However practical we find this country’s public transportation, the day may come when we wish to rent a car and that requires a Portuguese driver’s license. Also, if we ever intend to drive outside out the country, we’ll need an international driver’s license and that also requires a DL from Portugal. This blog discusses the process to obtain both of these important documents.
Once we moved to Portugal our Georgia licenses became invalid since we were no longer residents of the state, besides the fact that eventually they would expire and we would have no way to renew them). To obtain a license here we needed to exchange our Georgia DLs at the IMT (Instituto do Mobilidade e Transportes, their department of motor vehicles).
A few cautionary notes:
After establishing residency in Portugal, non-EU citizens have a period of 186 days to obtain a Portuguese driver’s license, or face a fine if they are caught driving. As Americans, we have the option of exchanging our U.S. driver’s license for a Cartão de Condução as long as we do it within the 90 days after establishing residency (based on the date found on your residence permit). If you miss this window, it is necessary to take a class at a driving school, plus a written and driving exam, all in Portuguese.
There are several items that must be acquired before you make that trip to IMT. You will need:
So let's break these down, starting with #2:
You need to obtain a certified copy of your driving record from the state that issued your U.S. license. It is best to get this document prior to leaving the States and the copy will also require an Apostille. More about what an Apostille is in our “Some Yak Shaving Required” blog post.
If you don’t already have a NIF (Número de Identificação), get one. You will need this number to open your bank account, and will use it when dining out, the grocery store, for nearly all retail purchases. We have an entire blog about this as well.
The Utente (health service user number) is required for a number of reasons, one of which is to allow us to have a medical exam prior to going to IMT. There was no actual physical examination required, just a meeting with a doctor. To have this meeting, you need to be registered at SNS (Serviço Nacional de Saúde) and have a Número Utente in order to get the Atestado Médico.
It took a couple of tries but we finally found an office that would issue us our Utentes. Apparently, there is a cap on the number of patients that each center can service. The center just a block away from where we live could not issue us numbers, so we ended going to a clinic a couple of kilometers away.
Armed with our Utentes, we went to a local private hospital to get our medical exams (Atestado Médico para a Cartão de Condução). As mentioned earlier, there was no health exam per se, or even an eye test, just a form that would be electronically submitted to the IMT that indicates you met with a doctor. There is a charge for these documents: Harold paid 20€ and Jana 40€. We’re not sure why the difference in pricing, but it might have been related to him being over 65, or our private medical insurance coverage limits.
After you have all your documents in order, you’ll head off to your local IMT office and remember to pack something to read as the wait at IMT is not a quick one. Once you’re onsite, go to the ticket machine and select Cartão de Condução. Then gaze eagerly at the overhead screen until your number appears, then proceed to the appropriate desk. The person there may or may not speak English.
Pro Tip: Do read the screen carefully to ensure it’s your number being called as sometimes they’ll jump back to service a previous customer who has completed some required paperwork or needs a photo. Yes, we learned this lesson the hard way on a subsequent IMT visit.
Your documents will be checked by the IMT employee, and once they’re sure everything is in order, you’ll have your photo taken and you’ll provide an electronic signature for the actual license. For us, the process took about 90 minutes. In the case of Porto, it’s best to get to the office right as they open (9 a.m.) and even then there are at least 40-50 people in line. Not all of those are there for driver’s licenses (thank heavens), but it does make for a crowd. If you wait too much later, you’ll be there for many, many hours. So go early.
One other thing: you will NOT get your U.S. license returned as you are officially exchanging it for a Portuguese one. Once you receive your license in the mail, your original U.S. license will be returned to the DMV that issued it. In our case, that’ll be Georgia.
When you leave IMT, you will have a temporary (paper) license that will expire in 60 days. Hopefully you will receive your actual plastic license card within that time, or it is necessary to return to IMT and wait in line to get another temporary license if you need to drive. We’d expected it to take some time for our cards to arrive, but they came a lot quicker than we’d expected and we had our actual license cards well within the 60 day period. Others have reported a dramatically different experience.
For younger folks, the driver’s licenses are good for 15 years, or up until you are 65 years old. During the year you turn 60, things change and the terms of the licenses are much shorter. After 60, licenses are good for 5 years, and after age 70, they are only good for 2 years. And once again, when you renew that license you will need another Atestado Médico which is only good for 6 months.
IMT also will issue an international driver’s license, which requires their specific form, a color photo and a valid Portuguese license. And of course, another 30€. These are good for one year and you must carry your Portuguese license with you when you drive in another country.
Another Pro Tip: If you’re driving out of the country before you receive your permanent license, the temporary (paper) license will grant you an international one, but it will only be good until that temporary license expires (60 days). Also 30€.
You can obtain an international license from ACP (an auto club) however it's 50€ for the same one you get for 30€ at IMT. There is, however, a lot less waiting time.
As always, to get your driver's license requires all the proper paperwork, a mellow attitude and you’ll get that license taken care of. (Much like in the U.S.)
Harold is a former software engineer. Jana is an author. Together they're exploring their new life in Portugal.