Can I drive in Portugal as a 2-year UK resident with a California Driver's License?
August 6, 2012 11:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm an American with a current California driver's license. I've been living in the UK for over a year, so I can't drive here without getting a UK license. I'm going to Portugal next month. Can I legally drive there?

I've been having a hard time finding the information I need. If I can't get by with my CA license, is there anything I can do in the next 4 weeks to be able to legally drive my friend's car (and/or a rental car) in Portugal?
posted by iamkimiam to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total)
I had to get an "International Driver's Permit" to drive around in Spain, which worked in conjunction with my CA license, and covered a bunch of countries in Europe and elsewhere (see the box on the bottom as well). Supposedly, it works in the UK as well. You kind of need to get it from the AAA, but according to the info on the linked page, there's a way to get it if you're already overseas.
posted by LionIndex at 11:49 AM on August 6, 2012

Yes, you can. For 185 days. More info here.
posted by chavenet at 11:50 AM on August 6, 2012

The answers above are not really correct, I think.

As far as I know, the 6 month thing and chavenet's page is directed to residents of Portugal. You're merely a visitor. And you're not a visitor from the US. You're a visitor from the UK.

Do the same rules apply to EU residents without valid EU licenses? I believe thats what iamkimiam is asking.
posted by vacapinta at 12:00 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

kickingtheground's link is good, but here it is a little more specific:
U.S. citizen visitors to Portugal may drive with a valid U.S. driver's license for up to six months. For international driving permits, please contact AAA or the National Auto Club. Please also refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

For specific information concerning Portuguese driver's permits, road safety, vehicle inspection and mandatory insurance, please contact the Portuguese National Tourist Office located in the U.S. by telephone at (800) 767-8842 or visit the website for the Institute of Mobility and Land Transport.
posted by carsonb at 12:09 PM on August 6, 2012

FWIW, the US State Department's page listing Country Specific Travel Information is an excellent resource for Americans traveling abroad.
We provide information on every country in the world. For each country, you will find information like the location of the U.S. embassy and any consular offices; whether you need a visa; crime and security information; health and medical conditions; drug penalties; and localized hot spots. This is a good place to start learning about where you are going.
posted by carsonb at 12:12 PM on August 6, 2012

vacapinta has outlined the problem much better than I did in my original question. Thanks for the links so far, people! Anything else to shed light on this much appreciated.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:30 PM on August 6, 2012

I'm not sure about this, but I believe your citizenship status is the operative determination since you haven't obtained a UK driving license.

If you had obtained a UK driving license you'd be required to also have an International Driving Permit. This page corresponds to the US State Department page linked above, but from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and I believe it would apply to you if you held a UK driving license:
The minimum age for driving is 18. You must possess a UK driving licence (of the European Communities model) or an International Driving Permit. UK-issued provisional licences are not valid for driving in Portugal. In addition to your licence, you must also carry your vehicle logbook or rental contract, proof of insurance and MOT certificate (if appropriate) together with all other relevant documentation. There are heavy on-the-spot fines for those who fail to do so.
- Portugal Travel Advice
posted by carsonb at 12:39 PM on August 6, 2012

Then again, even if you had a UK driving licence that doesn't invalidate your CA drivers license. As long as that is valid and you remain a US citizen I believe the US State Department info holds true and you're allowed to drive up to six months on it.
posted by carsonb at 12:51 PM on August 6, 2012

For all intents and purposes you should have no problem with driving a Rental car with your US drivers liscense.
US tourists hire cars all over Europe all the time. You must make sure that you are registered as a driver with the hire company.
Re your friends car they should check with their insurance company that it is OK for you as a US liscense holder to drive their car.
Where you happen to be living when you are not in Portugal is irrelevant.
posted by adamvasco at 1:09 PM on August 6, 2012

If you enter Portugal on a US passport, your journey origin and how long you've lived there is irrelevant. You should follow the rules for US drivers visiting Portugal, as noted by kickingtheground above.

Border authorities don't really care where you're resident, they care what passport you're holding when you enter their country.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:40 AM on August 7, 2012

Border authorities don't really care where you're resident, they care what passport you're holding when you enter their country.

You usually know more than I do about these things Dave, but I think I have to contradict you here. All border agents in the EU are there to enforce EU immigration rules, not just those of their country. My last entry into Germany went like this:

Agent (after looking at my American passport): "And how long are you staying in Germany?"
Me: "1 week."
Agent: "And then you are returning to the US?"
Me: "No. I am returning to the UK, where I live."
Agent: "May I see your UK residence documents..."

And he went on to examine them.

And this is relevant to the question here because although I believe that there is a 99.9% chance that iamkimiam will have no problem, the only area of concern for me is that she is holding a Drivers license (US) that does not match her current address (UK not US). I've been scouring online (in Portuguese too) to support this, but I always thought that to be valid, your license should reflect your current residence. I may be wrong on this, though. And since I can't find supporting documentation, I probably am.
posted by vacapinta at 12:09 AM on August 8, 2012

Ah, yes, good point. I meant in relation to driving licenses. And I should have said police officers, rather than border authorities. In short, if pulled over by a Portugese copper, with a US passport and US driving license, I think iamkimiam will be fine. If/when she gets UK citizenship, she'll probably want to get a UK driving license as well, if only because travelling within the EU on a UK passport is a lot easier and time-limit free.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:23 AM on August 8, 2012

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