The Ultimate Guide to Toll Roads in Portugal. What Every Traveler Should Know.

Days before driving into Portugal on a three week whirlwind tour that took us from Salamanca, Spain to Porto in the north down the coast to the Algarve region in the south, Micki and I were busy reading up on everything we could about the country.

We thought we knew everything we needed before entering Portugal. However, as we frantically searched around for a post office to pay some tolls we knew nothing about on the last day of our trip, we knew we obviously missed something important along the way. It seems, like countless others before us, we had misunderstood how the toll roads worked in Portugal…

EASYToll Sign As You Enter The Country

EASYToll Sign As You Enter Portugal

One of the biggest complaints from tourists entering Portugal these days revolves around Portugal’s new toll roads. Toll roads have existed in Portugal for years, but up until late 2012, they were all manned and drivers always had the option of paying the tolls as they went.

In the past year, electronic toll roads have sprung up everywhere in Portugal. Unlike the old tolls, simply paying the toll as you go isn’t an option. These new unmanned tolls are completely electronic and if you don’t pay up, the fines can add up quickly.

As of right now, there are two main types of toll collection for roads in Portugal. Via Verde lanes on the traditional toll roads and Electronic Toll roads.

Via Verde Sign

Via Verde Sign

The older, traditional toll roads, chiefly encountered around the bigger centers has what is called a Via Verde (Green Lane). These toll lanes are well marked with large green slanted V signs. The ones we drove through were always on the left however that might not be the case for all of them.

Currently, any place you see a Via Verde lane, you can pay in the other lanes as you go (using bills, coins, credit cards or prepaid cards) for each leg you travel.

In order for you to use a Via Verde lane, you must buy or temporarily rent an electronic transponder that is prepaid and gets debited every time you drive through the Via Verde toll lane.

Do not use this lane unless you have a Via Verde Transponder.

 

Portugal Electronic Tolls Sign

Electronic Tolls Sign

The new toll road system is known simply as Electronic Tolls. These toll roads aren’t as well marked and many people won’t even realize they are driving on them until they pass underneath a huge array of cameras.

The sign for the Electronic Tolls is a dark car with three circular beams expanding toward it. Practically every new major highway in Portugal is now an electronic toll road and though you can still bypass nearly all of them, it’s getting harder to get around the country without driving on one.

These toll roads do not have any toll booths and can’t be paid for as you go.

Problems with Electronic Tolls

As soon as these new electronic toll roads were introduced, they quickly became the bane of the tourist industry in Portugal and various political groups are trying to to get them removed. We met a lot of people from around the country that blame the new tolls for the steady decline of people driving into Portugal. With not a lot of information available, I can understand a dislike of the tolls.

If you’re are feeling reluctant to drive into Portugal or are flying in and want to rent a vehicle, know this: It’s not really that huge of a cost or hassle, assuming you understand the system.

Our final tally of Electronic Tolls after three weeks of driving from one end of the country to the other in a rental car only came to 30 Euro. We paid nearly that much in one stretch of Spain so the cost is not that bad considering the quality of the roads you get to drive on and the speed in which you can get around the country. The biggest problem is that there are a few things you need to know before going there.

There are two great resources on the web in regards to the tolls. I won’t rewrite everything since they provide lots of useful information and I’ll list them both at the end of this post. The problem with them is that neither list the following notes. These can save you a headache and after all that deliciously sweet Port wine, it would be a shame to leave the country on a sour note.

What You Need To Know About Portugal’s Electronic Toll Roads:

  1. Electronic Toll roads and traditional Via Verde lanes are separate systems.
  2. Via Verde devices will work on Electronic Toll Roads however the EASYToll, TOLLCard and TOLLService will not work in Via Verde lanes. I repeat, EASYToll, TOLLCard and TOLLService will not work in Via Verde lanes. They’re completely independent systems. This is the one that slipped us up since we thought we could use our EASYTolls prepaid receipt in the Via Verde lanes. Turns out you can’t.
  3. The easiest option for foreign visitors driving into the country from Spain is the EASYToll option. If you’re driving in via highway A-25 (E-80) from Salamanca, just keep driving as you cross the border into Portugal. About five kilometers in (we thought we must have missed it) and well past the little border town there are huge signs and directions to the EASYToll dispenser (it looks a little like a vending machine) just off the highway (close to a gas station). After pulling into the station we turned around and drove up to the EASYToll booth. We dropped in our credit card and the ticket instantly popped out with our license plate already on the ticket. It was incredibly easy to do, it lasts for 30 days and can be cancelled via their site as you leave the country.

