World Travel Guide > Guides > Europe > Portugal > Madeira

Madeira travel guide

About Madeira

The “Pearl of the Atlantic,” Madeira is more than just a shortcut to the tropics for European holidaymakers. A land of luscious mountains, limpid lagoons and gorgeous fishing villages, this Portuguese archipelago is a destination of staggering natural beauty.

Floating off the coast of West Africa, Madeira’s landscapes are indebted to the rich volcanic soil, mild climate and abundant rainfall that support an exceptional diversity of flora. Botanists take particular delight in the archipelago’s laurisilva forests, which are inscribed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.

As well as being home to exceptional flora, Madeira has spectacular fauna, with the warm Atlantic Ocean proving the perfect habitat for marine life. The ocean offers many opportunities for adventurous travellers; from swimming with dolphins to scuba diving. Whale watching and surfing are other major selling points.

Golden sandy beaches are few on Madeira, found only at Calheta and Machico, and both of those have been built from imported sand. Elsewhere beaches consist of small strips of black, volcanic sand, which is enough for some.

On land, the fragrant eucalyptus woodlands are an ideal place for hiking, offering stunning views. But perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of Madeira is its renowned system of water channels, known as levadas. Constructed by slaves to convey water from the mountains to plantations, walking the levadas has become a major tourist attraction for Madeira.

Despite the lack of beach space, Madeira remains popular with foreign visitors and its coastal resorts are geared to the demands of the modern tourist, most of which arrive via the capital, Funchal, which overlooks one of the world’s most beautiful bays. Here you can relax at one of the many cafés, order a glass of Madeira wine and let the archipelago’s charms work their magic; you won't be disappointed.

Key facts


741 sq km (286 sq miles).


258,686 (2014).

Population density:

359.1 per sq km.




Autonomous region of Portugal.

Head of state:

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa since 2016.

Head of government:

President Miguel Albuquerque since 2015.

Travel Advice

This travel advice also covers Madeira, Porto Santo and the Azores. 

Before you travel

No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide and any specific travel advice that applies to you:

Travel insurance

If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.

About FCDO travel advice

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this advice is updated.

This information is for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK. It is based on the UK government’s understanding of the current rules for the most common types of travel.  

The authorities in Portugal set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Portuguese Embassy in the UK.

COVID-19 requirements

There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering Portugal.

Passport validity requirements

Portugal follows Schengen area rules. Your passport must:

  • have a ‘date of issue’ less than 10 years before the date you arrive – if you renewed your passport before 1 October 2018, it may have a date of issue that is more than 10 years ago
  • have an ‘expiry date’ at least 3 months after the day you plan to leave the Schengen area

Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.

You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen.

Visa requirements

You can travel without a visa to the Schengen area, which includes Portugal, for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. This applies if you travel:

  • as a tourist
  • to visit family or friends
  • to attend business meetings, cultural or sports events
  • for short-term studies or training

The requirements for working in Portugal are different.  

If you’re travelling to other Schengen countries as well, make sure your whole visit is within the 90-day visa-free limit. Visits to Schengen countries in the 180 days before you travel count towards your 90 days.

Make sure you get your passport stamped on entry and exit.

If you’re a visitor, border guards will look at your entry and exit stamps to check you have not overstayed the 90-day visa-free limit for the Schengen area.

If your passport is missing a stamp, show evidence of when and where you entered or left the Schengen area (for example, boarding passes or tickets) and ask the border guards to add the date and location in your passport.

At Portuguese border control you may need to show:

  • an onward or return ticket
  • proof you have enough money for your visit

Staying longer than 90 days in a 180-day period

To stay longer, you must meet the Portuguese government’s entry requirements (in Portuguese).

If you’re in Portugal with a residence permit or long-stay visa, this does not count towards your 90-day visa-free limit.

Read about passport stamping if you live in Portugal.

Travelling with children

Non-resident children travelling to Portugal

Children aged 17 and under travelling to Portugal alone, or with a person who is not their parent or legal guardian, must either:

  • be met at the airport or point of entry by their parent or guardian
  • carry a letter of authorisation from their parent or guardian

The letter must include:

  • the child’s dates of arrival and departure
  • the address where they will be staying
  • the name of the adult in Portugal who will be responsible for them during their stay
  • the full names, dates of birth, passport numbers and contact details of the parent or guardian
  • signature and date from the parent or guardian

If you bring a child to Portugal without a letter of authorisation, your entry may be delayed.

