How do you buy a car in Portugal?

The news is out: we just bought a Portuguese car!

After coming and going to Portugal for the past few years we decided it was finally time to purchase a little car to use for short journeys out and about. The estate is overkill when going to the shops and we really take our life into our hands when the Portuguese drivers eyeball us as foreigners and proceed to drive directly at our car, which is a daily occurrence.

In Portugal it is the car that is insured and not a specific driver. Therefore, anybody can drive it! This means that we *might* entrust friends and family to drive our little car around!

The rest of this post is a detailed description about how we went about it for people in the same shoes as us, so if you’re not interested then you can switch off now.

Firstly, we worked out what we wanted and then did some research on the Portuguese Auto Trader equivalent, called Stand Virtual. We wanted to buy a car from a garage rather than Joe Bloggs on the corner; we didn’t want to end up buying a car that had any financial debts or any crazy problems with it. We had read online many horror stories in Portugal about people who had bought cars that had outstanding financial debts and the best way to avoid this is to buy it from a reputable garage. 

We narrowed things down to a select list of cars that fit the bill and off we went. The car that really stood out to us was from a family run garage in Porto called Automóveis Fonte da Senhora. The day after we called the garage, settled on a great price, and arranged to collect us from Porto Campanhã (Porto’s main railway station) to do the deal and drive the car back that day.

What did we need to buy a car in Portugal?

  • A Portuguese address (so they can send the registration docs to you)
  • A Fiscal number (this is essential to have if you want any assets in Portugal, so google how to get one if you don’t have one already)
  • A valid form of ID, such as your passport or driving license
  • A method of payment

We checked that the car had a valid IPO (Inspecção Périodica Obrigatória), which is the equivalent of an MOT test, and that the road tax ICU (Imposto Único de Circulação) had been paid for the year. We changed the registration of the vehicle over in the garage and they kindly paid the €10 fee for that. We also arranged for 1-year warranty, which I believe is a legal requirement for garages when selling their vehicles. Interestingly, we found out that a car can have an IPO done up to 3 months before the end date and the ICU can be paid up to 1 month in advance.

The garage found us the best deal online for third party car insurance and breakdown cover. They printed off some quotes and we picked the best one. I thought we would end up getting ripped off at this stage, but the garage didn’t even take a cut and spent some time finding the cheapest they could.

What we learnt was that a car older than 2008 cannot have comprehensive insurance due to its age. If the car was made after 2008 then fully comprehensive would be in excess of €800 a year. He pointed out a newish estate car on the forecourt and said that it would cost €2,000 to insure fully comp! Crazy!

Before we drove off the car legally had to have a hi-vis jacket and a breakdown triangle, which the garage provided, and also threw in an extra jacket. Then off we went with all our documentation and drove back to the house.

The last thing that we arranged when we got back was a Via Verde transponder and this can be entirely done online. It is a little device that you put on the windscreen of the car and it registers you through the tolls. It is linked to your credit/debit card and they will automatically take payments as you go through the tolls. It should be arriving in the post in the next few days.

So that’s it! It was a very straight forward process and I think this was mainly because we did our research beforehand. We knew exactly what to expect and what documents to bring, so there were no hidden surprises. We just need to build a car port now in the space below and buy some pretty cushions for the back seats!

Car Port

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  1. Reply

    I know this is a bit cheeky but how much did you pay for the car?we have noticed that the price of second hand cars is huge compared with the uk and they are sold with quite high mileages on the clock.
    Secondly,i dont have a clue about road tax costs in Portugal.Does it vary according to age and size of car.
    Thanks for any info Dave

      • Laura
      • August 7, 2016

      Hi Dave, I've sent you an e-mail :)

    • 1point3creative
    • August 6, 2016

    Thank you very much for taking the time to write this informative blog post. My partner and I are researching moving over to Portugal from the UK. I have been curious about cars in Portugal for a while and thought it would be best to purchase a LHD car here in the UK and then take it over with us.

    Really appreciate the info here.