    EASYToll Dispenser

    EASYToll Dispenser

  4. If you’re only driving in Portugal for the weekend or for three days, then the €20 unlimited use TOLLService is a decent deal. With it you can drive on any of the Electronic Toll highways (excluding the Via Verde toll roads) for the set price. You can also buy the card with cash at numerous locations around the country.
  5. The TOLLCard is a great way to purchase credits using cash for the Electronic Toll roads without having to use a credit card. The only real drawbacks to the TOLLCard is that you might leave the country with unused credit (which would be a waste of money) or you might need to top it up as you go. You also need to text (sms) the card number and the license plate with a cellphone to the Portuguese number on the card. This requires a cellphone that works in Portugal and perhaps the additional cost of a text to Portugal.
  6. If you haven’t prepaid on the Electronic Toll highways and don’t have a Via Verde transponder, you might get stopped and either get fined or have to instantly pay for a toll ticket. The highways are aggressively monitored and we’ve already heard lots of stories (like this account from our friends at Wagoner’s Abroad) of these drive by ticketers (not police officers but they can issue tickets). They’re especially common on Highway A-22 in the southern Algarve region and Highway A-25 in the north coming in from Salamanca. Both highways are the main entrances/exits to Spain and where the greatest amount of visitors enter the country.
  7. Via Verde devices can be bought or rented at any CTT Post Office in the country as well as all Via Verdes stores and many service areas. The service centers are usually contained within a toll route and allow you to rent the device with cash. There’s a weekly rental cost (currently 6 Euro the first week and 1.5 Euro each week after plus a refundable deposit). The rental is only valid for 90 days unless recharged before that time.
  8. Via Verde devices can also be used to pay at certain gas stations, on Atlantic Ferries and certain car parks throughout Portugal.
  9. Prepayment isn’t the only way you can pay for driving on an Electronic Tolls highway. If you haven’t bought a ticket you can pay at any CTT post office in the country after the fact. The problem is that sometimes it takes a few days for the bill to show up (it will be linked to the car’s license plate) and also that nearly every post office in Portugal is closed on Sundays. This means that if you’re driving out of the country on a Sunday and haven’t prepaid, you’re still not going to be able to pay. You also only have five business days to make the payment before it turns into a fine. There’s also a small administrative fee for each leg traveled if you pay this way. Supposedly it’s only allowed for Portuguese registered cars, however we’ve seen numerous posts saying otherwise. Probably not the best choice and I only include it here as a last resort if you’ve mistakenly driven one of the roads and didn’t pre-purchase a ticket.
  10. Fines are currently 10 times the amount of the toll if you don’t pay up. Since every Electronic Toll highway is outfitted with dozens of cameras, the chance of them not noticing you is about zero. That being said, we’ve read more than a few accounts boldly stating that if you have a license plate from another country they can’t make you pay. This is completely word of mouth and could change any day so I personally wouldn’t risk it. If you rented a vehicle in Portugal, you’re flat out of luck. The ticket will just get sent to the rental office and they will charge your credit card accordingly.
  11. Toll Roads displaying the Via Verde sign still have manned booths where you can pay per leg, but a lot of people we talked to have said that Portugal plans on going cashless everywhere eventually. How this system will work is still up for debate, but they will probably follow the electronic toll example. It’s also still unclear when, if ever, the two toll systems will totally merge. At this point, it’s being handled by two different divisions in the government so it might never happen.
  12. Many rental car companies in Portugal have Via Verde transponders pre-installed in their cars and many even have deals in place with the Electronic Toll routes. Make sure you ask the company you’re renting with how their systems work with both toll systems in Portugal. You definitely don’t want to be paying double if you’re already being charged by the rental company!
  13. As far as we could find, no rental car companies outside of Portugal have any deals with Portugal Toll payments. This means that if you don’t pay your toll you could be charged the fine via the credit card linked with your car rental. This is very common with Spain rentals and speed violations while in Spain however I’ve never heard of a toll charged for outside the country. This could change any time so you have been warned.

Here’s the official site of Portugal Tolls. Click on the Foreign Vehicles link to see the site in English.

Another great link for information on Portugal’s tolls is Visit Portugal.

If you want to find out more about Via Verde, you can follow the link to the Via Verde homepage.

