Madeira travel guide
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.
741 sq km (286 sq miles).
359.1 per sq km.
Autonomous region of Portugal.
President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa since 2016.
President Miguel Albuquerque since 2015.
Be prepared for your plans to change
No travel is risk-free during COVID-19. Countries may further restrict travel or bring in new rules at short notice, for example due to a new COVID-19 variant. Check with your travel company or airline for any transport changes which may delay your journey home.
If you test positive for COVID-19, you may need to stay where you are until you test negative. You may also need to seek treatment there.
Plan ahead and make sure you:
- can access money
- understand what your insurance will cover
- can make arrangements to extend your stay and be away for longer than planned
Coronavirus travel health
See the TravelHealthPro website for further advice on travel abroad and reducing spread of respiratory viruses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Entry and borders
See Entry requirements to find out what you will need to do when you enter Portugal.
If you test positive for COVID-19 while in Portugal
There is no longer a requirement to self-isolate if you test positive for COVID-19 in Portugal.
Onward or return travel from Portugal
If you need a pre-departure test for the country you are travelling to or transiting through, you can get one in Portugal including in Madeira and the Azores, by scheduling an appointment at an approved facility or at test sites at the airports. You will not need a prescription, but you will have to show your passport and confirmed travel bookings. You will also have to pay in full. It can take up to 24 hours to get the results.
Travel in Portugal
You should follow the advice of the Portuguese authorities on how best to protect yourself and others, including any measures that they bring in to control the virus.
Some safety precautions are still in force:
- keep a social distance
- use a face mask in the circumstances described below
- wash your hands frequently
Public spaces and services
Most restrictions have been lifted, but you will still need to use a face mask on entry to medical facilities, retirement and nursing homes. This requirement does not apply to children aged 9 and under.
The Portuguese health authority also recommends that you use a face mask at airports, railway stations and transport hubs, on public transport, including taxis, and when travelling by air.
Madeira and Porto Santo
Most restrictions have been lifted, but you will still need to use a face mask on entry to medical facilities, pharmacies and retirement/ nursing homes, or if you test positive for COVID-19.
These measures apply to everyone aged 6 and over.
The archipelago of the Azores is in a state of alert. Most restrictions have been lifted, but you will still need to use a face mask on entry to medical facilities, retirement and nursing homes. This measure does not apply to children aged 10 and under.
Keep up-to-date with the restrictions in place on the regional government’s website.
You should use your face mask, as appropriate, when you enter buildings and keep it on until you leave.
You can be fined if you breach the regulations.
Exemptions from using a face mask differ in Portugal compared to the UK. You may be exempt from using a face mask both indoors and out on medical grounds. You will have to show a declaration from your doctor as evidence that you have a health condition that prevents you from using a face mask. For further information (in Portuguese) on exemptions, see decree-law 62-A/2020 (Article 3(2).
Healthcare in Portugal
If you need emergency medical assistance, call 112 and ask for an ambulance.
If you are 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
COVID-19 testing is carried out free-of-charge if you are referred by a Portuguese national health service doctor.
For contact details for English speaking doctors visit our list of healthcare providers.
Your emotional and mental wellbeing is important. Read guidance on how to look after your mental wellbeing and mental health.
View Health for further details on healthcare in Portugal.
For information on financial support you can access whilst abroad, visit our financial assistance guidance.
Help and support
While you are in Portugal, your safety and security is the responsibility of the Portuguese authorities. You should follow their advice and comply with the measures they have put in place.
If you need urgent consular assistance, contact your nearest British embassy, high commission or consulate. All telephone numbers are available 24/7.
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.
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).
Personal attacks, including sexual assaults are rare, but do occur. Buy your own drinks and keep sight of them at all times to make sure they aren’t spiked. If you’re going to drink alcohol, drink responsibly. Know your limit and remember that drinks served in bars overseas are often stronger than those in the UK. Avoid splitting up from your friends, and don’t go off with people you don’t know. Check the TravelAware ‘Stick with your mates’ campaign for more helpful tips and advice.
