The news is out: we just bought a Portuguese car!
This article is a step-by-step how-to guide on how to buy a car in Portugal speaking from our own personal experience. We recently bought a little 2005 Fiat Punto, with one previous owner, low mileage, and she lived most of her life undercover. It was exactly what we were after.
Why did we buy a Portuguese vehicle?
Each time we left the house in our UK-plated estate car we would be taking our lives into our own hands.
We found that the Portuguese drivers would see our foreign plates and proceed to meander out of their lane and drive directly at us. We’re not kidding, it was almost like they were frozen in a state of shock just at the sight of us and temporarily lost any driving ability.
Yes, we are very aware that the driving ability of some Portuguese drivers is extremely questionable but we feel like our UK plates were making things even worse.
We felt like a constant target. We began to drive overly-defensively, parking at the furthest car parking spot at supermarkets, and staying home on weekends. But we couldn’t live our lives in fear.
So we decided that enough was enough and it was time to become inconspicuous.
What's the real reason why we chose to buy a Portuguese vehicle?
According to the European Union, you’re only allowed a foreign plated vehicle in the Portugal for a maximum of 6 months. If you get stopped by the Portuguese law enforcement (Guarda Nacional Republicana, GNR) the onus is on you to prove that the vehicle hasn’t been there for more than 6 months, otherwise you can be fined quite heavily.
We enjoy being able to come and go from Portugal when we pleased with our UK vehicle, but we didn’t want to exceed the maximum 6 months. So we decided it was finally time to purchase a little car to use for short journeys out and about.
How do I insure a vehicle in Portugal?
When it comes to insuring the vehicle, it’s somewhat similar to the UK. Like the UK, once you purchase the vehicle you will want to take out an insurance policy on it before driving it away. You want the policy to be in the main driver’s name.
However, unlike in the UK, this insurance policy will extend to other unnamed drivers, so if you allowed a friend or family to drive the vehicle and something happened then they are covered by your policy.
When we first got the vehicle, we initially purchased insurance through the dealership. We didn’t know how insurance worked in Portugal and so it seemed like the simplest way of buying a vehicle and then being able to drive it away insured on the same day.
A year later, when the insurance came up for renewal, we did our research properly. We asked our friends who they would recommend insuring the vehicle with and they recommended a reputable insurance broker called Fidelidade. They had offices all over Portugal and we could even get a quote online.
Rather than just go ahead with Fidelidade we did more shopping around and requested an insurance quote from our bank, but they couldn’t come close to matching the quote Fidelidade offered. It was a no-brainer, we went with Fidelidade.
When we bought the car insurance, we took these documents to the Fidelidade office:
Within half an hour, the vehicle was reinsured and the insurance documents were being sent in the post. We even got breakdown cover included in the insurance. Easy!
One thing we did learn is that most people get third party insurance only. We were also told that they don’t provide comprehensive insurance for vehicles over 8 years old, or that it was very difficult to get.
We did eventually find a quote for fully comp and it was €800 more than the third party quote, no thank you!
Where did we begin with our car search?
We 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 as 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.
This is what the Stand Virtual website looks like:
We narrowed things down to a select list of cars that fit our criteria. The car that really stood out to us was from a family run garage in Porto called Automóveis Fonte da Senhora.
We drove to Porto in our UK car to see if the vehicle was right for us and got a feel for the dealership. We decided to sleep on the decision and then the next day we called the garage, settled on a great price, and got on the train to Porto. The car dealership arranged to collect us from Porto Campanhã (Porto’s main railway station) to do the deal and we drove the car home that day.
Before we committed to the purchase, we checked these things with the dealership:
Why did we choose a Fiat Punto 2005?
Cars in Portugal are VERY expensive. Ridiculously expensive.
We only needed an affordable and reliable little car to go to the supermarket and back and visit friends. The Fiat Punto fit the bill and she is nicely inconspicuous. If we bought a much newer vehicle, we’d be paranoid about it getting dented or scratched. We have Wendy, our motorhome, for when we make our winter trip back to the UK and for if we go on long adventures.