 

33 Responses

    • Charles Kosman

      Heidi, we knew we would be doing a post on Portugal’s toll roads the moment we drove into the country and couldn’t immediately find the Electronic Tolls booth. Whatever info we found out there before driving on their roads seemed to leave a few things out.

      Hope you don’t mind that I linked to your post since I think between both of ours people should be able to find what they need and your story about the ticket guys chasing you down is hilarious.

      Hope you guys are doing well!

      Reply
    • Charles Kosman

      Cat, we were quite shocked how much the tolls were as we drove from Seville down to Gibraltar then back up to Malaga and then eventually North towards Valencia. We probably should have taken a few of the free smaller roads however we were pressed for time and Cole was having issues with winding roads around then. It was definitely more expensive than Portugal yet we didn’t read too many people complaining about the tolls compared to Portugal. Oh well, live and learn!

      Reply
    • Charles Kosman

      Larissa, every traveler eventually does something similar that costs them more than they expected. Doesn’t matter how many hours you plan, research or budget for there are always things that catch you off guard. Years ago, we once had to retrace 300 kilometers because I forgot a pair of glasses on the sink in the hotel we stayed. Another time we ran out of gas 20 kilometers from the nearest small town. I think it’s those circumstances that provide some of the best travel stories. At least, once your home. ;)

      Reply
    • Charles Kosman

      Toll roads suck no matter which way you slice it. We’re definitely sheltered from them compared to Europe. I don’t even mind having to stop every now and again but the nickels and dimes start to add up and renting a car rather than taking a train or bus can end up being more than you expected. One nice thing about most toll roads is that they are some of the quickest and smoothest roads you’ll ever travel. Of course, that usually means they’re boring as well. :)

      Reply
    • Charles Kosman

      Yup, European toll roads definitely come with a hefty price tag. Nice and smooth though. They’re also remarkably empty compared to the smaller roads.

      Reply
    • Charles Kosman

      Mary, driving in Portugal was some of the craziest I’ve ever done. We literally had to fold the mirrors in at times to drive down some of the older alleyways. More than once I had to reverse over a block just so the oncoming car had enough room to pass by. I will give them credit for their parking abilities though. Of course, that’s the reason why nearly every car has numerous scrapes on their bumpers…

      Reply
  1. Julie Dawn Fox

    It’s really useful to hear about your experience of the Easy Toll system. I live in Portugal and have recently caved in and bought a Via Verde device to get around the headache of paying for the electronic tolls at the post office.

    One thing I’d like to clarify in your article is about the Via Verde – it isn’t a type of toll road, it’s just a way of paying your toll. On the older motorways, drivers have the option of paying their toll at a manned or unmanned booth or, if (and only if) they have a Via Verde electronic device which connects their car registration with their bank account, they can avoid having to stop their car to pay and just drive through the toll gate, knowing that their bank account will be debited eventually.

    The Via Verde devices work on both the electronic tolls and the ‘normal’ toll roads. The Easy Toll system is only for electronic toll roads. If you want to use the older toll roads, you’ll need to pay separately because you’re not registered with Via Verde.

    You can hire a Via Verde device if it suits your travel plans better e.g. you’re staying longer or making frequent visits to Portugal. Otherwise, it’s probably better to go with Easy Toll.

    For more tips about actually driving in Portugal, you can check out my site.
    Julie Dawn Fox recently posted..How and when to explore the Douro valleyMy Profile

    Reply
    • Charles Kosman

      Thanks for the heads up Julie. While we were in Portugal we kept getting mixed messages from the locals and more than one person told us directly that the two systems weren’t interchangeable. While researching this post I also looked around and found another site that completely contradicted what you wrote. The reason I wrote the post in the first place was because there was so much confusion around the toll roads even for the locals.

      I reread the main sites again just now and it seems you’re right! You can use the Via Verde devices on the electronic toll roads. You just can’t use the EasyToll Passes in the Via Verde lanes on the traditional toll roads (which is what we ended up doing). Strange, I never noticed that when I wrote this however I’ll update the post with the relevant information. Thanks for setting it straight and I hope you’re enjoying living in Portugal. It’s a great country.

      Reply
  2. Julie Dawn Fox

    To be honest, I think you did a great job of sifting through the confusing and conflicting information. Like you say, it’s confusing enough for people who live here so visitors are left even more baffled. The Easy Toll system sounds great, as long as you’re entering Portugal at one of the appropriate points.

    Whatever option people choose, the point is that it needs to be researched and planned in advance to avoid unpleasant surprises and inconveniences.

