portuguese driving licence

Getting a Portuguese Driving Licence: Ultimate 2023 Foreigners’ Guide [UPDATED]

Portugal is a wonderful country for road trips.

With a car, you can easily explore the diverse and enticing scenery, including those tiny villages and small towns not easily accessible by public transport.

But you’re probably asking yourself, do I need a Portuguese driving licence?

If you have residency in Portugal, the answer is yes!

In this how-to guide, we’ll look at the steps to exchange your foreign licence for a Portuguese one.

For those of you who haven’t got a licence at all, I’ll also explain how to get a Portuguese driving licence from scratch.

In late 2020, I went through the process of exchanging my own foreign licence, a process full of pitfalls and misleading information.

I hope this guide will demystify the process for you, so you can hit the road and start exploring sooner.

The Portuguese driving licence explained

If you’re from outside the EU or European Economic Area, you can still drive in Portugal on your original driving licence.

However, if your licence is in a language other than English or Portuguese then you may need an international driving permit from your home country in addition to your licence.

Portuguese driving licence requirements

To be eligible to get a Portuguese driving licence, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be over 18 years old
  • Live in Portugal for at least 185 days
  • Comply with the physical, mental and psychological conditions required to get the licence
  • Not be prohibited to drive (by a court or administrative authority)
  • Not hold a driving licence of the same category from another EU country, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway. If you do, you must do as follows:
    • While the licence is valid – you may use it in Portugal, but you must inform IMT, within 60 days, that you will reside and drive in Portugal
    • When the licence expires or if you hold a licence of another category – you must exchange the foreign licence for a Portuguese licence

Source: e-Portugal

How to exchange a foreign driving licence for a Portuguese driving licence

Time is of the essence when exchanging your foreign driving licence for a Portuguese driving licence.

There’s a critical driving licence related deadline, which you mustn’t miss!

Once you become an official resident of Portugal (typically counted from the day you attend your SEF appointment), the clock starts ticking to exchange your foreign driving licence.

You have a period of 90 days (from the day you become resident) to exchange your foreign licence for a Portuguese one.

What happens if you don’t? Well, you may have to take a Portuguese driving test. And the whole thing is in Portuguese (although you’re allowed to have an approved interpreter with you).

Doesn’t sound too appealing? I thought not.

The prospect of having to take a Portuguese driving test was one of my biggest nightmares when I first moved to Portugal.

The timelines and deadlines can be quite unclear, and there’s a lot of misinformation around on forums and Facebook groups. All of this can result in you accidentally missing the deadline.

Where to exchange the licence

During Covid it was possible to submit the exchange documents by email.

But now, the process has gone back to the normal way, which means going to the IMT (Portuguese Transport Agency) in person.

In larger cities (especially Lisbon) the IMT office gets pretty busy.

You should aim to get there before 9 am so you can complete your processes promptly. Even then, it might take most of the day to get things sorted out.

In contrast, the process seems to be faster in Madeira. If you’re applying in Madeira, you’ll go to the island’s equivalent of the IMT, called DRETT (Direção Regional de Economia e Transportes Terrestres).

Documents needed

Here’s a list of the documents your need to bring with you to IMT/DRETT:

  • The completed IMT application form (Modelo 13)
  • Proof of residency (residency card or CRUE (if you’re an EU citizen)
  • Proof of identity (passport)
  • Your NIF document from Finanças
  • Your current driving licence from your home country
  • Copy of a medical certificate from a doctor
  • €30 in cash (they won’t take foreign cards but they may accept a Portuguese one)
  • If your original licence is from outside the EU, you may need a certificate of authenticity from the original licence issuing department (e.g. DVLA in the UK). You can normally get this from the issuing country’s embassy or consular services in Portugal. I was able to request mine from DVLA over the phone , but they could only send it by fax or regular post, not email. I ended up receiving it via fax at the business centre in the Sheraton hotel in Lisbon. Be aware of this situation if you’re close to the end of the 90 day period.

Medical certificate for Portuguese driving licence

I found this the most troublesome aspect of the application to exchange my licence. As I didn’t have a Portuguese health number at the time, I couldn’t get the certificate from the centro de saúde.

I ended up getting mine at this private medical center in Lisbon. It was a fast and easy experience which cost me €50. Money well spent for speed and convenience!

Basically, you have three options for getting a medical certificate:

  1. From the doctor attached to a driving school (cost around €30)
  2. From the local centro de saúde (if you have an SNS number)
  3. From a private medical center (cost around €50)

In my case, the doctor gave me an eye test, then a blood pressure test. Finally, he asked me if I had any psychological problems (!)

And that was pretty much it. They issued the certificate immediately.

After submitting all the documentation and paying the fee at the IMT office, they will issue you with a paper which temporarily allows you to drive in Portugal.

You’ll need this in the interim while your new licence is prepared. It took me around three weeks to receive my new Portuguese driving licence.

However, due to Covid-related chaos, I ended up finishing my driving licence application process in Madeira. So three weeks may not be a typical timeline, especially in larger cities where it may take longer.

The most important thing is submitting your application and getting that temporary paper, so you don’t need to undergo a Portuguese driving test.

But what happens if you DO need a Portuguese driving test? Check out the next section…

Learning to drive in Portugal

Portuguese driving licence

In Portugal, you can have driving lessons in either Portuguese or English.