What do I need to buy a car in Portugal?
How do MOTs (IPO) work in Portugal?
Here they are called Inspecção Périodica Obrigatória (IPO). It’s an annual inspection for vehicles that are over 4 years old and it ensures your vehicle is roadworthy. Exactly like an MOT in the UK, they check the tyres, brakes, steering, suspension, etc.
The main difference to the UK, is that the IPO is carried out at a dedicated test centre. It’s a great experience because you drive your vehicle along a conveyor belt of different tests.
The IPO assistant will ask you to flash your lights, beep your horn, turn your wipers on, etc. All in Portuguese. So, if your Portuguese is minimal then I would strongly recommend doing some practice on both your charade skills and vehicle-related words beforehand!
I had never done an IPO before, but my Dad had. He took great pleasure in letting me be the driver and then getting out of the car and walking away, leaving me to the mercy of the Portuguese test centre assistants. Fortunately, my Portuguese isn’t too bad and they don’t say much. I’ve played enough Pictionary to understand the hand gestures for ‘drive forwards’, ‘flash your lights’ and ‘beep your horn’.
The IPO can be carried out up to 3 months before your IPO expiry date. It’ll take up to 30mins from arrival to driving away.
How does road tax (IUC) work in Portugal?
How do I get a Via Verde transponder?
A Via Verde transponder is a device you stick to your windshield and it allows you to drive through the green V lanes on motorways without stopping. You no longer have to stop at toll booths to collect a ticket and then stop again to pay! Yey!
So how does it work? Go to the Via Verde website, create an account, and then order your transponder. It’ll arrive in about a week at your address, then stick it to your windshield using the instructions they provide.
When ordering your transponder they have a bunch of different packages, such as pay as you go or just buying the transponder outright. We decided to buy the transponder outright as we couldn’t understand the benefits of the other options. The Via Verde transponder is linked to the account you create on their website and so payments are made automatically. Easy.
What do I legally need inside the vehicle before I drive it?
The Portuguese GNR love stopping vehicles to check whether you are carrying all the right things, and rightly so as there are plenty of people out there driving without insurance!
These are compulsory:
The dealership we bought the Fiat from kindly ensured we had all of the above, and they even threw in a second hi-vis jacket just for good measure.
What kind of driving license do I need to drive in Portugal?
If you intend on driving in a European country for longer than 12 months, you will need an International Driving Permit (IDP). You’ll need to carry this alongside your full driving licence and your passport at all times when driving.
I’ve been pulled over by the GNR on a routine roadblock and I can assure you that they do check for these documents. You will get a fine, or if you’re lucky just a warning, if you are driving without these documents. In my case, I had all these documents on me so I was fine.
How do I get an International Driving Permit (IDP)?
It depends on where you are. If you’re in the UK, I went to the Post Office with £5.50 in my pocket, a passport photo and my passport. They made up the IDP right there and then at the counter.
If you’re in Canada then you’ll need to go to the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) and if you’re in the States it’s the American Automobile Association (AAA). I can’t vouch for their procedure but there’s a good chance they’ll need a few days for processing – so don’t leave it to the last minute.
Do I buy a new or used vehicle?
How do I matriculate a vehicle from the UK?
To matriculate a vehicle is to change a vehicle’s registration documentation from one country to another. For example, changing it from being a UK registered to a Portuguese registered vehicle.
The benefit of matriculating your vehicle into a Portuguese one is that you circumvent the limit on how long you can have your vehicle in the country. Legally, the maximum we can have our UK vehicle in Portugal is 3 months. The law is quite strict on this and the onus is on you to provide evidence that you have not exceeded this time limit or you are liable to pay a fine.
Vehicle matriculation is something I am e-mailed about regularly but it’s not something I have personally done. I understand that it can be an expensive and bureaucratic process, and should only be done if the benefits outweigh the cost. For example, it may be very important to you that your Portuguese vehicle is a right-hand drive (RHD).
Thank you for reading!
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.