    It was a poorly thought out toll system – when it was first introduced, there was no way for foreign-registered cars to pay. At least now it’s a little bit more organised even if it’s not much clearer!

    Toll roads aside, I love living in Portugal ;)
    Julie Dawn Fox recently posted..Where to eat and drink in Coimbra, central PortugalMy Profile

    Reply
  3. Marianne

    Hi Charles – it was me that sent the link to your site to Julie Dawn Fox. I was asking her about the toll system as I got a bit confused with conflicting information, but now, thanks to the chat between the two of you, I think I have got it straighter in my mind. :)

    We are going to be driving into Portugal from our home in Spain in the next couple of weeks – so time will tell if I’ve understood or not!

    Great resource :)
    Marianne recently posted..All the fun of the Ferias!My Profile

    Reply
    • Charles Kosman

      Hi Marianne. Thanks for double checking! I rewrote the information about Via Verde and changed some of the info to try to make it a little clearer. If you’re driving into Portugal for only a set amount of time just stop at the first EASYToll station and grab the EASYToll pass with a credit card. Automatically associates it with your license plate and you’re good up to 30 days on any electronic toll roads.

      Here are the main highway entry points with the EASYToll machines. They have them on every major road into Portugal.

      A28 – Viana do Castelo; A24 – Chaves; A25 – Vilar Formoso; A22 – Vila Real de Santo António

      Whenever you see a “traditional” tollroad (you’ll see big Via Verde signs leading up to it whereas an electronic toll road you probably won’t even realize you’re on) just stop and pay the toll from the manned tollbooth. Simple as that.

      After you leave Portugal, if it isn’t your car (say you rented it in Spain for the trip) go to this site and scroll to the bottom and cancel the pass so it no longer associates your credit card to that license plate.

      Alternatively you can stop at a CTT post office or the first service station you see with a Via Verde sign and rent a Via Verde transponder tag. Costs a bit more up front and more to worry about (you have to return it before leaving the country) however then you can breeze through any toll in the country without having to stop.

      I prefer the first option myself due to it’s simplicity and the amount of times you have to stop at a Via Verde tollbooth shouldn’t be a big deal on a simple trip since they’re mostly found on the outskirts of the major cities.

      Have fun in Portugal. It’s a great place to visit.

      Reply
  4. Julie Dawn Fox

    Hi Charles, I’ve just read your updated information and I don’t mean to be picky but I think it would be better to avoid referring to the traditional / manned toll roads as Via Verde roads. As I mentioned before, Via Verde is merely a payment collection system for people who have a particular electronic device fitted in their cars, not a type of motorway or toll road. If you have a Via Verde device, you can just drive through without stopping.

    If you drive through the Via Verde lane on a traditional toll road without a Via Verde device, you won’t have a ticket and will be forced to pay for the entire length of the motorway at the other end. I know this because it happened to me once and I had to pay about 50 euros.

    If you haven’t got a Via Verde device DO NOT use the Via Verde lane. Avoid it like the plague and head to a booth to make your payment.
    Julie Dawn Fox recently posted..Lisbon’s metro stations are an underground art galleryMy Profile

    Reply
    • Charles Kosman

      Hi Julie. I realize that Via Verde is only a payment system for the traditional toll roads (amongst other things) however it’s also one of the best signs to know that a traditional toll is approaching. I’ll redo that first instance to make it more clear to any readers.

      I’ll also definitely highlight the “don’t drive in the Via Verde lane” if you don’t have a Via Verde device. That’s a good reminder for sure.

      As to your ticket that really sucks and we’ve heard of more than one instance of people losing their ticket stub and paying the maximum fare. That being said, we did manage to drive through those lanes 3 times without a ticket (we thought the EASYToll covered it). The difference was that we didn’t stop at a manned booth at the toll exit. Hence the reason for this post and the 3 months of waiting for a big fine that never appeared. (Probably had to do with having an outside the country rental car.)

      What annoys me the most is that they can capture the license plate and send a fine however they can’t look at the EASYToll database, match the license plate to our credit card and just charge us accordingly. Hopefully one day the two systems will be better linked.

      Thanks for the attention to detail.

      Reply
  5. Giuseppe

    They should close down this company. The system is very murky and very very very bad for tourism in Portugal. I have written several times to them for having been overcharged without getting any HONEST answer to my case. Avoid Portugal Tollcard highway if you can.

