Portugal Driving Advice and Car Hire Info
Portugal has a good system of well maintained roads throughout the country. Even minor roads are generally in good condition. Driving style is typical of Southern Europe- drivers may seem fast and sometimes aggressive to visitors from Northern Europe or USA. In the coastal resorts, expect large numbers of foreign self drivers who will be unfamiliar with local roads and driving practices. Drive defensively and expect the unexpected – its not unheard of for one of the many British visitors to forget they aren’t at home and drive on the left hand side of the road!
In December 2011, the Portuguese Goverment introduced a system of tolls on the A22 motorway which runs East to West, parallel to the Algarve coast. There are no toll booths and payment will be made via an electronic transponder link to registered vehicles and owner’s credits cards, with cars checked using a system of overhead cameras (see photo above). Charges will be approximately 9c per KM for a standard car, therefore around 7 Euros from Lagos to Faro airport.Prices increase for larger vehicles.
Its fair to say that there have been a few ‘teething troubles’ with the new system. Locals and tourists have demonstrated against the tolls, and there have been stories of tourists in rental cars having their credit cards charged for previous users.
As of July 2013, most rental companies in the Algarve now have transponders fitted to their vehicles. You pay around 2 euros a day to rent the device which is attached to the windscreen. It records each time you pass beneath a toll camera with a beep. The idea then is that your credit card is automatically charged the appropriate fee.
If you don’t want to use the automated system,you must make a payment at a post office or a Via Verde shop, (http://www.viaverde.pt/Website/) 48 working hours after using the motorway. Failure to pay toll fees results in a fine of 10 times the rate of toll, with a minimum of 25 euros and a maximum of 125 euros.
How this will work in practice for foreign visitors is a matter for debate. I only visited over a weekend, so was unable to pay the retrospective charge after 48 working hours. The rental company told me that I should be exempted if I produced my flight details after receiving the charge. To whom I will need to send this was unclear, as was whether the rental company will automatically pass on any charge they receive on a vehicle.
Please let me know any experiences of using the toll road via the comment section at the foot of the page.
The alternative to using the A22 is the old N125 which runs parallel to the motorway. It runs through a number of small towns and will take around 1hr 45 to cover the 90KM between Faro and Lagos, as opposed to 45 minutes on the motorway.
This website allows users to check any charges due to be applied to their vehicle.
See Madeira section for info on driving there.
Portugal Car Rental –
Not surprisingly Sixt, Hertz, Europcar, Alamo, National,Budget,Avis, Thrifty all operate here. Also usually features on Web discount sites such as ebookers.com. or Expedia and all car rental broker sites such as Argus Car Hire.
These are larger companies based in Portugal who have outlets at Faro airport and throughout the country-
See Madeira section for info on car rental on the island
There are literally hundreds of local firms operating in Portugal, particularly at the Algarve coast. Many of these don’t even have an office and operate solely from Faro airport via sales from brokers like Car rental broker sites and Argus. Prices are competitive and will be cheaper than the big multinational firms. The trade off is that you usually don’t know which company you’ll be renting from until you’ve made your reservation. Some companies are good, some are bad, its pot luck really. One popular tactic amongst the smaller companies booked through broker sites is to give you a full tank of petrol and tell you to return the car empty. If you’re only visiting for a short period its highly unlikely you’ll use a full tank and will return the car half full, with no chance of a refunds. The petrol you ‘bought’ from the rental company will be factored into your rental agreement at a very high price too. Its well worth checking the small print when using a car rental broker-if you look carefully, you may find a company who either allows you to return the car full, or re-imburses you for short term rentals of less than 3 days. In August 2012 I used Goldcar and they agreed to reimburse for non used fuel. 94 Euros was charged to my credit card, and I used a quarter of a tank, and was refunded 52 Euros -work that out! If you want to be 100% sure of the quality of the car and level of service you’ll get, use one of the big multinational companies, though this will cost you more usually.
Portugal Self Drive Rules
Most of the big companies allow cars to be driven to mainland Western European countries and UK. There may be restrictions on taking cars to Eastern Europe and also taking cars on ferries.