Teenagers aged 17 and under who travel alone, or with friends of the same age, and who are not being met, may be refused entry if they do not have a letter of authorisation.

Non-resident children leaving Portugal

Non-resident children aged 17 and under who leave Portugal alone, or with a person who is not their parent or guardian, must have a letter of authorisation unless they are returning to their country of origin.

Resident children leaving Portugal

A child aged 17 or under who is resident in Portugal must carry a legally certified letter of authorisation if travelling without their parent or legal guardian. See more details in the Living in Portugal guide.

Vaccine requirements

For details about medical entry requirements and recommended vaccinations, see TravelHealthPro’s guides for Portugal, The Azores, Madeira and Porto Santo.

Customs rules

There are strict rules about goods that can be brought into and taken out of Portugal. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.

Taking food into Portugal

You cannot take meat, milk or products containing them into EU countries. There are some exceptions such as powdered baby milk, baby food and special foods or pet feed required for medical reasons.


There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times. 

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.

Terrorism in Portugal

Terrorist attacks in Portugal cannot be ruled out.


Protecting yourself and your belongings

Crime rates are low but pickpocketing, bag-snatching and theft from holiday properties are common in major tourist areas. Foreign-registered and hire cars are often targeted by thieves. Thieves may use threats or violence. To reduce your personal risk:

  • keep sight of your belongings at all times
  • beware of thieves using distraction techniques
  • avoid carrying all your valuables together in handbags or pockets
  • leave spare cash and valuables in a safe place
  • avoid leaving items in an unattended car

Public transport

Pickpocketing is a risk. Take care on public transport and at busy stations and crowded bus and tram stops.

Holiday accommodation

Check your holiday accommodation is secure. 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, or contact the:

Drink spiking, alcohol and sexual assault

Attacks or assault, including sexual assaults, are rare but do occur. The risk is highest late at night around popular nightlife locations. To reduce your personal risk:

  • save the location of your accommodation on your maps app, so it’s easier to find at the end of the night
  • set up a WhatsApp group to keep in touch with others in your group
  • keep an eye on each other’s drinks to make sure they do not get spiked
  • always use pre-arranged taxis and do not accept lifts from unmarked vehicles or with strangers
  • do not let a friend walk back to their hotel alone
  • do not give a drunk person more alcohol

Alcohol and drugs can reduce your vigilance, making you less in control. If you drink, know your limit. Drinks served in bars in Portugal are often stronger than those in the UK.

Report anything that does not feel right to local authorities or hotel or club management.

Laws and cultural differences

Personal ID

You must show some form of identification if asked by the police or judicial authorities. Sometimes a copy of the photo page of your passport could be enough, but you may be asked to produce the original document.


Gambling is only legal in places licensed by the government, such as 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. You could be arrested, charged and fined or given a prison sentence. If in doubt, ask if the venue is licensed.

Illegal drugs and prison sentences

Selling or trafficking drugs is illegal and can have severe penalties.

Outdoor activities and adventure tourism

Beaches and swimming

Every year, people drown in the sea and in swimming pools in Portugal.

Take care when walking close to the water’s edge, especially along unsupervised stretches of beaches. Waves can be unpredictable and have a strong undertow. Do not:

  • swim at beaches that connect to or from rivers as they can have strong undercurrents
  • swim at any beach without lifeguards
  • dive into unknown water as hidden rocks or shallow depths can cause serious injury or death

Beware of rip tides, which can cause drowning. If you are caught in a rip tide, do not try to swim against it. Swim parallel to the coastline until you no longer feel the current, then try to swim towards the shore.

Follow any lifeguard instructions and warning flags:

  • red means danger: do not go into the water
  • yellow means caution: you can walk in the water, but you cannot swim

See water safety on holiday from the Royal Life Saving Society.

Cliff erosion

Look out for signs warning of cliff erosion. Falling rocks are a hazard, particularly in the Algarve. The authorities can fine people who ignore warning signs.

Walking the levadas in Madeira

Walking the levadas (ancient irrigation channels) can be challenging. Choose paths that suit your fitness and experience.

Be prepared for narrow, uneven paths and heights. Wear suitable clothing and walking boots. 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 before you set off.