If you have any questions please e-mail [email protected] and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Last updated September 2020
Disclaimer: I am by no means an authority on car-related issues in Portugal. Everything I have written about in this post speaks from my own personal experience and research. I highly recommend you to do further research before making any decisions about your car purchase.
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
Hi Dave, I've sent you an e-mail :)
It would be nice if you share the information you emailed to Dave unless you feel it’s too private for others to know.
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.
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 :)
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!
Excellent, very helpful, thank you. Saved a lot of time researching shame we didn’t find our way here first ;)
Hi, thank you! I’m glad you found it helpful. :)
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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 :)
Hi Laura, thanks very much for your informative article. I am also considering buying a second hand car in the porto area but have found it difficult to come by recommendations for trustworthy dealers. Are you still happy with the car you bought from this dealer? If so I may pay them a visit.
All the best,
Yes, we’re still very happy with our little Fiat. We’ve had the vehicle for over 2 years now and had no real problems with it and its passed its annual inspections fine. One recommendation I can make to you is to not buy the car insurance through the dealership – you’ll always pay more because they’re brokering it. We did some shopping around and have found that the insurer ‘Fidelidade’ offer the cheapest car insurance. They have shops all over but here’s their website: https://www.fidelidade.pt. The key thing to check with a Portuguese vehicle is to make sure there are no outstanding debts on the vehicle. Portugal has a silly system where if a vehicle owes a debt and you then buy it, then you inherit that debt. All the best :)
Thank you Laura!
Hi Laura, I presume that the same argument(s) will apply to buying a scooter or motorcycle? (I’m from Australia and thinking of moving to Portugal) Regards, Ian
Hey Ian, I presume so but I’ve never looked into buying a scooter/motorcycle in Portugal so can’t really say. The pace of life in Portugal is so so different to Australia, so make sure it’s what you’re after before you commit to moving! :)
I am a trainee airline pilot that is about to move out to Ponte de Sor in 2 weeks time. There’s a few of us going and we will be buying a car in the area.
Can you give me a quick email about the entire process from scratch? We all have UK licences and have never lived in Portugal before. So we’d need to obtain a fiscal number? Would we need to book an appointment for that? How long does it take to get this?
We’d then need to actually find a car. Is there any particularly good websites for this? Is there any websites to avoid? Is a low price usually too good to be true? How do we check if the vehicle has any debts on it? What’s a good price to pay as we notice it’s particua expensive over there in Portugal?
Then we’d need to get insurance. Any good comparison websites or recommended insurers? Do we insure the vehicle, so we could all drive on that insurance policy? What’s normally a good price for the insurance?
Then with Tax and IPO, how much do these typically cost? Should we be getting help with this or is it something we have to sort out normally?
And then we drive away (hopefully) happy! We’d just need a triangle and some hi vis jackets? Anything else we’d need or any other weird and unusual customs or things to consider?
Will the language barrier likely be an issue for us at all?
Thank you ever so much for all help and I’m so sorry I’m being so simple! We’re all just very worried and want to get it right first time!
In Portugal, you will quickly find out that you won’t get things right the first time but this is part of the experience of living in Portugal. The procedure to do ANYTHING in Portugal tends to be laborious and bureaucratic. Even to do the simplest of things, you’ll need to fill out like 10 different forms. Here’s some of my input on your questions, I hope it helps:
If you buy from a dealership, they will most likely do the registration and transfer of ownership of the vehicle for you. If not, ask them how you do that.
Fiscal number (NIF): I’m not 100% sure but I think you do need a fiscal number to purchase a vehicle. Generally you need a fiscal number to do ANYTHING in Portugal. When we first got set up in Portugal we used a lawyer to get our individual numbers because it made our lives easier. But I believe you can just walk into a citizens office with your passport and they’ll issue you a fiscal number there and then.
Insurance: We would highly recommend Fidelidade – https://www.fidelidade.pt. Most Portuguese only get third party insurance and that’s all we have too. There should be a Fidelidade office nearby where you’re purchasing the vehicle. Yes, it is the vehicle that is insured so then anyone can drive it. But there is an assumption that you, as the main policy holder, would be the primary driver.
