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.
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.