In 2020 there were 495 road deaths in Portugal (source: Department for Transport). This equates to 4.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.3 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2020.
If you are planning to drive in Portugal, see information on Driving Abroad.
Licences and documents
You can drive in Portugal on your UK driving licence.
If you’re living in Portugal, check the Living in Guide for information on requirements for residents.
Driving a British car abroad
You may need a UK sticker to drive your car outside the UK. From 28 September 2021 UK stickers have replaced GB stickers. Check the GOV.UK Displaying number plates website for more information on what to do if you are driving outside the UK.
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.
Bringing a vehicle to Portugal
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.
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.
Further information about walkway closures and access restrictions can be found on the Visit Madeira official website.
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 close to the water’s edge along unsupervised stretches of beaches. Waves can be unpredictable and have a strong undertow.
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.
This page has information on travelling to Portugal.
This page reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British Citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.
The authorities in Portugal set and enforce entry rules. If you’re unsure how Portugal’s entry requirements apply to you, contact its UK embassy
COVID-19 entry requirements
There are no longer any COVID-19 vaccination, testing or passenger locator form requirements for entry to mainland Portugal, Madeira and the Azores.
If you’re travelling to Portugal via other countries, such as France and Spain , check the entry requirements for those countries before you travel.
Check your passport and travel documents before you travel
If you are planning to travel to an EU country (except Ireland), or Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino or Vatican City, you must follow the Schengen area passport requirements.
Your passport must be:
- Issued less than 10 years before the date you enter the country (check the ‘date of issue’)
- valid for at least 3 months after the day you plan to leave (check the ‘expiry date’)
You must check your passport meets these requirements before you travel. If your passport was issued before 1 October 2018, extra months may have been added to its expiry date.
You can travel to countries in the Schengen area for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa. This applies if you travel as a tourist, to visit family or friends, to attend business meetings, cultural or sports events, or for short-term studies or training.
If you are travelling to Portugal and other Schengen countries without a visa, make sure your whole visit is within the 90-day limit. Visits to Schengen countries within the previous 180 days before you travel count towards your 90 days.
To stay longer, to work or study, for business travel or for other reasons, you will need to meet the Portuguese government’s entry requirements. Check the Portuguese Immigration Service (scroll to the bottom of the page) and check with the Portuguese Embassy what type of visa and/or work permit you may need.
If you are travelling to Portugal for work, read the guidance on visas and permits.
If you stay in Portugal with a residence permit or long-stay visa, this does not count towards your 90-day visa-free limit.
Check your passport is stamped by the border officer when you enter and exit Portugal as a visitor.
You can use the staffed immigration booths or, if you are aged 18 and over, the e-gates designated for UK and some other non-EU nationals. Hand your passport for stamping to the border officer after you have passed through the e-gate.
You cannot use the e-gates to exit Portugal if you entered the Schengen area via another member state.
Border guards use passport stamps to check you’re complying with the 90-day visa-free limit for short stays in the Schengen area. If relevant entry or exit stamps are not in your passport, a border officer may presume that you have overstayed your visa-free limit.
If you are missing entry/exit stamps, you can show evidence of when and where you entered or exited the Schengen area and ask the border officer to add this date and location in your passport. Examples of acceptable evidence include boarding passes and tickets.
Residents of Portugal
If you are resident in Portugal, your passport should not be stamped. You should proactively show proof of residence, as well as your passport, at Portuguese border control. For further information, see our Living in Portugal guide.
On entry to Portugal, you may also need to:
- show a return or onward ticket
- show you have enough money for your stay
Travelling with children
Children aged 17 and under travelling to Portugal alone or in the company of 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, or
- carry a letter of authorisation to travel from their parent or guardian. The letter should name the adult in Portugal who will be responsible for them during their stay and the identification and contacts details of the parent or guardian.
If you travel with a child without consent from their parent or guardian, you may be questioned on arrival and your entry to Portugal may be delayed until further checks are made.