Portuguese-language driving tuition is typically less expensive than English classes. An all-inclusive course in Portuguese would cost between €300 and €400, whereas an English one costs twice as much.

Here’s a detailed firsthand experience of a foreigner taking driving classes in Lisbon. They say the total cost was €830 (this was in 2019-20), which included 28 theoretical classes and 32 practical classes, along with all the exams and the medical report.

There are additional fees if you miss or fail the exams. If you fail the practical driving exam, you’ll need to book another eight lessons before taking another exam.

You’ll also need to get a medical report before you can start the lessons. Driving schools normally have a doctor who will issue this report.

Here’s the list of documents you’ll need to enrol for driving lessons:

  • Passport
  • Two passport photos
  • NIF
  • Medical certificate

The driving test process

Getting your Portuguese driving licence requires passing two exams: theory and practical.

First, you must pass the theory exam. The theory part is intended to help you understand the Portuguese highway code.

The theory exam has a pass mark of 27 out of 30, and the test usually lasts about 30 minutes.

BomConductor is a useful website to practice for the theory test (although it’s in Portuguese).

Once you’ve successfully completed the theory test (and completed the required number of driving lessons), you can then apply to take the practical test.

The practical test usually lasts between 40 and 50 minutes.

Once you pass your practical, you must then pay a fee of €30 to have your Portuguese driving licence issued and posted to your home address. This normally takes around three weeks.

Renewal of your Portuguese driving licence

You’ll need to renew your Portuguese driving licence every 10 years until you reach age 60.

After that point, you’ll need to renew it every five years until you get to age 70. Then, it’s every two years for the rest of your life.

In Portugal, what kind of driver’s licence do I need?

For the majority of people, category B is sufficient for normal driving needs.

However, if you intend to tow things like caravans or semi-trailers, then you’ll need category B+E. You’ll need to already possess a valid category B licence to obtain a BE licence.

See below for a full list of Portuguese driving licence categories.

Portuguese driving licence categories

CategoryDriving Permissions
A1Motorcycles with a cylinder capacity of up to 125 cm³ and a power rating of up to 11 kw;
Category AM vehicles.
A2Motorcycles with a power rating of up to 35 kw;
Category AM and A1 vehicles.
BCars;
Tricycles over 15 kw if the person is over 21 years of age;
Motorcycles with a cylinder capacity of up to 125 cm³ and a power rating of up to 11 kw, if the person is over 25 years of age or holds a category AM licence or a moped licence;
Category AM and B1 vehicles;
Category I and II agricultural vehicles and light industrial machinery.
BELight-duty vehicles from the B category with a trailer or semi-trailer with a maximum weight of 3500 kg’
Agricultural or forest tractors with a trailer or a towed agricultural or forest machine with a maximum weight of 6000 kg
CHeavy-duty goods vehicles with a maximum gross weight of 7500 kg (that is, vehicles to transport a maximum of eight passengers, besides the driver, to which a trailer with a maximum weight of 750 kg may be linked)
C1EHeavy-duty goods vehicles from the C1 category with a trailer or semi-trailer with a maximum weight of 750 kg (provided that the vehicle’s weight + the trailer or semi-trailer’s weight does not exceed 12.000 kg);
Light-duty vehicles from the B category with a trailer or semi-trailer with a maximum weight of 3.500 kg (provided that the vehicle’s weight + the trailer or semi-trailer’s weight does not exceed 12.000 kg);
CESet of attached vehicles, comprising a tractor from the C category and a trainer or semi-trailer with a maximum authorized weight over 750 kg;
Vehicles from the C category;
Vehicles from the C1 category;
Vehicles from the C1E category;
Agricultural vehicles from the I, II and III categories;
Heavy-duty industrial machines
D1Heavy-duty passenger vehicles with capacity for 17 seats (with a maximum length of 8 meters and a maximum of 16 passengers + driver)
D1EHeavy-duty passenger vehicles from the D1 category with a trailer or semi-trailer with a maximum weight of 750 kg
Vehicles with a trainer or semi-trailer from the BE category, provided that the trailer or semi-trailer has a maximum weight of 750 kg
Towed industrial machines weighting between 3.500 kg and 7.500 kg
Source: e-Portugal

FAQs: Getting a Portuguese driving licence

Is a Portuguese driving licence valid in UK?

Yes, a Portuguese driving licence is valid in the UK. According to the rules, anyone with a valid driving licence issued in their home country may drive in the UK with an international licence for at least 12 months.

How long is a Portuguese driving licence valid for?

A Portuguese driving licence is valid for 10 years until you reach age 60. After that, each licence is valid for five years until you reach age 70. Then it is valid for every two years for the rest of your life.

How long can I use my foreign driving licence in Portugal?

If you have a foreign driving licence issued outside the EU and EEA countries, you can only drive with it in Portugal for the first 185 days. To drive in Portugal for an extended period of time, you must exchange your foreign licence for a Portuguese driving licence.

How long does it take to get a Portuguese driving licence?

You’ll need to take at least 32 hours of driving lessons at an accredited school before you can take the driving test. Before starting the lessons, you’ll also have to pass a theory test, which ensures you understand the Portuguese highway code.

Conclusion

Driving in Portugal is the best way to explore the country and achieve maximum freedom and flexibility.

In this article we discussed the necessary steps to exchange your foreign driving licence for a Portuguese driving licence.

We also examined the process of learning to drive from scratch in Portugal, including the theory test and the practical test.

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