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…
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.
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In the past years, 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.
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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.
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.
Note! For some reason, the main Portugal Tolls site (http://www.portugaltolls.com) seems to be intermittently onelin and offline. I’m not sure if it’s a permanent thing or server problems, however it was the primary source of legitimate government run info regarding Portugal Tolls on the internet. I’m leaving the links up with hope that the site comes back online for everyone.
What You Need To Know About Portugal’s Electronic Toll Roads:
- Electronic Toll roads and traditional Via Verde lanes are separate systems.
- 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.
- 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.
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.