Teenagers aged 17 and under who travel alone or with friends of the same age, and who are not being met by a parent or guardian on arrival, may be refused entry if they do not have a letter of authority as described above.
For more information, check the Portuguese government portal.
Resident children leaving Portugal
A child aged 17 and under who is resident in Portugal must carry a notarised letter of authority from their parent or guardian if they’re travelling out of the country alone or in the company of a person who is not their parent or legal guardian. The letter of authority can be issued by:
- one of the child’s parents (if the parents are married)
- the parent the child lives with (if the parents are separated or divorced)
- one of the adoptive parents (if the child is adopted) or
- the child’s legal guardian
Further information is available on the Portuguese immigration service website.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK ETDs are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Portugal. If your destination is not the UK, you will need proof of residency for your destination country. An emergency travel document does not grant you entry. You are responsible for checking you have the correct documents to enter the country.
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.
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.
Taking food and drink into the EU
You cannot take meat, milk or products containing them into EU countries. There are some exceptions for medical reasons, for example certain amounts of powdered infant milk, infant food, or pet food required for medical reasons. Check the rules about taking food and drink into the EU on the European Commission website.
If you have a health condition, or you are pregnant, you may need specialist healthcare abroad. Check whether your destination country can provide the healthcare you may need and ensure you have appropriate travel insurance for unexpected medical evacuation or local treatment.
See the Coronavirus travel health and Healthcare sections in the Coronavirus page for COVID-19 health information.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).
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, call the Portuguese health service helpline on (+351) 808 24 24 24 (press 9 for English) or go to the nearest health centre or hospital A&E department. Consider carrying an Emergency ID Card to help the health services assist you in an emergency.
UK prescriptions are not recognised in Portugal. Make sure you carry enough medication to last the duration of 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. If you have an EHIC or a GHIC, you may be able to claim the cost back if your prescription is issued by a Portuguese state doctor.
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. Pharmacies are widely available and are identified with a green cross. Find a pharmacy near you on the Pharmacy Association website.
You should get a free UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) or European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving the UK. If you already have an EHIC, it will still be valid as long as it remains in date.
The GHIC or EHIC 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 NHS Overseas Healthcare Team on +44 191 218 1999 to get a Provisional Replacement Certificate.
It’s important to take out appropriate travel insurance for your needs. A GHIC or EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance and you should have both before you travel. It does not cover all health-related costs, for example, medical repatriation, ongoing medical treatment and non-urgent treatment. Read more about what your travel insurance should cover.
If you’re living in Portugal, you can also find more information on healthcare for residents in our Living In Portugal guide.
There is ongoing seismic activity in the Azores. This is monitored by the Civil Protection authority through the Earthquake Information and Surveillance Centre (in Portuguese).
There has been an increase in seismic activity on the island of São Jorge since March 2022. You can follow developments on this island on the Civil Protection authority’s website .
Further advice on what to do in the event of a tremor is available on the Centers for Disease Control website.
There is a heightened risk of forest fires during the summer months.
Forest fires can occur anywhere in Portugal. In recent years, fires have become more frequent due to drought and high temperatures. Forest fires are highly dangerous and unpredictable. The Portuguese authorities may evacuate areas and close roads for safety reasons.
If you are travelling in Portugal during the summer period, you should familiarise yourself with local safety and emergency procedures, remain vigilant and follow the advice of the Portuguese authorities. Causing a forest fire is treated as a criminal offence in Portugal, even if unintentional.
For information on the risk of forest fires (interactive map), visit the pages on the Portuguese Met Office website for continental Portugal and Madeira. For severe weather warnings, visit the European Meteorological Services website
If you see a wild fire, call the emergency services on 112.
The currency of Portugal is the Euro.
Credit/debit cards may not be accepted for purchases under 5 euros in taxis or generally in smaller towns and rural areas.
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, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in London on 020 7008 5000 (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 FCDO 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 FCDO 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 FCDO travel advice
If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCDO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. Versions prior to 2 September 2020 will be archived as FCO travel advice. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send the Travel Advice Team a request.
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, or contact us on Twitter or Facebook. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.