If you have been following this blog for the past week, you know that my partner and I have been cruising around the Algarve in a fancy new Fiat. Fifi as I endearingly refer to her as.
After doing some Algarve research, we decided that the best way to see the region was to have the independence to tour around on our own time, wherever and whenever we wanted, and so it was decided that renting a car made the most sense.
However, before you rent a car in Portugal, or any country for that matter, you must do your research.
Renting a car is extremely easy to do in this day and age thanks to the Internet and renting in Portugal is no exception. But before you click on that first deal you find, I suggest you read some reviews.
When we first started looking into renting a car in Lisbon two companies kept popping up in our online searches: GoldCar and Europacar. It seemed like going with either company made sense because both deals were very inexpensive. But before we clicked ‘yes’ we thought we’d check out some reviews.
The reviews of both companies online were dismal. If you don’t believe me you can conduct your own search and read some for yourself.
Immediately, we were happy we didn’t click ‘yes’ based on price alone.
In that moment, we decided it made the most sense to go with a company we recognized, Budget, even if it did cost slightly more. That way, we figured, if something happened, we’d still have the chance to deal with it back home, as they have customer service offices in North America. The local-only contacts would disappear the minute we left the country.
Now, reviews are exceptionally important when deciding which rental car company to use, but there are also five other things to know about renting a car in Portugal:
Almost all the cars are manual. The selection of automatic cars is limited and they also come with a higher price tag so make sure you can drive manual or that you are travelling with someone who can (thanks Andy!).
Watch for extra fees. One fee that we are incurring on this trip is the One Way Rental fee. If you are renting a car in one city, but dropping it off in another, you will pay a fee and that fee can get quite high so be aware. Also, depending on your age, how many drivers you plan on having, what insurance you have, fuel charges, car seats, etc. the extra fees can really add up so make sure you are paying attention, asking questions, and thoroughly do your homework. You don’t want to end up with a bill at the end of your road trip that forces the rest of your vacation to be put on hold.
Toll-roads. The highways here are toll-ways, ranging from fully automatic electronic tolls to manual tollbooths. Budget gave us the option of pre-paying for the tolls, which I would highly suggest doing. It might be slightly more than paying as you go but for the convenience, I would highly recommend. Any and all tolls we may encounter are a non-issue, as we drive smoothly through the pre-paid line at every stop. If you want more information on the system click here: Portugal Tolls
Parking. In the Algarve parking has been a breeze, mainly because we make sure that parking is available with our stay but things are different in the city centers. Trust me, you would not want to show up with a car in Alfama. Always check with your hotel or host (specifically if you are using AirBNB or a similar type of service) that parking is available with your stay.
Driving is Different. Now this point is mainly for my fellow North American drivers. Highway driving is very similar to what we are used to with one exception- they drive much faster. City driving is a whole different ball game, especially in parts of Lisbon. The best piece of advice I can give you is to be prepared and know where you’re going. That way when you encounter your first five exit, five lane round-about you can focus purely on the road, and not the map.
For more information on driving in Portugal without losing your cool check out Julie Dawn Fox’s List.
Have you ever rented a car in a foreign country? What was your experience like?