Portugal travel guide
Like the Atlantic Ocean that laps upon its shores, Portugal throws up one or two surprises. A rich and varied land of vibrant cities and traditional villages, visitors are astounded by the country’s stunning beaches, rolling countryside and cornucopia of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which range from prehistoric drawings at Foz Coa to the 15th-century port of Angra do Heroísmo.
The country’s lively capital, Lisbon, and its vibrant northern sibling, Porto, are a joy to discover. They are cities where trams rattle up and down hills and along promenades, trundling past narrow side streets and majestic plazas, bohemian cafés and pumping nightclubs, eye-catching boutiques and restaurants both hip and homespun.
It’s not all about Lisbon and Porto, though. Sintra plays host to the stunning National Palace, a Moorish castle and the dramatic villa of Quinta da Regaleira, while the cities of Coimbra, Guimarães, Braga and Évora all boast beautifully preserved medieval quarters. Unusually, the latter is home to a chapel made exclusively of human bones, which is a tad creepy.
Travellers in search of a rural respite can wander around ancient vineyards, trek to stone villages perched in the mountains and take full advantage of the country’s warm and sunny weather on the magnificent southern shoreline. Drop in on sleepy sulphur spas and hop around the Pousadas – a collection of exquisite convents and monasteries, which have been lovingly converted into off-beat accommodation.
Imposing cliffs and secluded beaches line the Portuguese coast, a dazzling stage for all manner of outdoor adventure. Visitors can ride horses, surf waves, paddle rivers, dive shipwrecks, hike hills and explore Moorish castles and Roman ruins between rounds of golf. Madeira and Berlenga Islands beckon off shore, while the elusive remains of Atlantis await discovery in the Azores Archipelago.
Those seeking a more unique slice of Portuguese culture can discover the melancholic music of fado (Portugal's answer to the blues), study the captivating detail of Manueline architecture, get involved in a traditional festival or quaff port wine along the meandering Douro river.
92,345 sq km (35,655 sq miles).
10,304,434 (UN estimate 2016).
117.2 per sq km.
President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa since 2016.
Prime Minister António Costa since 2015.
Last updated: 14 December 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
There will be no change to the rights and status of EU nationals living in the UK, nor UK nationals living in the EU, while the UK remains in the EU.
There have been some large forest fires in central and northern Portugal this summer that have claimed lives. There has been very little rainfall this autumn and while the weather remains dry, there is always a risk of forest fires. Check the situation with the local civil protection authority if you’re considering travelling through woodland areas. Report any fires immediately to the emergency services on 112.
There have been reports of an increase in holidaymakers being encouraged to submit a claim for personal injury if they have experienced gastric illness during their stay. You can find more information about the action you can take if you have suffered a personal injury on the Citizens Advice website. You should only consider pursuing a complaint or claim if you have genuinely suffered from injury or illness. If you make a false or fraudulent claim, you may face legal proceedings in the UK or Portugal.
Around 2.6 million British nationals visited Portugal in 2015. Most visits are trouble-free.
Beware of street crime. Thieves tend to target money and passports so don’t keep them all in one place.
Walking the levadas (ancient irrigation channels) is a popular activity in Madeira, but the walks can be challenging if you are inexperienced.
Terrorist attacks in Portugal can’t be ruled out.
You can contact the emergency services by calling 112.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.
Safety and security
Crime rates are low but pickpocketing, handbag snatching and theft from cars and holiday properties are common in major tourist areas and can be accompanied by violence. Be alert, keep sight of your belongings at all times and beware of thieves using distraction techniques. Be especially vigilant on public transport (particularly the popular numbers 15 and 28 trams in Lisbon) and at busy railway and underground stations and crowded bus and tram stops.
Do not carry all your valuables together in handbags or pockets. Leave spare cash and valuables in a safe place. Avoid leaving items in an unattended car, even for a short period; if you have no alternative, hide them in the boot before you reach your destination. Remember that foreign-registered and hire cars are often targeted by thieves.
Report the loss or theft of your passport immediately to the local police and obtain a police report. You will need the report for insurance purposes and to obtain a replacement travel document from the British Consulate.
Make sure your holiday accommodation has adequate security. Lock all doors and windows at night and when you go out. If you’re worried about security at your accommodation, speak to your tour operator or the owner. Familiarise yourself with the contact details of the local PSP (city police) or GNR (rural and small town police).
Sexual assaults are rare, but you should be alert to the possible use of ‘date rape’ and other drugs, including ‘GHB’ and liquid ecstasy. Buy your own drinks and keep sight of them at all times to make sure they aren’t spiked. If you are going to drink, know your limit and remember that drinks served in bars overseas are often much stronger than those in the UK. Avoid splitting up from your friends, and don’t go off with people you don’t know.
Driving is on the right. If you hire a car, make sure the vehicle insurance is fully comprehensive and check how you will pay for any toll charges.
As a tourist, you can bring your own vehicle to Portugal for a maximum of 183 days in any 12-month period. You must not use your vehicle for any other purpose than tourism or loan it to anyone else during that time. If you intend to stay longer, you must apply to the Portuguese Customs authority to have the car legally imported. You will be fined if you leave the country without your car.
