Using the toll roads is the fastest way to get around Portugal: a drive from Lisbon to Albufeira, for example, would take just under 2 and a half hours on the toll roads but around 3 and a half hours on the non-toll roads.
Speed isn’t everything, though, especially if you’re not in a rush to get anywhere. Driving on the non-toll roads you’re more likely to stop off at interesting towns and cities, and to see slices of Portuguese life that you aren’t likely to see on the toll roads. Of course, sometimes you just want to get from A to B. If that’s the case, this guide will explain how the toll system works in Portugal.
There are two types of toll roads in Portugal: toll roads that are entirely electronic and those that allow other types of payment as well (cash and card).
(Be sure to also read the guide on driving in Portugal, which covers different rules and tips for staying safe and making the most of your time in Portugal).
Mixed toll roads (electronic tolls and cash/card payments)
Let’s start with the mixed toll roads because they’re the easiest to understand. There are only two things that you need to know about the mixed toll road.
Via Verde lanes
There are usually one or two lanes that are marked ‘Via Verde’. To use these lanes, you need an electronic transponder in your car. Otherwise, you should go through the normal lanes.
If you’re renting the car, your car rental company will be able to rent you a transponder. If it’s your own car, you can either purchase one or rent one.
It’s very easy to go through the Via Verde lanes accidently. If you do this, you won’t have a ticket, and you’re liable for a fine. You can either exit through the Via Verde lanes and wait for it to catch up with you, or you can try and get assistance there and then.
Have a backup payment
The second thing that you need to know is that non-Portuguese debit and credit cards don’t always work in the toll machines. For this reason, it’s a good idea to carry more than one card or ideally some cash as well. Don’t worry if you forget: most of the petrol stations have an ATM inside the shop.
Electronic toll roads
The electronic toll roads, for example the A22 in the Algarve, are a lot more confusing particularly when it comes to paying for them. You don’t take a ticket. Instead, the cameras record your number plate and the system calculates how much you owe.
You won’t be able to pay straight away, though. After 48 hours (excluding weekends), your journey should show up in the system and you’ll be able to pay your bill then. You need to pay for your journey within 5 days.
Depending on your car, there are a few different ways that you can pay for your journey. It’s a good idea to read through this before using the motorway, so you can decide whether you actually want to use it.
(One payment option that isn’t mentioned below is Payshops such as newsagents and shops. Although you can pay your tolls here, it’s actually better to pay in the Post Office. The reason being that the system in the Post Office knows your exact journey and the exact amount you need to pay. The machines in newsagents don’t actually know how much you owe, so they just charge you the maximum amount. There have also been some stories of people paying at the newsagent, but the payment not being processed properly and the customer later receiving fines for not paying on time.)
Driving your own car on the electronic toll roads (Portuguese registration plate)
There are three ways of paying for the tolls if you have a car with Portuguese plates:
- You can either pay afterwards at the Post Office
- You can pay online.
- You can pay at the multibanco
Paying online is definitely the easiest way of doing things. Simply head to the portagems payment page on ctt.pt and enter your licence plate number, phone number, and NIF. You’ll then need to login to your internet banking and send the money using the reference provided.
The Multibanco system follows the same steps except, rather than using your online banking to pay, you head to the ATM and pay there using the reference provided.
To pay at the Post Office, all you have to do is give over your vehicle’s licence plate details.
Driving your own car on the electronic toll roads (foreign registration plate)
You may be driving your own, foreign reg, car if you’re driving to Portugal or living here as an expat. If you have a non-Portuguese car, things are slightly more complicated: if you drive a non-Portuguese car on the toll roads, you can’t actually pay for your journey (either online or at the Post Office).
Some people just drive on the toll roads anyway, and many have been doing this for years without ever receiving a bill. If you’re more cautious, however, there are a couple of things that you can do.
You can either:
- Buy PAYG credit to use your car on the toll roads (note: you can only do this before going on the roads, not after).
- Register your car at any easytoll station (you can see a list of Easytoll stations here).
Driving a rental car on the electronic toll roads (Portuguese registration plate)
If you want to drive a rental car on the A22, the easiest thing to do is to hire a transponder device to go in the car. Most car rental companies charge €1-2 per day for this device, but it means that
Driving a rental car on the electronic toll roads (foreign registration plate)
If you’re driving a rental car from another country on the Portuguese toll roads, your options are the same as those given for driving your own car: you can either not register the car and hope nothing happens, you can register at an Easytoll station, or you can buy PAYG credit.
It’s probably not a good idea to cross your fingers and hope nothing happens when it comes to a rental car. Not only do you run the risk of eventually getting a fine from the Portuguese toll authorities, but the car rental company are likely to add an “admin” charge as well.