      • Laura
      • August 16, 2016

      Hi Elliot,

      We also went down this line of thinking until we realised how expensive and bureaucratic matriculation is. It's insane and a quick google search would show you how challenging and enduring it can be. So we opted to buy a used car in Portugal instead which, yes, is the expensive option but relatively hassle-free.

      I hope that helps :)

    • Caroline
    • October 1, 2016

    This site provides some great tips to buy a car in Portugal. As a citizen of Portugal I appreciate this post and I want to follow all these instruction to buy a car in Portugal as soon as possible. Thanks!

    • Zip13
    • March 11, 2017

    Excellent, very helpful, thank you. Saved a lot of time researching shame we didn’t find our way here first ;)

    1. Reply

      Hi, thank you! I’m glad you found it helpful. :)

  2. Reply

    Dear Laura,
    Thank you for this most informative email. We have recently bought a house in Caldas Da Rainha and now need to buy a car . As we live in Cape Town, South Africa we have to learn new ropes. We have also noticed the huge difference between e.g. UK and Portuguese prices. Why ? One comment on your site mentions ‘matriculation’. Is that the tax to be paid on a foreign car to be registered in Portugal ? Kind Regards, David

    1. Reply

      Hi David, thanks for posting. Matriculation is exactly that, it’s when a vehicle becomes ‘Portuguese’ and can show Portuguese plates. It’s VERY expensive as you pay a percentage of the vehicle’s retail value from NEW. It’s also simply not worth buying a new vehicle in Portugal, always buy second hand because of the price. I can guarantee that if you buy a new vehicle then someone will bump or scratch your vehicle. I know it’s a stereotype but it’s the reality of it, the Portuguese are not good or careful drivers.

    • Rori
    • June 13, 2017

    Hi Laura, I’m glad to stumble upon your blog. I’ve been spending hours online researching on Portugal taxes. I’m going to meet a garage dealer this week but I’m still skeptical on buying a used car. Did you bring a mechanic with you to check the car? Can you share the contact please?

    1. Reply

      Hi Rori, I’m so sorry I didn’t see this comment! Did you buy a car? We bought ours from a car dealership that was family run with a great reputation, so we had confidence that we were buying the right vehicle.

  3. Reply

    As a prospective Portugal Retiree I found your information very helpful. Is Portugal offering any incentives for buying Electric Vehicles? Is the driving really that bad there with Portuguese drivers aiming for foreigners or were you being facetious? Do you have an experience with Dental Costs? Thanks again for your help, I have just signed up.

      • Laura
      • December 27, 2017

      Hey again Glen. The way that I see it is that Portugal is frozen in time. I’ve never seen an electric vehicle outside of the main cities and all their vehicles tend to be very old. I wasn’t joking around, Portuguese drivers do tend to stare at my parents vehicle and sometimes veer into them, it’s like they’ve never seen a foreign car before. We deliberately park away from other vehicles because we know otherwise they will back into ours or open car doors onto it. My parents drive with exceptional care and they’ve been OK, they always taking their time at junctions and watching out for people running red lights. We also bought an older car so we could blend in more. In terms of dental costs, wherever I am in the world, I always fly back to Portugal to get my dental care.

    • Tony
    • March 15, 2018

    Hi Laura,
    Gill and I are coming out to the Coimbra area in the next few weeks to look for a property to buy. We have a rental for a few months so do not intend o go back to UK. I am now confused on the best way to do this. I have booked for the overnight ferry to Santander and will drive down to the rental house. I was going to buy a l/h drive car to bring with me but it appears that I will be stung for tax and I really don’t want to have my r/d car over there. Is there a market for r/d drive vehicles over there? Tony

    1. Reply

      Hi Tony, thanks for commenting! The only market you will find for a r/h drive car is for somebody wanting to return back to the UK. The cost of matriculating a foreign vehicle is very high, it’s not worth it unless you really love your vehicle. Legally you can have your UK car in Portugal for 3 months and after that if you get stopped by the police they will fine you. If you want to make the move here then I would recommend buying a older l/h drive vehicle, don’t buy anything new. Yes, the taxes are high but if you need a set of wheels then that’s the price you gotta pay. I hope that helps a little bit. Coimbra is a beautiful part of Central Portugal, I wish you well :)

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