Car rental in Portugal

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Unless you live in Europe and visit Portugal with your own vehicle, you will have to rent a car for your road trip in Portugal. Welcome to our tips and information on the issue of car rental in Portugal.

We use our own car for most of our trips, but on a number of occasions we have used a rented car. On the Azores archipelago, for example, and on a few destinations far from home.

Keep reading to discover our collection of tips on how to make the most of car rental in Portugal.

TIP 1 | Book your car before you arrive in Portugal

Tip number one is probably the most important one: make sure you book your car before you arrive in Portugal.

There are two important reasons behind our recommendation:

  • you will get a better price if you book in advance. If you book when you arrive in Portugal, you won’t have access to discounted rates and, on top of that, you will have to accept whatever car model is left.
  • during the high season, in places like the Algarve, the demand for car rental is bigger than the car fleet. So that means you risk not finding a car for your trip.

TIP 2 | Get your International Driving Permit

Unless you are a citizen of the European Union (and a few other countries, we discussed the issue at length at Driving licence for Portugal), the rental company might want to see your International Driving Permit along with your national licence.

There is one organization responsible for issuing International Driving Permits in each country, so you will have to find out how to go about getting yours. It tends to be quite straightforward.

Do not forget to bring your actual driving licence along with your IDP! To be valid, the IDP must be accompanied by your driving licence.

TIP 3 | Beware of surprisingly low rates from unknown companies

If you use Rentalcars.com (our recommended car hire search engine), or any other similar platform, you will come across lots of names of different car hire companies. Along with the international household names (Avis, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz, Sixt) you will also find unknown names. They are local companies. Most of them do a great job.

But there are a handful of local companies with a troubled history. Before you go for a surprisingly low rate from an unknown company, do some checks. User reviews are a good starting point.

TIP 4 | Read the terms and conditions

Yes, in this time and age reading the full terms and conditions is not something we tend to do.

But when you rent a car, you need to understand what you are purchasing, how much you will pay for it and what it is covered by the travel insurance package (if there is any).

TIP 5 | Check your credit card limit

Most car rental companies will request a deposit at the time of pick-up. The deposit is usually paid using your credit card (very few rental car companies accept debit cards).

So, first of all, make sure you have a credit card. Second, the deposit tends to be a substantial amount of money. When the car hire company processes the deposit, the sum of money will be temporarily blocked and your card limit greatly reduced as a result.

It could take a few days to get your deposit back once you return the car. You don’t have to do anything for the deposit to be released, but it might take a few days. Check that out with the company.

In the meantime, your credit balance will be greatly diminished due to the temporary blocking of the deposit.

TIP 6 | Fuel policy

A Full to Full policy means that you’ll need to drop the car off with the same amount of fuel it had when you picked it up. You usually pick the car with the tank full and return it with the tank full. It’s easy for the customer, and for the company too. Full to full is the standard among car rental companies in Portugal, and it’s our prefered choice. Pre-paid gas tends to be a bad business for you. But make sure you understand your policy before you leave the pick-up location.

Another vital piece of information you should check before you leave the car rental premises is the type of fuel your vehicle uses. It is common practice to have a sticker on the inside of the tank lid showing the type of gas you should use. But, just in case, do ask!

On service stations (called postos in Portuguese) in Portugal you will find three types of gas:

  • gasolina 95, equivalent to Regular Unleaded.
  • gasolina 98, equivalent to Premium Unleaded.
  • Gasóleo, the Portuguese for Diesel.

Extra tip: If you need to fill your tank before returning the car, do some pre-trip research to locate a reasonable gas station close to the place where you will be returning your vehicle; service stations close to airports tend to charge prices well above the market average. What we usually do is to keep our eyes opened once we leave the rental agency to locate service stations nearby.

TIP 7 | Inspect the car before you start your road trip

At the hire car company premises, take a minute to walk around the car and check for any damage, outside or inside the car. It might be a good idea to take pictures of the car before you begin your trip.

In particular, you should look out for scratches on the outside of the car. If you spot any issues, do mention them so they are registered on the paperwork.

TIP 8 | Map your trip

It is not common for car rental companies to supply printed maps. In some locations, you might get a basic tourist map, but that will be all. Make sure you have gathered enough information for your trip, whether digital or in printed form. If you feel it will be of great advantage to you, rent a car equipped with a GPS device.

TIP 9 | Crossing borders

You might decide to visit Portugal and Spain on the same trip. Why not? Just make sure the car rental company allows for that.

TIP 10 | Compare rates

We are partners with rentalcars.com, the largest car rental comparison site in the world. Rentalcars.com belongs to the same group as Booking.com. Rentalcars.com compares rates across the main car rental agencies.

We use Rentalcars.com whenever we need to rent a car and our experience has always been top notch.


Any questions on car rental in Portugal?

We hope you liked our tips. If you have any questions or doubts on the issue of car rental in Portugal, please use the commentary box below.

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