Leave details of where you are going with your hotel reception and take a phone with you. Reduce the risk by walking with a group or following a guide.

See more information about walkway closures and access restrictions on Visit Madeira.

Transport risks

Road travel

If you are planning to drive in Portugal, see information on driving abroad and check the rules of the road in the RAC’s Portugal guide. The guide lists driving regulations and other legal requirements you need to be aware of. 

You can use a UK photocard driving licence to drive in Portugal. If you still have a paper driving licence, you may need to update it to a photocard licence or get the correct version of the international driving permit (IDP) as well.

You can bring your own vehicle to Portugal for up to 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.

If you want to stay longer, you must apply to the Portuguese Customs authority to have the car legally imported. You’ll be fined if you leave the country without your car.

Check if you need a UK sticker to drive your car outside the UK.

Check how long you can use your UK licence if you live in Portugal.


Make sure you understand the toll system in Portugal and how to pay toll charges. If you think you may have used a toll road without paying, check the Toll Payment Portal.

Extreme weather and natural disasters

Find out what you can do to prepare for and respond to extreme weather and natural hazards.


Wildfires can start anywhere in Portugal. Risk of fires is higher when the weather is hot and dry. Fires have become more common due to drought and high temperatures during the summer months. 

Wildfires are highly dangerous and unpredictable. The Portuguese authorities may evacuate areas and close roads for safety reasons. You should:

Starting a wildfire, even if it is by accident, is illegal and you could get a fine or a prison sentence. 

For information about active wildfires and forecasts, visit the Portuguese Met Office website for information on Portugal and Madeira.


Earthquakes are a risk in Portugal. For more information, see the Portuguese Met Office (for mainland Portugal) or the Earthquake Information and Surveillance Centre (for the Azores).

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency website has advice about what to do before, during and after an earthquake.

Extreme weather warnings

For severe weather warnings, go to the European Meteorological Services website.

Before you travel check that:

  • your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
  • you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation

This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.

Emergency medical number

Dial 112 and ask for an ambulance.

Contact your insurance or medical assistance company quickly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

If you’re feeling unwell, but it’s not an emergency, call:

  • Mainland Portugal: (+351) 808 24 24 24, press 9 for English
  • Madeira and Porto Santo: (+351) 800 24 24 20
  • Azores: (+351) 808 24 60 24

Vaccine recommendations and health risks

At least 8 weeks before your trip:

See what health risks you’ll face in Portugal.


The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.

Read best practice when travelling with medicines on TravelHealthPro.

UK prescriptions are not recognised in Portugal. Carry enough medication for your visit.

If you need a repeat prescription, go to the nearest health centre or hospital A&E. You may have to pay for your medication.

You will need to go to a pharmacy to get most medicines, though some non-prescription medication is sold at health stores in supermarkets and shopping centres. Find a pharmacy on the Pharmacy Association website.

Healthcare in Portugal

FCDO has a list of medical providers in Portugal, where some staff will speak English.

Health insurance cards

To get medically necessary state healthcare in Portugal, you need a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) or a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).   

The NHS’s getting healthcare abroad has details about:

  • how to apply for a GHIC
  • how to get temporary cover if you lose your card or it does not arrive in time
  • who qualifies for a new EHIC instead of a GHIC
  • what treatment counts as medically necessary

A GHIC or EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. You may have costs your GHIC or EHIC does not cover, including:

  • changes to travel and accommodation bookings
  • additional standard costs for treatment
  • medical repatriation to the UK
  • treatment that is ruled non-urgent
  • private healthcare
  • private clinics

There is also guidance on healthcare if you’re living in Portugal.

Travel and mental health

Read FCDO guidance on travel and mental health and mental health support for UK nationals in Portugal.

There is also mental health guidance on TravelHealthPro.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.

Emergency services in Portugal

Telephone: 112 (ambulance, fire, police)

Contact your travel provider and insurer

Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.

Refunds and changes to travel

For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.

Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:

  • where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
  • how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim

Support from FCDO

FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:

Contacting FCDO

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this travel advice is updated.

You can also contact FCDO online.

Help abroad in an emergency

If you are abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British Embassy in Lisbon.

FCDO in London

You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.

Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)

Find out about call charges

Risk information for British companies

The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating in Portugal on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.

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