Last Updated on August 10, 2020 by Rodrigo @ OutofYourComfortZone
Have an upcoming trip to Portugal but don’t know the best way to get around? Then I have good news for you. Renting a car is a surprisingly cheap transportation option for traveling through Portugal!
Renting a car is often not only your cheapest option for traveling in Portugal, but is also definitely the most comfortable and convenient option.
And that’s why today’s article is all about 10 tips for renting a car in Portugal.
We’ll cover tips about car rental insurance, tolls, finding the best deals, and more so you can have a great trip in Portugal.
Is it worth renting a car in Portugal?
Whenever we talk about renting cars, “is it worth it?” is a question that almost always pops up. Especially because many people are worried about their budgets for a trip.
Well, the first thing you should know is that Portugal is quite cheap compared with its neighbors (and the rest of Europe in general). This means that renting a car is often not very expensive and definitely worth doing.
To give you an idea, I once paid just 6 euros to rent a car in Portugal for an entire day! Considering that a train ticket from Porto to Lisbon is roughly 20 euros, then renting a car at this price is absolutely worth it even if you are traveling alone.
Of course, this is just one example where I managed to find a really great deal. But prices like this aren’t as rare as you might imagine.
So, my conclusion is that it’s definitely worth renting a car in Portugal, especially if you are traveling in a group. And even more so when you take advantage of the tips I’ll share with you below.
10 Tips for Renting a Car in Portugal
The 10 tips for renting cars below are essential for anyone who wants to explore Portugal. Below, you’ll find a description of each (including a bit about my personal experience renting a car in Portugal). Let’s dive in!
1. Make sure your driver’s license is valid to drive in Portugal
Although some countries will require you to get an International Driver’s Permit (IDP), if you’re a tourist you can usually drive in Portugal with your license from back home (for up to 6 months…beyond that, you’ll need to get a Portuguese license).
However, you do need to be sure that your current license is valid, that you haven’t stayed in Portugal beyond what your visa-free status or visa allows, and that you are in the country legally (of course!).
2. Pay attention to the minimum age required by the car rental company
Although the driving age is 18 in Portugal, many rental car companies will require all drivers to be above 21. This way, they avoid taking on the risk often associated with younger, less experienced drivers.
Rental companies that don’t have this requirement may still charge extra fees for younger drivers. For example, it’s very common (in Portugal and elsewhere) for drivers under 25 to have higher rental rates.
So, pay close attention to these requirements and be sure that your rental car driver meets the minimum age. This way, you can avoid any sticky problems during your trip to Portugal.
3. Be careful with extra car rental fees in Portugal
Usually, the price of a rental car only the value of the rental itself. In other words, things like car seats for children, GPS, or Via Verde (a card that allows you to drive straight through the tolls without stopping) will be charged extra.
As another example, any type of insurance that you get beyond the most basic one also costs extra (and it’s normally these paid insurances that rental car companies will try to push on you). I talk a bit more about insurance options for rental cars in Portugal in tip #9 below.
So, if you’d like to rent a car in Portugal, make sure you’re up-to-date on fees and extra charges and are willing to pay for the ones that you think are worth it.
4. Be aware of the rules & policies for each rental car company
One of the most important tips for renting a car in Portugal is to be aware of each rental car company’s rules. Although there is overlap, there are sometimes small differences between providers that are important to be aware of.
Their policies on gas, for example, is something you need to check on. Most rental car companies note down the amount of gas left in the car when you pick it up and require that you return the car with the same amount. Others require that you return it with a full tank (you’ll also normally pick up the car with a full tank).
Or if you want to rent a car in one city and drop it off in another, many companies will charge an extra fee for this. Then there are others who don’t allow this at all.
These aren’t the type of details you want to find out only at the time of picking up your rental car, so it helps to do a bit of research ahead of time.
5. Calculate the number of people traveling with you against the price of the rental car
Naturally, renting a car is almost always the cheapest transportation option if you’re traveling in a group of 4 or 5. But as I said before, depending on the price, it can still be the cheapest option even if you’re traveling alone.