Tax: Vehicle tax is payable at the citizens or tax office. This varies entirely on the vehicle. It will most likely be less then 100€; I think it cost us about €35 to tax the little Fiat we bought.
IPO: If you buy from a dealership then you’ll have a valid IPO cert when you buy the vehicle if the vehicle is 4 years or older. When it comes time for you to renew your IPO certificate, you need to find your local IPO inspection centre. You book your appointment ahead of time and the whole inspection takes like 10minutes and you stay with the vehicle the whole time.
What you need in your vehicle: I believe you need a hi-vis within easy reach (driver’s car door), a triangle, and a set of spare bulbs.
Language barrier: The ball is in your court on this one! When we first moved to Portugal we got by with the basics and sign language but soon realised this was not enough. Now we take Portuguese lessons every week and this has made our lives so much easier!
Portuguese drivers: Be warned, they are some of the most reckless and dangerous drivers I have ever been witness to. Drive defensively and avoid driving on Sundays (the Portuguese tend to go for Sunday lunch and will drink drive their families home). I make no apologies for making this kind of generalisation!! Most drivers probably don’t insure their vehicles and will actually rent non-bald tyres to pass their IPO inspection.
I hope that helps and it isn’t too late. :) All the best!!
Hi Laura, I’m still under a tourist visa, (i’m a usa citizen) but I do have a NIF number and a Portuguese bank account. I was wondering if registering a used car under my name and getting an insurance company for it will be difficult for someone who’s not a (legal) resident yet. Do you know anything about that?
any feedback will be greatly appreciated! :)
Hi Sabrina! No, you will be fine. We bought our Fiat before we were residents of Portugal and this was no issue at all.
We are arriving in Coimbra in October to house hunt until we can find a retirement home.
Looking at an search area in-between Coimbra and Porto. How soon can you buy a second hand car when you have no fixed abode? Do you use your home address from where you come from?
When you buy a vehicle in Portugal they will send important documents to you in the post and in the meantime give you a temporary document. Using your home address may not be convenient so you could use a Portuguese lawyers instead. You will need a fiscal number to purchase a vehicle and you can pay a lawyer to manage your fiscality, this is very common. You can cite the lawyer’s address as your own and they can then receive your car documentation. I hope that helps! Happy house hunting :)
Your blog couldn’t have been more timely. My husband and I are new retirees having just settled here in Aug and we are still using the long term rented car picked up in France. The rented car is due for return on 5 Jan 2019 and we are urgently looking to buy a car before the dateline. However, we do not want to buy without a lot of research and understanding how processes and purchases work here.
You are right in saying Portuguese drivers are maniacs!! They drive recklessly, either too fast or too slow. Our first rented car from France was badly dented on the passenger side in a carpark next to the AIRBNB apt we rented in Portimao , The Algarve sometime between 11pm and 8am. Hence we have no idea who the culprit is. They also park badly without respect for the space assigned to each car.
Anyways, I shall be checking out the links you have posted and do some price comparisons. Do you have any idea the depreciation value for new and used cars?
I’m really pleased that you found my blog and you’ve found it helpful.
Both new and used vehicles are astronomically expensive in Portugal, it’s nothing like the UK. They do hold their value quite well. I wouldn’t suggest buying a new vehicle because it will quickly end up like your rental car and if you’re anything like me, you’ll kick yourself for it later.
We practice a few rules to minimise stress when driving: pretend the car that is about to rear end you doesn’t really exist, park in the furthest parking bay in car parks, be slow pulling out of blind junctions because they will often run red lights, and avoid leaving the house on Sunday afternoons. We regularly have to remind ourselves that even with all the faults of the Portuguese, the positives outweigh the negatives (most of the time).
Please feel free to e-mail me if you have any further questions about settling in.
All the very best,
My husband and I have bought a property outside Moncarapacho and move sometime in September. I’ve found your blog most helpful and will take on board your advice before we buy a car…second hand and aged!!
