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Car rental issues

New York City, New...
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Car rental issues


I am planning on renting a car from Lisbon airport upon arrival and driving up to Peniche where my wife and I will be staying for two nights. I currently have two car rental bookings and am wondering which I should cancel (or both of them) given the risks:

1. I have a booking with Budget but they did not give me a clear answer on whether they would accept my US driving license without the international driving permit. I do not have enough time to get the international one since I am currently already abroad and going to Portugal in a few days.

2. I have a booking with a local company (Sadorent) but our flight lands at 18h55 and the car rental location closes at 20h. I am worried that if our flight is even slightly delayed we won’t be able to pick up the car in time and will lose our rental alltogether. I’ve also heard some bad stories about them trying to rip off customers with hidden fees.

If you’ve dealt with either car rental company in Lisbon, what do you recommend in my situation? I am considering even canceling both bookings and arranging a shuttle service to our hotel in Peniche, even though it may be more costly and less convenient.

Thank you and sorry for the long question.


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25 replies to this topic
Porto, Portugal
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1. Re: Car rental issues

According to the law, you are required to have an international driving license.


Car rentals very rarely ask for it. Many north american tourists rent cars without an IDL. If by some reason the police stops you, some may accept your US license, but over zealous police officers may insist on an IDL and you will have to pay a fine. If you get involved in a car accident, I'm sure you will have a ton of troubles with the insurance company. Insurance companies use every trick in the book to avoid compensation, and lacking an IDL is an obvious fault from your side ready to be exploited.

Personally, I would never consider option #2. One hour is not enough time.

New York City, New...
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2. Re: Car rental issues

Ok thanks JM! I will go with Budget then, and risk it without the IDL.

Portalegre, Portugal
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3. Re: Car rental issues

Ask yourself...

* How YOU would feel if you were unlucky enough to be hit by a car being driven by someone who had been told that their insurance may not be valid, but just decided to "risk it" anyway - now it's down to you to pay your own hospital/repatriation costs - that ain't cheap.

* What you'll say to the person/people you injure in the unlikely event you hit someone and, because you "risked it" there's no-one to pay their hospital bills, and potential costs for the rest of their lives.

* What you will do if you and your wife are involved in an accident involving no-one else, and are now facing goodness knows how much in hospital/repatriation costs, and potential costs for the rest of your lives.

Would you "risk it" driving in New York if you thought your insurance might be invalid?

I really hope you wouldn't.

Moscow, Russia
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4. Re: Car rental issues

I have never heard about international driving permit for US or Canadian citizens. On Canadian oficial sites there is even no such mentioning.

On Portuguese official sites there is no mentioning about this.

Nassau, New York
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5. Re: Car rental issues

We recently booked with Budget and no international drivers license was requested. They did convince my husband to take extra insurance. Car rental pick-up and return at the airport in Lisbon takes time so be patient as all are located in one garage and one lane to enter and one lane to exit. If returning the car the day you are flying out, make sure you leave enough time. Car rental is adjacent to departure terminal so that is a plus.

Portalegre, Portugal
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6. Re: Car rental issues

"We recently booked with Budget and no international drivers license was requested"

The serious issue is NOT whether some company or other will rent you a car, it's whether, legally, you are, or are not, supposed to have one. If you are, then I can quite easier foresee an insurance company, in the event of an accident, NOT covering you - and that could easily bankrupt you for life.

The super scary thing for me was NathiDu92, upon being told that he quite possibly has to have one, decided to just "risk it".

Berkeley, CA
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7. Re: Car rental issues

A number of sites say that you need an international drivers license or a Portuguese license for stays longer than 6 months--but they are just tourist (lisbonguide, expat, ricksteves forum) sites. The only official looking site saying this is an Australian one, aimed at Australians in Portugal. I did not find any official Portugal site saying either way.

Vancouver Island...
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8. Re: Car rental issues

I’m going to weigh in on this subject…again. It is confusing to read one thing somewhere (often just a travel article), perhaps incomplete info somewhere else, & then people’s ideas (not necessarily facts) on this & other forums.

Here is a thread where I & others previously discussed IDP's earlier this year -


The perfectly logical point to me for needing an IDP is when your home license is in a non-Roman alphabet.

Note you should always have both your home license AND the IDP anyway if choosing that route, never just the IDP.