So, make sure you calculate the number of people you’re traveling with against the prices you see on offer (plus, you need to be sure that the car you get is big enough for everyone!).
For example, sometimes 1 bigger car that can fit everyone may be more expensive than 2 small ones, but this doesn’t mean you’ll save money overall because you’ll pay twice as much in gas.
6. Figure out how tolls in Portugal work
No matter where you’re from or where you’re going, figuring out tolls is always a bit of a hassle.
In Portugal, essentially all main freeways have tolls, although there are alternative routes that you can use to avoid them. The problem is that these non-toll roads often take longer, which can end up costing you more in gas.
Many rental car companies offer something called Via Verde. With this card, you won’t need to worry about the tolls since you’ll be automatically scanned and charged just by driving by.
The first few times we rented cars in Portugal, we had no idea if we had been charged for the toll or not (which left us quite worried!). Thankfully, the cost was finally debited from our credit card.
7. Make the most of having a rental car with a roadtrip itinerary that brings you to places in Portugal that you can’t get to by train and bus
The Serra da Estrela mountain range, for example, is a major tourist attraction in Portugal but doesn’t have any public transportation that can get you there. So, renting a car may be the only option if this is on your list of places to visit.
Beyond this, many beaches in the Algarve, like Santa Eulália and Praia de Falésia (“Cliff Beach”), are quite far from bus stops and train stations. So, having a car can help you access these hard-to-visit destinations as well.
8. Watch out for speed limits
This tip holds true to matter where you rent a car in the world. Following speed limits is important to avoid tickets and for your safety (and that of your fellow travelers).
Portugal has 3 speed limit categories. On Portugal’s freeways, which are the main expressways in the country, the limit is usually 120 km/h. On 2-lane highways, the limit is less at 90 km/h. On urban roads within cities, the limit is normally 50 km/h.
9. Know your options for car rental insurance in Portugal
As with any other place in the world, Portugal also has various insurance options for you to choose from for your rental car.
The basic insurance is the one that will cover accidents and theft. This one is obligatory and is very important for you to travel safely.
However, as I mentioned before, car rental companies will normally try to sell you insurance upgrades with names like “plus” or “exclusive.” These types of insurance cover things like damage to third parties, broken windows, flat tires, and more. However, they are normally very expensive.
To be honest, I’ve never had anything bad happen to me while renting a car in Portugal. The roads are normally very good, drivers respect the rules, and the country is within the top 5 safest in the world. So, it’ll be your decision if you want more comprehensive insurance or not…but I’ve never found it to be worth it.
And remember, your travel insurance doesn’t cover rental cars!
10. Head beyond the cities to explore all that Portugal has to offer
I love Portugal because you’ll find a bit of everything: beaches, mountains, rivers, countryside, big cities. All of this in a small country that you could cross from north to south in 8 hours.
So, my final tip here is to use your car to enjoy all the country has to offer. Since you have a car, don’t limit your trip purely to big cities. Explore the countryside, isolated and far-flung beaches, and less-visited tourist stops.
How to get a good deal on your rental car in Portugal
To save on your rental car in Portugal, take a look at my article with the 5 best and cheapest websites for renting cars in Portugal.
To give you a quick reminder, here are my 10 tips for renting a car in Portugal:
- Make sure your driver’s license is valid to drive in Portugal
- Pay attention to the minimum age required by the car rental company
- Be careful with extra car rental fees in Portugal
- Be aware of the rules & policies for each rental car company
- Calculate the number of people traveling with you against the price of the rental car
- Figure out how tolls in Portugal work
- Make the most of having a rental car with a roadtrip itinerary that brings you to places in Portugal that you can’t get to by train and bus
- Watch out for speed limits
- Know your options for car rental insurance in Portugal
- Head beyond the cities to explore all Portugal has to offer
So, what’d you think of the tips above?
I’m sure they will come in handy not only during your trip to Portugal, but anywhere that you might want to rent a car.
If you have any final questions or would like to leave another suggestion, just drop in a comment below and I’ll get back to you!
Planning your next trip?
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