Wonderful to hear! All the very best to you and your husband. Everything happens so much slower here in Portugal, so don’t expect anything to happen quickly.
Think we’re beginning to experience that:(….we’re trying to get the owners(English) to give us a firm date for the move, however they’re holding back at the moment.
Anyway we hope to be established in the villa by late September-fingers crossed.
My fingers are crossed for you too! I wonder why they’re holding back. Maybe there’s a chain and they’re trying to buy as much time as possible? Buying a house can be so stressful, especially if the other party aren’t co-operative. We went through our fair share of hurdles buying this place. What will be, will be. Let me know how it goes :)
Just refreshed on ‘Buying a Car’ as I think we’ve found a good secondhand one being sold by a couple returning to the UK. Your information is excellent- clear and concise. Always a bit nerving when moving to a new country but this guide helps to avoid elephant traps:) I have one question? if the insurance is on the car and not the driver, is it transferable? Best regards, Judy.
Hi Judy! Great to hear, thank you very much for the kind feedback. When it comes to insuring the vehicle, it’s somewhat similar to the UK. Like the UK, once you purchase the vehicle you will want to take out an insurance policy on it before driving it. You want the policy to be in the main driver’s name, which I assume will be you or your partner. Enjoy fighting over that ;) UNLIKE the UK, this insurance policy will extend to other unnamed drivers, so if you allowed a friend or family to drive the vehicle and something happened then they are covered by your policy. This is what I mean by the car being insured, not the driver.
Ideally, before you drive away with the car try and complete both the purchase AND get a new insurance policy. This is what I would recommend doing if you don’t know this couple very well. But if for some reason this is not at all possible (different from being an inconvenience!), then ask the current owner to hold off cancelling their insurance for a day or two just to buy you enough time to get the car home and sort out the insurance yourself. But you do put yourself in a high risk position by doing this. The worst case scenario is that they let you drive on their insurance, you then have an accident and try to use their policy to claim, but they then turn around and say you had no permission to drive the vehicle. You can have a notarised document drawn up to say that they’re giving you permission to drive under their insurance policy, but this can be complicated and time-consuming and I wouldn’t recommend putting yourself in that position to begin with.
Be smart and sort out the purchase documents and insurance all at the same time. Do the deal in the morning, as it will take x3 times longer than you would expect it to take and you’ll be drowning in paperwork by the end of it and pulling your hair out. We use Fidelidade as they have a shop in most towns here but I’m sure that there are plenty of other options out there. Don’t buy the car on a weekend – the loja de cidadao and insurance shops will be either be very busy or closed. This is all me speaking from my own experience and I hope you find it helpful. Good luck :)
This is all very helpful indeed. In spite of your advice, I’m about to buy a car from a private individual so I’m conscious of your warning about checking for outstanding debts. The person I’m buying the car from seems very reputable but, having just bought a house from someone who also appeared reputable but hid many problems in the house from me and the estate agent, it’s a case of forewarned is forearmed. I’m seriously considering asking a lawyer to run a check on the car if this is possible. Would you advise doing so?
Thanks – Colin
So I think you’ve answered your own question! Once bitten, twice shy. The check is a small expense in balance to the potential debt that you could be inheriting. I don’t actually know how much it costs to do the check because the dealership we bought our little car from had already done it, but I had a look online and found a useful resource for you:
I know these people are based in the Algarve but I don’t think that should matter. If you contact them, please could you let me know if they were helpful and how much it cost for the service etc?
Your lawyer can probably do the exact same thing, so the choice is yours. If the cost is quite high then maybe see if the seller would cover it or at least a portion of it?
A concern of yours could be by insisting on this check you may offend this ‘gentlemen’. You, as the purchaser, should always exercise your due diligence and protect yourself and your family from any hidden debts. That’s how you have to see it and he should too. If he is offended then this would raise my suspicions. It would make me think he probably has something to hide, and perhaps this is not a good purchase after all.
Something to bear in mind. All the best, let me know how it goes :)