Here is a Government of Canada website with Portugal info—no mention of IDP “required”:

https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/portugal - go to the Section “Laws and Culture” & see the paragraph “Driving"

Looks like USA has something similar here (under Travel and Transportation section):


I also found this separate point interesting on that Canadian link re driving in Portugal - "must use low-beam headlights at all times”, which I believe is not yet law in all our provinces (although all vehicles sold or imported since Dec 1, 1989 must be fitted with them).

As far as different car rental companies in Portugal “requiring” IDP’s, this certainly seems to be a grey area. Last year, we rented through Sixt at Lisbon airport & I understood an IDP was “required” with them (not so sure this year), so I got one for 2017 (not asked for it at time of rental, & no road or police incident either). This year we are renting from Europcar—IDP specifically not mentioned in Terms & Conditions (only "driver license” & “passport” for non-EU citizens), so I am not getting an IDP this time. Interesting also that a popular & legitimate booking site, autoeurope.com (or .ca) states it is a “requirement" in Portugal (& in some other countries). Has this info perhaps not been updated if changed (if so, when changed?), or do they include it as they wish to make sure they are not held legally responsible for a situation?

Regarding the insurance aspect, at first I was wondering why MacKK was making a point of this, as I was thinking having a valid license PLUS valid insurance coverage (either from your own source such as a credit card or the options of buying separately from an insurer or directly from the car rental company) are unrelated. But maybe they are considered related in that if you are deemed not to be properly “licensed”, then your insurance could be deemed to be invalid. Is that your meaning, MacKK?

Portalegre, Portugal
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9. Re: Car rental issues

The Portuguese highway code defines (we'll get to it in a moment) those foreign licenses that are valid to drive a car in Portugal. My point is that IF you are deemed to have been driving without a valid driving license, according to Portuguese law, then your insurance company MAY not cover you in the event of an accident - you were driving without a valid driving license.

There are many many threads on this topic - I've read all of them, I think, and on not one single occasions EVER has an authoritative link been provided that indicates that an IDP is NOT required for US and Canadian licenses.

Plenty of people say "Trust me" (why, exactly?), plenty of people say "I did it with no problem" (not relevant).

My view is that an IDP IS required.

This is a legal question so, logically it seems to me, the recourse to find the answers must be found in the law. This is going to be long - but legal things often are - all the references are provided - verify away.

This is my reasoning. Note that I am a Mathematician, not a lawyer, but I can read English, American, and Portuguese - and I can "do logic". I'm entirely happy, really I am, for someone to point out the flaws in this reasoning - but, please, no more "I did it" - if you want to argue (feel free) - please state a logical case...

The Portuguese highway code can be found here...


Articles about "driving licenses" start at Article 121

Article 125 deals with "Other licenses" (previous articles are about local licenses) - I translate and paraphrase...

Clause 1 a) Says Macau licenses are ok

Clause 1 b) Says EU licenses are OK

Clause 1 c) Says licenses defined by a couple of treaties (1949, 1968) are valid - these are the treaties an IDP is specifically designed to comply with

Clause 1 d) Starts to get interesting - "Driving licenses emitted by foreign states, provided that it recognizes the same validity as a national license" (I think this might be where the "roman script" thing comes from)

Clause 1 e) says IDPs are valid, if accompanied by the original


Clause 3 Says the licenses in c) d) and e) are valid for the first 185 days (that's the "6 months" people refer to)

So - let's look at a Canadian or US driving license, and see which of the sub-clauses of Clause 1 might give them validity in Portugal - clearly only c) and d) are possible.

The 1949 treaty can be found here - https:/…Geneva_Convention_on_Road_Traffic

Clause 2 - "The title of the document "Driving Permit" will be written in the language(s) prescribed in 1 above and will be followed by the translation in French "Permis de conduire"."

OK - so that's the US licenses ruled out.

Just above that - "Dimensions: 74 x 105 mm. Colour: Pink"

OK - so that's the Canadian licenses rules out.

The 1968 treaty can be found here - unece.org/fileadmin/…Conv_road_traffic_EN.pdf

There are several clauses on which both US and Canadian licenses fail to meet the terms in annex 6 - notably on vehicle classes as well as pictograms ("11. The categories (subcategories) of vehicles for which the permit is valid shall be represented by the pictograms in the table below.").

