If you’re from the United States, Canada, Israel, or parts of Asia, you may be used to driving an automatic car. In Portugal, and in almost all of Europe, however, most people drive manual cars. This means that car rental companies tend to mainly stock manual cars rather than automatic ones.
That’s not to say that you can’t rent an automatic car in Portugal: you definitely can. Most of the large car rental companies like Hertz, Sixt, Europcar, Enterprise, and Alamo usually have several automatic cars in their fleet in each major Portuguese city (Lisbon, Porto, Faro, Funchal, etc.) but, as an estimate, 70-80% of cars will be manuals.
This means that…
There will only be a limited number of automatics available
Although you can rent an automatic car at most destinations in Portugal, there are one a limited number of automatic cars available. The cheapest ones get snapped up pretty quickly and, during the summer months, eventually even the most expensive options can sell out.
It’s a good idea to book in advance
Because there are only a limited number of automatic cars in Portugal, and because the cheaper cars go fast, you should book your rental car as soon as you know your travel dates. You may even be able to book as soon as you have tentative dates: some sites like rentalcars.com will allow you to cancel or change your dates at no extra cost.
It’s worth comparing the comparison sites to find a good deal
There are quite a few sites that compare car rental companies to find the best deals, and it’s worth comparing a few of them before booking your trip.
Some of the most popular sites are:
If you can’t find an automatic that matches your needs and budget, there are a couple of Plan B options.
Do you really need a car for your trip to Portugal? If you’re mainly visiting cities like Lisbon and Porto, you might not actually need one. Driving in most Portuguese cities is often quite difficult and stressful, and really better avoided. Most cities have good public transport options, and are usually so small that it’s possible to walk everywhere.
Outside of Lisbon, you may need a car but it really depends on what you’re using it for. If it’s just a case of getting you from A to B, you may not need it. Public transport, transfers, taxis and ubers are all available, along with the option of hiring a driver for a day or half a day.
If you’re planning on doing a lot of sight-seeing outside of the cities, then a car might be a good idea. Public transport in Portugal is great for getting from city to city, but isn’t great for getting to attractions like the beach or countryside.
Learn to drive a manual car
Another option would be learning to drive a manual car before you go to Portugal. Many driving schools in the US, for example, offer lessons in driving “stick shift” as well as driving an automatic. This could be a good option, particularly if you’re planning to visit Europe again in the future.