The population of Portugal is only a little over 10 million, meaning the roads aren’t over-crowded and both the cities and countryside allow for a reasonable and pleasant driving experience. The country is around 700 KM (434 miles) long from north to south, with the E1 motorway connecting all the three main cities (Faro, Lisbon, Porto) from the northern Portuguese/Spanish border to the south coast and Algarve region. Renting a car in Portugal is an ideal way to get around, with numerous options in the airports.
Hiring a car and driving in Portugal
Renting and driving is relatively straight forward and similar to most other mainstream European countries.
Prices range vastly depending on the season, type of car and generally how far in advance you can book. If you make an advanced booking (excluding the summer peak of July and August) make the reservation a good few weeks before your collection date and shop around you are likely to find a deal on a basic mini or economy car (eg. Fiat 500, Vauxhall Corsa, Nissan Micra or similar) from as low as €2 – €3 per day. But be careful, this won’t include any insurance cover other than the basic 3rd party liability requirement. You will normally have to leave a rather large security deposit on your credit card which is subject to deductions for any scratches or damages to the vehicle on return.
Here’s a few important points to consider when renting a car in Portugal:
Clean and safe certificate
Portugal was the first country in the early months of the 2020 Coronavirus outbreak to implement Covid-friendly policies into law affecting most sectors of travel including car rental. On April the 24th 2020, Turismo de Portugal created a “Clean and Safe” certificate which became mandatory for all travel and tourism businesses, travel agencies, accommodation and hotels to adhere to, thus promoting Portugal as a safe destination and reinforcing some confidence for travellers considering visiting the country. In all cases when renting a car in Portugal the operator should hold this mandatory certificate.
Check for a fair fuel policy
In 2014, EnjoyTravel.com, specialists in Portugal car rentals, introduced a “fair fuel policy” only approach to their car rental comparison website, being the first comparison site stating that they would ONLY work with rental companies who operated this fair policy. This innovative move prompted others to follow. Now, it is common practise for operators to offer a “full to full” system meaning you receive your car with a full tank and return it with a full tank incurring no additional fuel surcharges.
However watch out and check the terms and conditions… There are still many often smaller rental companies offering “full to empty”. This means you get charged in addition for a full tank of fuel regardless of whether you use it all or not. It’s also generally charged at a premium too, being more expensive that it would actually cost you to replenish the fuel you have used. Watch out for “full to full” vs. “full to empty” and always try and check for a “fair fuel policy”.
Additional hidden fees
Check the price you are quoted is the price you will pay and what “extras” are included. It may include unlimited mileage but that isn’t always the case. There may be a “limit” after which you will be charged an additional amount per mile.
Additional fuel costs are also a “watch out”. As pointed out above, it’s worth checking the fuel policy since some companies may charge you for fuel regardless of whether you use it. Generally the mainstream and reputable companies will offer “full-full”.
Additional drivers are usually not included, though some companies will offer it as an incentive. When renting a car from an airport, often you’ll find the cheapest prices from the lesser well known brands. This in itself doesn’t mean they are any lesser quality, so don’t worry. But they may be located off-airport and a common “hidden fee” is an additional price per person to use the shuttle – a necessary journey in order to collect your car.
Remember – the cheapest headline price isn’t necessarily the best overall price!
Excess protection or full insurance
By law, your car will always include the most basic liability insurance. This is in case you have are unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident involving another vehicle or 3rd party. However, this won’t cover any damage to your own rental vehicle and without additional cover you can expect to be charged for it. So, keep that in mind!
There are generally two common types of additional cover which you can take out. The first is the cheaper and is called “excess protection”. So, how does this work? You still need to leave a deposit with the rental company at the pick-up point. Then in the case of any deduction you will be able to claim it back. This is generally an extra option you can choose from the rental broker, agent or comparison website at the time when you book your rental online. The advantage is that it tends to be considerably cheaper than a “full insurance” product.
Full insurance is normally offered directly from the rental company and eliminates the need for a credit card deposit. Yes, it is normally considerably more expensive. But it does provide a higher level of convenience should you be unlucky enough to damage the car.
Check for damages and take photos as evidence
First things first: photos, photos and more photos. When picking up your vehicle, have a good inspection of the vehicle. Take photos of any damage no matter how minor. Even small scratches on the wheels or bumpers could incur a chunky charge if you can’t prove they already existed at the point you drove away. You inspect and take photos where necessary of all 4 wheels, both bumpers, 4 wheel arches, all 4 corners of the car. Pay particular attention to any scratches, bumps, and dints that you spot.
Toll roads in Portugal
The majority of Portuguese motorways now involve tolls. The road system is mostly modern and well maintained, and the toll system is modern and efficient. The toll roads are well identified by signage before you enter them. You can also pay by electronic tag linked directly to your payment debit or credit card. It really is nice and easy. The best system is “pay-as-you-go” or “EASY-toll” meaning you pay real time only for what you use. Some rental operators may even offer a pre-pay type method. This generally isn’t necessary and is often a way for them to enhance their own profits at your cost.
Always check the rental terms with regards to the number of miles/km that can be used during your rental. Most are unlimited. However, there are some companies that will offer a lower price for a rental with a limited amount of miles/km included. They are usually have a “daily” amount on the display which can be confusing. But, it doesn’t mean the rental company are tracking your every move in a 24-hour period! You should work out the total you can use by the daily limit multiplied by the number of days you are renting the car for. These limited options can work for some but are very rarely that much cheaper than an unlimited rental. Often, the excess miles/km charges can work out to be expensive.
Follow these tips for a stress-free car rental experience in Portugal.