Renting a car in Portugal is the best way to explore this magnificent country.
Below is my complete guide on how to rent a car in Portugal, 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.
In this article, no ads, no sponsored posts. Just some affiliate links.
If you purchase through them, I get a commission at no extra cost to you (Disclosure).
Renting a car in Portugal - Overview
Do you need a car in Portugal?
It depends what kind of holiday you want.
But if you want to be able:
- To enjoy some of the hidden gems such as the village of Monsaraz,
- Visit a place early before the crowds such as the Algarve beaches,
- Easily cover several places on the same day,
- Be flexible to adapt to the weather...
Then renting a car is the best option.
Below are a few locations you could easily enjoy:
Is it difficult to drive in Portugal? Is it safe?
Driving in Portugal is generally easy. There are a lot of recent roads (thanks to EU investments) and they are mostly well maintained.
Portuguese drivers are overall chill.
The most tension I felt was in the Algarve, because this is the place with the most tourists..
The only difficulty can be in some villages. They often have narrow roads and they are often on hills. It is often better to park outside and explore on foot.
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 Portugal, here is a short summary of my top tips:
- Don't choose a car too wide if you are visiting the villages.
- 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)
- Avoid driving in Lisbon and Porto - public transportation is excellent
- Rental companies outside of the airport may close early on Saturdays. Make sure of the office hours
- Most cars in Portugal have manual transmission. You will pay more for automatic and they are fewer options;
- The main scam (especially in the Algarve) is the fake damage picture.
Upon pickup, they notice damages. They take a picture and tell you it will be uploaded, not to worry.
And when you come back, there is no trace of the picture. They make you pay for repair.
Solution: Take your own pictures and make sure the damages are written down. This way you won't have any problem.
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 (well, since I have discovered them).
As soon as I decide on a destination, I go check their deals and car types. And upon research, they often have the best deals for my needs.
This is one of the best customer-rated comparison sites on the market.
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 Portugal - required elements
Tip 1 - License to rent a car in Portugal
It is always better to have you International Drivers Permit anywhere you travel out of the country.
This way you never wonder.
However, know that to be allowed to drive in Portugal, you can use a standard International driver’s license (if staying under 6 months). 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 Portugal is 18.
However, most car rental companies in Portugal:
- 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.
I have seen many people at rental companies counters being surprised by this situation and having issue managing it.
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 Portugal
Tip 4 - Best period
Portugal is a very popular destination, especially in Summer.
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
My top recommendation is to not have a car in Lisbon.
If you are flying to and from Lisbon airport, rent your car before or after visiting the capital city.
Otherwise, find a free parking spot and leave the car there.
Lisbon is very easy to explore via public transportation and hop-on-hop-off buses.
Same comment for Porto.
The largest car rental hubs in Portugal are:
- Lisbon airport car rental - see deals
- Porto airport car rental - see deals
- Faro airport car rental if visiting the Algarve - see deals
If you are looking to rent and stay in the Algarve, check out my article about renting a car in Faro.
#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 Portugal:
- If you rent a wide car, you might have a few issues in the villages - parking and taking some turns can be more difficult
Other than that, there is nothing else specific for Portugal.
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?
+ 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.
Overall, this could save you money compared to booking accommodations.
- Wild camping is allowed except on Natura 2000 protected land - you need an approved motorhomes (learn more)
- There are camping sites all around Portugal
All my favorite locations are included (with GPS coordinates, map and tips) in my travel guide eBook that helps you easily plan your Portugal road trip:
#11 to 17 - Best rental car companies in Portugal
Tip 11 - Cost of car rental in Portugal
To give you an idea, based on data from Discovercars.com, prices are around:
- Small cars - Yearly average around 20 USD per day (high seasonality - from 4 to 35 USD averages)
- Medium cars - Yearly average around 35 USD per day (from 7 to 52 USD averages)
- SUVs - Yearly average around 48 USD per day (from 8 to 62 USD averages)
- The cheapest prices are generally for when you travel in March
It is very easy to compare prices online on platforms.
However, be careful: if you are testing direct websites and trying to compare, it can be very difficult as they hide fees or taxes later in the process.
