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Car Ownership and Driving in Portugal

When planning a move to Portugal, driving is one of the most important things you need to research.

Before you get behind the wheel in this beautiful country, there are many aspects you need to cover. From buying a car in Portugal or importing one, to financing or registering it...

Portugal driver's license conversion

One of the first things you need to do to drive in Portugal is exchange your drivers' license for a Portuguese driver's license.

The conversion process varies according to your nationality:

  • If you are from a country with which Portugal has a bilateral/reciprocal agreement, you will not need to do a driving test. Nevertheless, you have to request the exchange of your foreign license 185 days after getting your residence in Portuguese territory. These countries include Brazil, Switzerland, Morocco, Andorra, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, United Arab Emirates, Angola and Macau.

  • If you are moving to Portugal from another EU country, you don't need to exchange your driving license for a Portuguese one. However, you may be required to do so if your license is lost, damaged or stolen, or if you committed a traffic offence in Portugal.

  • While non-EU citizens can drive in Portugal using a foreign license for a while, you will need to exchange it within 185 days after obtaining residence in Portugal. For example, if you're a US, Canadian, Australian or South African citizen, you can continue to use your license for up to 6 months. However, when the time comes, you will need to get some documentation from your own country. If you're Australian, you may need to confirm your license's start date, since Australian licenses don't include any date. If you have a US license, you will need to apply for an abstract of your driving record from your last state of residence and a physician’s certificate to prove you are fit to drive.

As you can see, converting your foreign driver's license to a Portuguese driver's license varies, depending on your country of origin and period of residence, so it is always a good idea to be informed about the rules that apply to your specific situation.

Buying and selling a car in Portugal

Buying a car in Portugal is also something most foreigners decide to do when moving or investing here, even if they are enjoying a holiday home for only a few months a year.

When buying a car through a Portuguese dealer, you can expect a straightforward process. Overall speaking, the car dealer takes care of all the paperwork and warranty services, which you are entitled to even if buying a second-hand vehicle.

As a foreigner, you will need the following documents to buy or sell a car in Portugal:

  • Proof of residency in Portugal (a home rental contract, proof of purchase of real estate or a resident's card);

  • Portuguese tax number (NIF);

  • Proof of Identification (citizen card, passport, driver's license, ...).

If you decide to buy a car directly from an individual owner, bear in mind that although you might save money, this is a riskier option. In this case, make sure the seller is the true owner of the vehicle. This means you will need to confirm that the documentation provided by the seller matches the vehicle's identification numbers.

Also know that when you buy a car in Portugal, you may inherit any fines or outstanding debt attached to the vehicle. Therefore, before you close the sale, you should visit a notary (Conservatória) to check all outstanding finances with the vehicle's registration number.

Financing a car in Portugal

If you choose to buy a car in Portugal with financing, foreigners are eligible for car loans regardless of buying a new or used vehicle.

The multiple financing options available include loans directly from car dealers or through a bank, both including up to 100% of the sale value. There is also a wide range of payment deadlines, so you can choose the one that is right for you.

Generally speaking, if you have an existing vehicle that you want to replace with a new one, most dealers will accept it in exchange, deducting its value from the sale price. However, offers in different dealers may vary widely, so be sure to seek more than one proposal.

Changing car ownership in Portugal

When you buy or sell a car in Portugal, you need to change the car's ownership. The good news is that the red tape involved in buying a car in Portugal has become smoother over the years. Today, it is even possible to register a change of car ownership online. However, if you do decide to do this in person, most of the information is in digital form, which makes the process not only more secure but also faster.

Deadlines for vehicle transfers in Portugal

If you buy a used vehicle already registered in Portugal, you have 60 days from the date of sale to update the vehicle's registration. The same applies to a vehicle already registered in another EU member state.

Documents required for vehicle transfer

There are four essential documents you will need to legally register the change of ownership of a car in Portugal.

1. Identification Document - First of all, it is necessary to identify both the buyer and the seller of the vehicle. As such, both must be accompanied by their Citizen Card (with up-to-date address) or an identity card and a taxpayer card.

