it as you are paying.
- Option 4 - Travel Insurance
Get a travel insurance that include comprehensive car rental insurance with one of the classic insurance companies.
Tip 20 - Consider taking roadside assistance
Technically, it is not an insurance, but it is offered at the same time.
Conditions of coverage vary but they normally include:
- Loss or damage of car keys
- Keys locked inside the car
- Flat tire
- Rental car not starting
- Car out of fuel
If you are in a country you don't know, traveling alone and not good at changing tires, this could be a great option.
This is something you can get at the counter when getting the car.
#21 to 23 - Extras
Tip 21 - Do I need GPS?
To navigate, you can consider renting a GPS.
- Option 1 - Bring your own GPS
This is my favorite options. I know well how it works, plus I can pre-enter all my destinations which saves me a lot of time.
On my travel guide eBook you get the GPS coordinates of the carparks of all my favorite locations
- Option 2 - Use your phone
If you have a phone, don't forget that the roaming charges abroad can be very expensive (unless you have an EU account).
However, you can download a map beforehand, when you are connected to wifi, so that you can navigate without spending money.
Don't forget the charger and your phone holder so that it is comfortable!
- Option 3 - Take the GPS extra
I don't recommend it. I think this is a last resort if you don't have your own or a good phone. I always find it very expensive.
Tip 22 - Additional driver charges
Decide beforehand whether or not you will need more than one driver.
If so, take this into account when comparing rental deals between companies.
Some companies have deals that has a free extra driver.
On the platform Discovercars.com, if there are any, it can be selected on the filters:
Tip 23 - Child safety seats rules in Madeira
To comply with EU legislation, children under the age of 12 or shorter than 1.35m must use a booster seat.
#24 to 31 - How to pick up and drop of the car to avoid issues
Tip 24 - Check your vehicle at pick-up
For a worry-free exchange with the rental car company, I recommend you do a thorough check of the car before leaving the carpark.
Sometimes it is done with an agent. Sometimes they just give you a form with the state of the car before renting. Sometimes they tell you nothing...
Make sure all dents and scratches are noted, if not, make sure they add it.
Plus, for peace of mind, you can take pictures before leaving (like in every country).
Things to look for:
- Check all the exterior of the car for dent and scratches
- Don't forget to check the roof!!!! It is often forgotten, but they might check it when you return
- Don't forget under the bumper
- And don't forget the back of the mirrors
- Check the interior for any damage
- Check the state of the tires
- Check the state of the fender (mud wing above the wheels)
- Make sure the spare tire is in place and in good condition
- Check that gas level and milage match the record
Tip 25 - Check the mandatory equipment is in the car
In Madeira / Portugal, the following pieces of equipment must be available in the car:
- Warning triangle
- Reflective vest or jacket
- Spare set of lights
- Spare wheel
Tip 26 - Ask about the management of tolls
There are no roads with tolls in Madeira.
Tunnels are also all free.
Tip 27 - What to do in case of fine or tickets (speed / parking)
You are responsible for any parking tickets or driving fines that you receive during the rental period.
If you are aware of it right away, you can go and pay at the police station or online, as indicated.
But know that it can take up to 3 months for a fine to be reported to the car owner (the rental company). In that case, they will send you proof and charge you for it and maybe add an administrative fee for managing the fine.
Tip 28 - What if there is a problem with the car
Don't lose your rental agreement.
On it, you will find the steps to take if you have a problem with your car.
Most use a breakdown assistance service and the number will be listed on the agreement.
Then you can contact the rental company to see how to car can be replaced.
Tip 29 - Don't forget to manage your tank
More and more company now have a system where you must bring back the car with the same level of fuel (not full to full tank but same to same).
This is very annoying, but it is easier for them to manage.
Therefore, you need to understand how much the car consumes and how many kilometers / miles you still have to do, if you don't want to waste money.
Tip 30 - How to drop off the rental car
For peace of mind, try dropping off the car during opening hours so that the car checks can all be made and validated.
If not possible, take pictures of the car before leaving it.
It is true that you can read horror stories on the Internet about renting cars in any country.
However, keep in mind that the thousands and thousands of people who have no problem don't write that all went well with their rentals...
So don't be stressed. If you have taken a reputable company, are respecting the rules, it should go very smoothly.
Tip 31 - What if you damaged the car
If your rental car gets damaged, the first thing to do is to contact the car rental agency.
- If your rental has only basic insurance, you will have to cover the damages up to your deductible amount.
- If you have purchased a full coverage with the rental company, check with them and it should be covered
- If you have purchased with Discovercars.com, contact them and provide all info (within 28 days of dropping off the car). They with refund you for charges and costs related to the damage, if warranted
- If you are using your own insurance, contact them and provide all info. They with refund you for charges and costs related to the damage, if warranted.
#32 to 36 - Get ready to drive in Madeira
Below is a snapshot with the main things to know.
You can learn more on my article about driving in Madeira.
Tip 32 - Understand the rules
- Driving is on the right side of the road
- Urban speed limit is 50km/h but often less - check the signage
- Speed limits on other road vary from 60 to 90km/h
- Alcohol limit is 50mg per 100ml of blood - but I always recommend not drinking at all if you are driving
- All must wear your seatbelt
- There are many blind corners. Use the many mirrors installed to help you cross roads.
Tip 33 - Watch videos
To get familiar with the driving you can watch videos of people road tripping in Madeira.
Below is my short video to give you an idea of what it looks like:
Tip 34 - Know the potential dangers
Apart from you driving too fast, the main dangers on the Madeira roads are:
- Animals - on the plateau (central West of Madeira) you can find cows and sheep living their life on the road. And if traveling early morning, you will also see rabbit zigzagging on the road.
- Scenery - the scenery can be so beautiful that you get distracted. Remember to focus on driving. And if you are several drivers, take turn to be able to admire the views.
Tip 35 - Plan your Madeira itinerary
It can be fun to go an adventure.
But if you want to see many locations on your road trip, better to plan ahead to balance your days and book accommodations.
Find all my favorite locations and tips in my travel guide eBook:
Plan your perfect trip around Madeira!
Where to stay in Madeira?
- For a choice of restaurants and if you don't rent a car - See best rated accommodations in Funchal
- For luxury resorts, check out the Lido area in Funchal
- For a sandy beach - See best rated accommodations in Machico
- For a quiet village in beautiful scenery - See best rated accommodations in Porto da Cruz
- For a practical location to explore the island - See best rated accommodations in Ribeira Brava
- To enjoy the natural pools - See best rated accommodations in Porto Moniz
More tips on my article about where to stay in Madeira
Tip 36 - What to do in case of accident
In case there are people hurt or there is a conflict, the emergency number in Madeira is 112:
The best order of actions is:
- contact emergency services
- contact the police
- contact your rental provider
Want to see more of the best Madeira offers?
- 42 Madeira travel tips to plan an unforgettable trip - read article
- 35 best things to do in Madeira - read article
- The best landscapes in Madeira in 40 pictures - read article
- The 7 cables cars in Madeira and their amazing views - read article
- 10 best hikes & levada walks in Madeira - reach article
- Tips to rent a car and drive around Madeira - read article
- 12 Madeira Hidden Gems - read article
- 4 Madeira Natural Pools (and 6 coastal alternatives) - read article
- 18 best beaches in Madeira - read article
- 7 best Madeira boat tours & trips - read article
And keep track of your own trip!
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