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 pick-up location - some require a shuttle to the get to the rental area
Tip 13 - Best rated car rental companies in Portugal
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 in Portugal are:
Tip 14 - How to save money - cheap car rental in Portugal
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 Portugal
As in most country, if the price is very very low there must be conditions and tricks behind it.
On their own websites, some companies offer the option to return the vehicle with an empty tank and make the price of rental a little cheaper. They make money out of the fuel left.
But the main scam to be aware of in Portugal is the fake damage picture.
I have read about it mostly in the Algarve. But it is something you should be aware of all around the World.
Upon pick-up you inspect the car with a company employee.
You notice damages. The employee takes a picture and tells you it will be uploaded, not to worry.
And when you come back to drop off the car, after your amazing vacation, there is no trace of the picture in their system.
They insist that you damaged the car and make you pay for repair.
This is something I recommend anywhere you rent a car, not only in Faro.
Take your own pictures of the damages and make sure they are written down.
Plus, don't forget to check under the bumper and on the roof
They will not bother you after that.
Tip 17 - Be careful if crossing border
From Portugal, you could also visit the country of Spain. However, that implies crossing a border.
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".
If it is not documented, you can add the question for customer support to answer.
#18 to 20 - Understanding Insurances
Tip 18 - Choose the types of insurance you need + requirements in Portugal
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 insurances in 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 sees 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.
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 Portugal
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 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
Yes, you will have to pay for toll roads just as you would if you were driving your own car.
In Portugal, the easiest solution is to get a V-Tag with your rental car company - This is V for Via Verde. You will pay at the agency at the end.
If you don't have one - In the North most have toll booths near the V-tag lanes, so you can stop and pay. But in the South, there are tolls without any booth. You have to go to the post office within a couple of days to pay your toll.
Check with the rental companies how it is managed (By emails or at the counter)
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 - Drop off
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 Portugal.
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 Portugal
Below is a snapshot with the main things to know.
You can learn more on my article about driving in Portugal.
Tip 32 - Understand the rules
- Driving is on the right side
- Use of cell phone - you can use only with hand-free system
- Headphones are illegal
- Seatbelts are compulsory for driver and passengers
- It is illegal to overtake on the right in free-flowing traffic
- National speed limits are - 50km/h in residential areas, 90km/h on rural roads and 120km/h on Motorways
Tip 33 - Watch videos
To get familiar with the driving you can watch videos of people road tripping in Portugal.
Below is my short video to give you an idea of what it looks like:
Tip 34 - Know the potential dangers
Compared to other countries where I have traveled, it felt like there were a lot less dangers on the road - no wild or farm animals wandering free, very few one-lane roads...
There are 3 main dangers to be aware of when driving in Portugal:
- The scenery - sometimes the road is so beautiful that you are distracted. Better to stop!
- Idiots and speed lovers... well they are everywhere. Can't do anything about it.
- At night many roads are not very well lit.
Tip 35 - Plan your 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 eBooks:
Where to stay in Portugal?
- In Lisbon, to explore the vibrant city - see best rated accommodations
- In Sintra, to visit as many palaces as possible - see best rated accommodations
- In Porto, to feel the history - see best rated accommodations
- In Obidos, to walk on the medieval walls at sunset - see best rated accommodations
- In the Douro valley, if you love wine - see best rated accommodations
- In the Algarve, my favorite town is Lagos - see best rated accommodations
- In the Algarve, Portimao is practical to visit all the best beaches - see best rated accommodations
Find more inspiration in my article about where to stay in Portugal
Tip 36 - What to do in case of accident
In case there are people hurt or there is a conflict, the emergency number in 112 is:
The best order of actions is:
- contact emergency services
- contact the police
- contact your rental provider
Want to see more of the best Portugal has to offer?
- 30 Most beautiful landscapes in Portugal - read article
- Best things to do in Portugal - read article
- The best beaches in Portugal - read article
- The best villages in Portugal - read article
- Lisbon vs Porto - where to go? - read article
- Driving in Portugal - read article
- The best of the Algarve region - read article
- The highlights of Sintra and the Sintra-Cascais Nature park - read article
And keep track of your own trip!
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