Hi – you may have stumbled across this page looking for some useful and insightful information. I feel I should direct you back now to whichever fluffy animals you were watching on YouTube before you stumbled onto this…..just so you wouldn’t be disappointed.
This is just to recount some of my experiences with driving in Portugal, especially the difficulties around using the toll system.
Tolls in Portugal
Before we entered Portugal from Spain, I tried to research the routes that we might take in Portugal and how to avoid the toll roads as much as possible. The somewhat short response to that research is: use the tolls but just be mentally prepared to pay and not know what you’re paying for.
We entered Portugal on highway A22, travelling from Spain to Faro. The information I had read prior was that there would a toll point of sorts about 5-6km inside the Portuguese border where one needs to go and register for the electronic toll system. This must be done because some toll roads in Portugal don’t have manual booths and the car’s license plate has to be linked to a credit card to deduct any toll usage.
‘Electronic toll only’ means just that – no chance to pay at manual booths with cash or card. I was prepared to do this but lo and behold, we arrive to the booth directly after the border (not 5-6kms after as I was told before), I insert my credit card for linking with the car’s license plate and the machine says ‘card error’. No office open on Sundays (because Europeans and work on Sundays mix just like water and oil) and no alternatives that I know of.
Luckily there isn’t any traffic in the booth area and I reverse the car back onto the main road and we travel to Faro on N-125, the free national highway. By the way, the Portuguese law states that a free road must always closely parallel the toll road so that everyone can always travel from point A to point B for €0.00.
Generally, free roads in Portugal are designated in front by any letter other than ‘A’. N-125, E-1, IC-2 etc. If the road starts with ‘A’, its better to start preparing your coins…or applying for a loan in some cases.
So, back to the story. We arrive in Faro and I think I’ve missed my only chance to link my credit card at the border and therefore forfeit the opportunity to travel on all toll roads in Portugal. Wrong.
If you have a working SIM card in your phone and are able to send and receive text messages, the other option is go to any post office (CTT) in Portugal and buy a pre-paid card called a Toll Card. You can load variations of €5, €10, €20 onto the card and once its bought just follow the instructions on the back of the card and your car’s license plate is linked.
With this card, we travelled up and down the A22 in the Algarve region without any hassles and its relatively inexpensive for the time you save if you were using the congested and worn-down unpaid roads.
The toll amounts are displayed before the toll is deducted however from memory I don’t think you have a chance to exit between the warning and the result so this display could just be a courtesy!
Next part of the toll story: Via Verde. If you see that the road you’re travelling on says portagem, peaje, or toll but there is no ‘electronic-toll only’ icon, then the road is operated by Via Verde. These roads are easy to navigate because they operate with manual booths for cars with no special transponder. As casual tourists, there is no need to worry about a transponder, just pay as you go via cash or card on the manual booths.
Not so much fun is the amount you pay – we travelled from Castro Verde (about 1 hour and 50 minutes north of Faro without using toll roads) through to Lisbon using Via Verde A2 toll road and it cost us……drumroll…..€25.70 for that brief and not very scenic 2 hour drive. Additionally, the bridge into Lisbon is an additional €3.85 for a Class 2 vehicle, which unfortunately our Opel Mokka is a part of.
My takeaway from the toll story is that its still worth to pay the tolls due to the better signage around roads and the obviously quicker arrival to destination. The consensus was that on the free roads, the signage is very inconsistent at best and non-existent at worst. So if not using tolls in Portugal, its every man and woman for themselves.