I traveled through Portugal for two weeks, by car, and it was one of the most incredible ways to see the country. Sure, train travel and bus travel are popular in Portugal, cheap, and readily available… but there’s nothing like having the freedom that comes with renting a car. You can change your itinerary at the last minute, stop in a town along the way just “because”, and explore a country much more in depth than if you choose to travel by bus or train. As an American, renting a car in Portugal was easy, and something I hope to do again in the future.
Everything You Need to Know About Renting a Car in Portugal (if You’re an American)
Before reading further, if you plan to visit Portugal, don’t miss The Ultimate Portugal Travel Guide
What You Need to Rent a Car
As an American, you don’t need an international drivers license to rent a car in Portugal. All you need is a valid, U.S. drivers license, and a passport. (Pst, if you do find that you need an international drivers license for something/somewhere else, you can get an express license here).
Where to Rent a Car
If you are thinking about traveling through Portugal by car, I highly recommend booking ahead of time to avoid last minute fees and to search around to find the best option for you. I like using Discover Cars to compare prices across multiple different rental companies.
As far as what city to rent a car in, pretty much everywhere in Portugal will have car rentals. You don’t need a car in Lisbon or Porto, so if you’re starting in one of those cities, I suggest picking up the car when you plan to leave the city instead of when you arrive to save money. It’s also important to know that while you can pick up the car in one city and drop it off in another, you’ll typically save money by picking up and dropping off the car at the same place.
In my experience, I used Discover Cars to compare prices, and ended up renting from Sixt. I chose to pick up and drop off at the Lisbon airport. I spent four days in Lisbon before heading to the airport to pickup my car from Sixt, drove north to Lamego, Porto, Coimbra, and Obidos, before heading back to Lisbon, returning the car at the airport, and flying out.
EXPLORE PORTUGAL BY CAR
RENTING FROM THE LISBON AIRPORT
While renting from the Lisbon airport is convenient, it can be confusing. Next to the airport, you’ll notice a parking garage where you can pick up your rental. However, you’ll first need to enter the airport (near the red awning), where you’ll receive a slip from your rental car company. That slip is then taken to the rental car garage (next to the airport), where you’ll hand it over to whoever is working, and they’ll fetch your car for you. If you go to the rental car garage without your slip, you’ll be turned away.
Should You Get Car Insurance?
The car rental companies in Portugal provide car insurance with each rental. However, the insurance usually doesn’t cover much. You’ll either want to take your chances or purchase additional “collision damage” to ensure insurance will cover any damage. While you can purchase a collision damage waiver through the rental company, I encourage you to take out your own to save money. Some credit cards even cover this (DM me on Instagram so I can share my favorite travel rewards credit card with you); so make sure to check with your credit card company to see if your policy covers car insurance.
Another thing you should be doing is looking at the car with an employee, before taking off. All marks, dents, and scratches should be closely documented so that you’re not charged for them when returning your car. Make sure to take photos and agree upon all damage before leaving the rental company.
Rules of the Road
Driving in Portugal is pretty straight forward for Americans. Roads are typically well marked, speed limit signs are posted, and the same rules that apply in American apply in Portugal. You’ll drive on the right side of the road, you’ll pass cars going slower than you on the left, and you’ll follow stop signs, stop lights, and speed limits.
One thing to note, is there are many toll roads in Portugal. While you can map out routes to avoid these tolls, your drive will generally take much longer so I wouldn’t suggest it. Instead, you can ask the rental company if they can include an electronic device that registers any toll fees so that you can go through the left hand lane without stopping to pay. This will save you tons of time! The electronic device will cost an extra €1.50 to €2 per day, capped at about €20. When you request the device, make sure that the rental company activates it so that you’re not going through the tolls illegally. To pay the tolls you can either have the rental company prepay for you, which may cost more but it’s also more convenient. Or you can collect the toll fees from your credit card once you turn the car back in. Lastly, you can pay the fees yourself at a post office, which will only work if you’re staying in Portugal 2+ working days after driving through your last toll.
Below you’ll find some helpful tips when renting a car in Portugal.
- Rentals are charged for 24-hours, so if you pick up your car at 8 am and return it the next day at 9 am, you’ll be charged for two days
- Remember to inquire about parking where you stay
- You can use Google Maps or Waze to get around
- If you don’t have cell service, make sure to download maps ahead of time or consider renting a GPS device
- Your car should come full of gas, if not, make sure it’s documented so that you can return with the gas at the same level
- You have to be 18 to rent a car in Portugal, but some companies don’t rent to people under 21
- There’s usually an extra fee if there’s more than one driver
As I mentioned earlier, seeing Portugal by car is a great way to slow down, travel at your own pace, and be spontaneous! Plus with experience driving around America, Portugal is easy to navigate and get around.
If you’re planning a road trip through Portugal, check out The Best 8 Day Northern Portugal Road Trip Itinerary