OK, so Clause 1 c) isn't getting the job done, which leaves us with Clause 1 d)

These doesn't seem to me quite as clear cut to me.

The underlying idea seems to be that law enforcement can basically look at your license and understand what it means - and that's where I have the problem with US/Canadian licenses.

Let's first talk about US driving licenses...

What does a policeman do when he sees an Alabama license entitling the driver to drive vehicles of class "M"? The EU has no such class - this means "motorcycle and motor-driven cycles" ( https:/…DriversLOne ). Next he runs across an Alaska license that says class "D" - ah - yes, class "D", I understand that - 1968 convention (same as the EU definitions) says class D is "Motor vehicles used for the carriage of passengers and having more than eight seats in addition to the driver’s seat; or motor vehicles of category D coupled to a trailer the permissible maximum mass of which does not exceed 750 kg;" - EXCEPT that that is NOT what an Alabama class D means - on an Alabama license it means "for automobiles other than commercial vehicles or motorcycles". Each state is different, and many of them are different to the EU classes.

And now Canadian Licenses...

Here's a Québec license - https:/…csm_permis_regulier_63d8efbb70.jpg

What on EARTH are all those classes? Here's another - https:/…quebec-drivers-licence-small.jpg - class 5 - no idea what that means - and is your average Portuguese Policeman going to know what "Cond. Aucune" means? Should he be expected to? What does a class "G2" Ontario license entitle you to drive?

With no consistency in driving classes with the US, or within Canada, let alone consistency with European classes, I really fail to see how they satisfy "...provided that it recognizes the same validity as a national license". To my mind, they simply don't.

Let me repeat - I'm not a lawyer - feel free to logically argue against my reasoning above.

Just to add one personal note - I fail to understand why people spending thousands of dollars coming on holiday to Portugal decide to skimp on a few bucks for an IDP.

Vancouver Island...
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10. Re: Car rental issues

Whew, MacKK…I had to get up before breakfast (even here on the west coast) to try & wade through all of that!! :-)

Obviously I am not a lawyer either (or else my posts would be even longer!), but (and?) I do not follow all of your points.

Yes, there are certainly references to IDP’s in the links you have copied, but I do not follow your train of thought to get to the conclusions you do, where you are ruling out Cdn & US licenses. Is the reference to French language (re US) or pink (re Cdn) relevant? What do they mean? Did you find anything referencing EU drivers there? Is that even relevant (I thought so since in regards to IDP's there are references to “non-EU” drivers, therefore I concluded “EU” must have some relevance)? Also, re the TA link I included in my post, I did not understand the significance of the document supplied by Hoshi-San (nor his conclusion, obviously). Just being on that “list” (or the original 1949 UN “list” where Canada & USA appear) cannot mean a driver does not need an IDP…because countries such as Greece & Russia are on that list, & I would think those citizens would definitely need an IDP due to language. (What detail one can find regarding the UN when searching, not just IDP info!).

BTW, same info for Australians as I quoted for Canadians & Americans - https:/…drivelicence.html

Likewise, I am actually confused when I look at the classes listed in the IDP itself (A-E), none of which I am licensed for (motorcycles, transporting passengers OR goods, passengers AND goods, adding a trailer), so my interpretation is that these would be EXTRA on an IDP, otherwise I (like most other visiting drivers) am just allowed to drive a regular vehicle, same as in my province (or state if applicable). So I definitely could not drive a taxi or a transport truck in Portugal unless the IDP stated so (but again, confusing to me where this would be stated so). Is that a correct interpretation?

I have contacted Europcar—method 1 was a “chat” & I have it in writing I do not need an IDP with my Canadian license. I have also emailed (& specifically supplied my reservation #), so method 2, which I will have in writing then a 2nd time…hopefully the same answer! I will re-post once received. Is there a Portuguese government (traffic-related) office that I could contact? From what I recall reading about the speed of things getting done (same in all/most countries, I’m sure!), probably not a helpful option.

I agree with your final point (& so does my husband), especially regarding travel, health and car rental insurance. I decide (or we mutually decide) if there is value (or a necessity) in any money spent, & in the case of an IDP for me for 2018, I do not think there is value or necessity.

Over to you, or others, for more comments!

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