    Reply
  6. ruth

    Good tips here, easily understood. We have been going to Portugal since the electronic tolls were implemented and have used Portuguese plated (rental ) cars and paid at the post office three days after incurring the fine, be aware that some of the low cost rental companies leave you to sort out your own tolls and do not rent a transponder. We have managed several ways…get a neighbour to pay for tolls incurred on the way to the airport, using the reg no. at the local post office, on another occasion we paid the rental company the tolls, and another time I paid online.

    We have also come in our own Uk cars. First time there was no system in place and we never did pay for any of the tolls.The next we bought a 30 day card which was the only option offered. This expired after 30days and we were unable to renew it (phone number for helpline was unobtainable!!) We ran up more tolls and were unable to pay…the post office would not take the money for foreign cars and after fruitless attempts to get advice, we gave up.

    THIS time we intend to get a TOLLCARD and, hopefully will be legal for the entire trip! It is a bit of a logistic nightmare!

    Reply
  7. Arno

    Hi guys,

    I used a rental car from “BudgetRentACar” last week. I asked the guy at the office about the ViaVerde transponder. He told me it was pre-intalled in the car… And yes it was there..

    The problem:
    When i returned the car i asked him how to pay the toll registered by ViaVerde. He told me I never rented the transponder from them and it was impossible for me to use it because I didn’t sign the contract (that i never got). Interesting thing is that in the ViaVerde lanes the lights where green when passing through and toll charges were displayed correctly…

    Does anybody now how this will go futher? Offcourse i wil pay the toll used but wast the trasponder at that time working?? Or wil i get a (lot of !!) fines?

    Reply
    • Charles Kosman

      Arno, I think it depends on the rental company. When we went through a few Via Verde lanes thinking it was attached to our Tollcard, the lights stayed red (it was our first wake up call that something wasn’t right). So it would seem that your transponder was working. I’m guessing that Budget will get charged the amount and then pass it on to you as an extra charge on your credit card. Whether they bill you an extra charge for the inconvenience is up to them.

      Since the car is registered to Budget, if the transponder wasn’t actually working they will get the fine(s) from the government and then mail you the ticket(s). You will have around 30 days to pay it from the day Budget get’s it, not you, or the fine will double. Not very fair however we know a few people who this happened to.

      I would say to read the fine print in your contract to see if they mention it. If you’re still in Portugal (and know the vehicle license number, should be on your contract) you could go into a CTT post office and try to pay the amount there before it becomes a fine. You have 3 days to a week to pay it I believe. If there’s nothing in the system then it was probably charged to the transponder and now it’s in Budgets hands.

      As a last resort you can call Budget and explain your situation to see what they say about it. Otherwise, I suggest you do like the ostriches do, put your head down and hope nothing crazy comes flying at you! ;)

      Post back here in a month or two and let us know what happened! I think Portugal has the most confusing toll collection system I’ve ever come across. They need to combine the two systems and allow you to do all transactions (including paying) online or in person with reasonable time frames to do it all before a fine is even considered. Good luck!

      Reply
  8. Alexander

    Thank you very much for sharing this very helpful post!
    The Portuguese toll policy has unfortunately led to a two class society when it comes to driving. A greater part of the Portuguese population cannot afford to use the highways because of the toll system. And that leads to more and more pollution in smaller towns and other negative consequences.
    Alexander recently posted..Der Zauber Portugals oder ein Abend mit Annegret HeinoldMy Profile

    Reply
    • Ray Vogensen

      A good article, but the information given only applies to those foreigners who enter Portugal by rented vehicles. I have been living here for many years and I use an electronic toll road all the time–between Chaves and Vila Real, in the north. I of course, being practical and a resident, have a transponder from Via Verde in my car and I have any tolls deducted from my bank account every month. Nevertheless, the problem arises with those who enter the country with non Portuguese license plates. Some of them actually pay but, according to one site http://www.ionline.pt/artigos/dinheiro/cinco-cada-seis-estrangeiros-nao-pagam-nas-scut, five out of six cars do not pay and nothing every happens. You see, the system can identify a foreign license plate but no one is going to send a letter to someone in Finland, Czech Republic, or even to nearby Spain to try to collect the money. Firstly, the information about the driver will not be available to the Portuguese authorities, and secondly they have no way to collect even if they have the information. The result is that the foreign registered cars pay only if they want to. The idiots who designed the system apparently never thought about the foreign cars, who in some parts of the country–near Chaves for example–make up more that 50% of the vehicle traffic. There must be a reason why Portugal is the only country in Europe that has electronic tolls without the second option of paying at a booth. If there is another country I would love to find out.

      Reply

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