2. Single automobile document (DUA) - The DUA (Documento Único Automóvel) is a car identification document unique for each vehicle. When you buy a car, the seller must give you this document. In addition to information about the vehicle, it contains the titleholder's name and address, which will be updated when a new certificate is issued. The IMT will send the buyer a new DUA with the updated information.

3. Requerimento de Registo Automóvel (vehicle registration form) - This form (available online) must be filled out in the fields referring to the buyer and seller.

4. Car insurance in Portugal - When you purchase a car in Portugal, you must also have insurance to drive it. If you buy a new car to exchange for the one you currently have, you can transfer your car insurance from that vehicle to the new one. All you have to do is contact your insurance company and the insurance can be transferred between vehicles on the same day.

Changing car ownership online

The fastest way to change car ownership in Portugal is through the Automóvel Online website, where the process is carried out in just two steps.

First, it is necessary to register using a digital certificate. After entering the site, you must fill in information about the car, the seller and the buyer, as well as an electronic form. Finally, you simply submit the car registration request online.

If the buyer makes the request, the seller must confirm all the data entered. Regardless of who makes the online car registration change, after approval, you will receive a confirmation email and the payment details.

The second step is paying the registration fees, which can be done through ATM Multibanco or home banking.

The Automóvel Online service avoids the need for both parties to go to a Conservatory, saving time in queues and also money, since a 15% discount is given online.

Changing car ownership in person

It is also possible to change car ownership in person at a car registry office ("Conservatória do registo automóvel") or at a citizen shop ("Loja de Cidadão"). This registration can be carried out by by the buyer, a company or a legal representative (lawyer, solicitor, etc.).

As for the DUA, the new owner receives a temporary document that proves the car's ownership. This temporary document is valid for one month, and the new owner should receive an updated DUA at the address provided within 15 days.

Portugal Car Registration

Before you can register a vehicle in Portugal, you must apply for a Residency Card (Cartão de Residência).

In case you want to import a car, it must conform to the Portuguese road standards before you can register it. The complexity of this process varies a lot, depending on many different factors, including the origin of the vehicle, its age or make.

The details of the car registration will be recorded on the DUA (Documento Único Automóvel) and carrying it with you while driving your car is mandatory. This document is recognized by all EU countries.

Driving in Portugal with a car registered in another EU Member State

Portugal allows vehicles registered in another EU Member State to remain in the country and be used without paying tax for a maximum of 6 months (consecutive or not) every 12 months.

This temporary authorization applies to vehicles registered in another EU Member State and must be registered in the name of a citizen who is not resident in Portugal. They must also be brought into Portugal by their owners or lawful keepers for their private use.

These vehicles may be driven in Portugal by their owners, spouses/common-law spouses, parents/legal guardians, provided they are not normally residents in Portugal.

Application for this temporary permit must be submitted to the Direcção-Geral das Alfândegas e dos Impostos Especiais sobre o Consumo within 30 days of arriving in Portugal.

Exemptions from the obligation to register a vehicle and pay vehicle tax also include:

  • Students - If you are a national of another European Union country studying in Portugal, you do not have to register your vehicle with the Portuguese authorities or pay motor vehicle tax during your studies (this exemption also applies if the owner of the vehicle is one of the student’s parents who does not live in Portugal);

  • Pensioners and second home owners in Portugal - If you are a national of another EU country and have a second home in Portugal, you only have to register your vehicle in Portugal if you are here for more than 6 months, whether consecutive or not, during any period of 12 months.

  • Exemption from Vehicle Tax (ISV) - If you move to Portugal, you can also apply for exemption from payment of Vehicle Tax (ISV) online, via the Tax and Customs Authority website. You have 12 months from the date of your change of residence to Portugal to do this.

Since the rules and regulations change from time to time, it is always wise to confirm which ones apply to your personal situation.

The Portuguese public authorities continue to take steps towards making the lives of residents simpler and hassle-free. So if your next turn leads you to Portugal, relax, roll down your windows and enjoy the view... we guarantee it will be worth it!

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Boa tarde. Your permission is requested to publish the post in Portugal Living Magazine. All acknowledgments, citations, and links to your website will be included along with the article. Thank you for your consideration! Um abraço. /Bruce Joffe, Publisher & Creative Director.

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