In 2016 there were 565 road deaths in Portugal (source: Department for Transport). This equates to 5.5 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2016.
Local travel - Madeira
Walking the levadas (ancient irrigation channels) can be challenging. Choose only the ones that are suited to your own standard of fitness and experience. Be prepared for narrow, uneven paths and heights. Wear suitable clothing and walking boots. Leave details of where you are going with your hotel reception and take your mobile telephone with you. Better still, join a group of walkers and go with a guide. Take extra care if it has rained as the ground may be slippery and unstable. Check with your tour guide or local organiser that it is safe to visit before setting off.
Beaches and swimming
Deaths by drowning occur every year on Portuguese beaches and in swimming pools. The Maritime Police have the authority to fine bathers who disobey the lifeguard’s warning flags.
Take warning flags on beaches seriously. The red flag indicates danger: never enter the water when the red flag is flying. If there is a yellow flag, you may paddle at the water’s edge, but not swim. The green flag indicates that it is safe to swim, and the chequered flag means that the beach is temporarily unmanned. Follow local advice if jellyfish are present.
Take care when walking along unmanned beaches close to the water’s edge as some waves can be of an unpredictable size and come in further than expected on to the beach with strong undertows.
Don’t swim at beaches that link to/from rivers, or those without lifeguards. Don’t dive into unknown water as hidden rocks or shallow depths can cause serious injury or death.
Look out for signs warning of cliff erosion. Falling rocks are a hazard, particularly in the Algarve, and the authorities can fine those who ignore warning signs.
Terrorist attacks in Portugal can’t be ruled out. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay; you don’t need any additional period of validity on your passport beyond this.
You can stay in Portugal as a tourist for up to 3 months. If you intend to stay for longer, you must apply for a Registration Certificate from the local Camara Municipal (Town Hall).
Travelling with children
A minor under the age of 18 travelling to Portugal must either:
be accompanied by a parent or guardian, or
be met at the airport or point of entry by a parent or guardian, or
if not accompanied by parent or guardian, carry a letter of authorisation to travel from that parent or guardian. The letter should name the adult in Portugal who will be responsible for the minor during their stay.
Resident minors leaving Portugal
A minor who is living in Portugal may be prevented from leaving the country if he/she is travelling unaccompanied and is not carrying a notarised letter of authority from a parent or guardian. The letter of authority can be issued by:
i) one of the minor’s parents (if the parents are married)
ii) the parent the minor lives with (if the parents are separated or divorced)
iii) one of the adoptive parents (if the child is adopted) or
iv) the minor’s legal guardian.
A standard form of words (in Portuguese) for minors exiting the country may be downloaded from the Portuguese immigration service website. There are two options under “Saída de Menores de Território Nacional”. The first one is for use by Portuguese nationals; the second is for foreign nationals.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK ETDs are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Portugal.
Local laws and customs
If you are caught taking or in possession of drugs for personal use, you may be subject to a fine or another sanction (including the seizure of personal belongings). Selling or trafficking drugs is a criminal offence and subject to severe penalties.
You must show some form of identification if asked by the police or judicial authorities. In most cases, it should be sufficient to carry a photocopy of the data page of your passport, but you may be asked to produce the original document.
Gambling is only legal in establishments properly licensed by the government, like official casinos. Games of chance, including bingo, are illegal if they’re held on unlicensed premises. The police may act on reports of illegal gambling in unauthorised premises without warning. Organisers, participants and anyone on the premises may be arrested, charged with a criminal offence and fined or imprisoned. If in doubt, you should ask whether the establishment you’re entering is legally licensed. An information leaflet with guidance on gambling is available to download in English from the Portuguese Tourist Authority website.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
If you’re visiting Portugal you should get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving the UK. The EHIC isn’t a substitute for medical and travel insurance, but it entitles you to state provided medical treatment that may become necessary during your trip. Any treatment provided is on the same terms as Portuguese nationals. If you don’t have your EHIC with you or you’ve lost it, you can call the Department of Health Overseas Healthcare Team (+44 191 218 1999) to get a Provisional Replacement Certificate. The EHIC won’t cover medical repatriation, ongoing medical treatment or non-urgent treatment, so you should make sure you have adequate travel insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment and repatriation.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 112 and ask for an ambulance. If you are referred to a medical facility for treatment you should contact your insurance/medical assistance company immediately.
If you feel unwell seek medical attention or contact the Portuguese health service’s website or call them for advice on 808 24 24 24 (local number and information in Portuguese only).
Forest fires often occur during the summer months. Forest fires are highly dangerous and unpredictable. Take care when visiting or driving through woodland areas. Make sure cigarette ends are properly extinguished, don’t light barbecues and don’t leave empty bottles behind. Causing a forest fire is treated as a criminal offence in Portugal even if unintentional. If you see a forest fire, call the emergency services on 112.
For information on the risk of forest fires (interactive map in Portuguese), visit the Portuguese Met Office website. For real time information on the status of forest fires, visit the Civil Protection authority website.
For severe weather warnings, visit the European Meteorological Services website
The currency of Portugal is the Euro.
Credit cards may not be accepted in smaller towns and rural areas.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.