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A Road Trip through Portugal – when do I need to hold a Portuguese driving license?

A Road Trip through Portugal - when do I need to hold a Portuguese driving license?

You start your trip on the roads from Porto, in the north of the country. You drive through Aveiro, Coimbra, and Peniche, until you arrive in Lisbon, the capital. From there, you take the highway A2, then the E1 to Algarve, passing through the area with one of the most beautiful beaches in Western European. But be careful! If you intend to drive in Portugal, there are a few things to remember, like the driving license. Especially, if you are no longer a tourist, i.e., you have become a resident of the country. 

Four Rules on Portuguese licenses

Nowadays, there are four different groups of rules that define if you need to change your current driver’s license to a Portuguese one:  

  1. You have a  driving license issued by a European Union member state or the European Economic Area (Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein). If this is your case, you can be “tranquilo”, because it is valid in Portugal, and their exchange is optional. However, drivers who establish residence in Portugal have the duty to register theirs at the National Railway Safety Authority (IMT) of their area of residence. They have to do this within 60 days, under penalty of incurring an infraction.
  2. Your driving license was obtained in a country with a bilateral agreement or reciprocity regime with Portugal for recognition and exchange. If this is your case, the rules are different. You may drive in Portugal with a foreign license for 185 days after entering Portugal and before establishing residence (driving as a tourist). 

Time limits to take into account

If you establish residence in Portugal, you must consider the following time limits. These start counting from the day you obtain the residence permit:

  • For up to 90 days, you can continue driving with the foreign driving permit. However, you must enter the exchange request.
  • After the initial 90 days and up to 2 years, you can request an exchange at IMT, I.P. However, you can no longer drive in Portugal with the foreign title
  • After 2 years, you cannot drive with a foreign driving license. In case you want to exchange it for a Portuguese driving license, you must pass a driving test (practical test).
  1. Your driver’s license was obtained in a foreign country that does not belong to the European Economic Area nor adheres to the conventions or is part of bilateral agreements with Portugal. If this is your case, it is not valid for driving in Portugal. The holder may apply for an exchange of the driving permit for a Portuguese one. In addition to observing all the exchange requirements, you must pass a practical driving test for each category held.
  2. It is important to state that the Portuguese Decree-Law nr. 46/2022 of July 12th, 2022, coming into force on August 1st, has recently changed some of the rules. Specifically, for driver’s licenses obtained in a foreign country of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) member states and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) states.
driving license

Driving licenses that are accepted in Portugal

For circulation on national territory, driving licenses from OECD and CPLP countries are accepted. This also applies to drivers who are residents, if they meet the following requirements:

  • The issuing state is a subscriber to one of the traffic conventions (Geneva, 1949 and/or Vienna, 1968) or has entered into a bilateral agreement with the Portuguese state regarding recognition of licenses.
  • No more than 15 years have elapsed since the foreign driver’s license was issued or last renewed.
  • The holder is under 60 years of age.
  • The foreign driving license must be valid.
  • The driver has the minimum age established in Portugal for driving the vehicle(s) of the category(ies) listed on his foreign driver’s license.
  • The foreign driving license is not seized, suspended, expired, or revoked by force of law, administrative decision, or judicial sentence imposed on its holder in Portugal or in the issuing State.

If you gather all the requirements above, you are allowed to drive with your license in Portugal, even after you obtain residence in the national territory.

However, this permission only impacts and allows you to drive in Portugal. It does not exchange a foreign driving permit for a Portuguese one. To make any changes in the driving license (e.g. categories), it is mandatory to exchange the driving license.

I hope this helps while you plan your next Portuguese road trip. And enjoy the ride! 😊 

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