Transport and Driving in Portugal
Expats who plan on travelling within Portugal have a number of options available to them. Generally, those residing in Portuguese cities such as Lisbon, Faro and Porto will find that having a car is unnecessary unless they want to travel to other parts of the country.
Trains in Portugal are a comfortable and efficient way to travel between cities. However, train travel will require some forward planning because services do not operate at such frequent intervals. The bus network is far more comprehensive and covers areas located inland.
Expats living in rural Portugal or in the Algarve tend to own cars. While Portugal's road infrastructure is modern, there are some driving conditions that new expat drivers may take some time getting accustomed to.
Public transport in Portugal
Portugal's capital city, Lisbon, and other urban hubs such as Porto have modern transport networks comprising of trains, buses, trams and metro systems.
However, at the national level, public transportation in Portugal is not as extensive as expats would find in other European countries. The railway network in Portugal is limited, which leaves just one option for those without a private vehicle: intercity buses.
The rail network in Portugal, run by Comboios de Portugal (CP), is somewhat limited.
While travelling by train in Portugal is often slightly faster than the equivalent bus journey, most trains only serve to connect the major cities such as Lisbon, Porto, Faro, Gaia and Aveiro to one another.
Suburban rail services cover the areas surrounding Lisbon and Porto reasonably well but are limited elsewhere in the country. Commuters using trains in Portugal find the services to be relatively efficient and comfortable. As trains are not very frequent it is best to make a reservation well in advance.
There are some intercity trains that travel to the interior of the country and serve towns such as Evora, Beja and Guarda. However, most railway routes follow Portugal’s Atlantic coastline.
Trains in Portugal tend to operate less frequently and are more expensive than intercity buses. However, rail fares are still much more reasonably priced than one would find elsewhere in Europe. It is possible to purchase tickets online or in person at any train station in Portugal.
Due to the country’s limited rail network, many of those who need to travel nationally in Portugal prefer to use intercity buses.
While travelling by bus in Portugal may take a little longer, bus routes tend to be more extensive and cover places that lie off the beaten track.
Bus fares in Portugal are also reasonably priced, especially in comparison to those elsewhere in Europe. Rede Nacional de Expressos is the country’s largest intercity bus company and has routes that cover the length and breadth of the country. Buses are relatively frequent and on busier routes, there will be a service departing every 45 minutes to an hour.
Driving in Portugal
Generally, road conditions in Portugal are good, especially on the motorways that connect major cities. However, there are secondary roads in rural areas of Portugal where driving conditions can be dangerous.
There is a unified electronic toll paying system in Portugal. This system, Via Verde, allows cars to pass through the toll without having to stop and the cost of the journey will be debited directly from the user's account.
It will probably take some time for expats to get used to interacting with Portuguese drivers. It's important to drive defensively as local drivers tend to be erratic at times. The Portuguese government has taken steps to alleviate the problems associated with aggressive driving by introducing harsh punishments for those caught speeding, driving without a valid licence and those driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.
Expats should be aware that maps of Portugal can vary, and can therefore be difficult to follow. Road signage is not always clear and can end suddenly, leaving drivers wondering if they are still heading in the right direction. GPS is improving in areas surrounding major Portuguese cities. However, those using GPS devices should ensure they have a map to use for cross-referencing, as many towns, villages and streets in Portugal have the same name.
Air travel in Portugal
Domestic flights in Portugal are relatively expensive and therefore not many people fly within the country itself. Portugal’s main airports are in Lisbon, Faro, Porto, Funchal (Madeira) and Ponta Delgada (Azores).