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.
This travel advice page also covers Madeira, Porto Santo and the Azores.
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.
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:
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.
This advice 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 not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact Portugal’s embassy in the UK.
Countries may restrict travel or bring in rules at short notice. Check with your travel provider for changes.
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.
Visit TravelHealthPro (from the UK’s National Travel Health Network and Centre) for general COVID-19 advice for travellers.
Passport validity requirements
If you are travelling 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’)
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.
At the Portuguese border control, you may need to:
- show a return or onward ticket
- prove that you have enough money for your stay
Check your passport is stamped if you enter or exit the Schengen area through Portugal as a visitor. 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 will presume that you have overstayed your visa-free limit.
You can show evidence (boarding passes and tickets) of when and where you entered or exited the Schengen area and ask border guards to add this date and location in your passport.
If you live in Portugal, your passport should not be stamped. You should show your proof of residence and passport at border control. Read our living in Portugal guide for passport stamping information.
If you are aged 18 and over, you can use the e-gates for UK and other non-EU nationals. Make sure your passport is stamped by the border officer after you pass through the e-gate.
You cannot use the e-gates to exit Portugal if you entered the Schengen area from another EU country.
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
- 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 (for example to work or study or for business travel), you must meet the Portuguese government’s entry requirements. Check which type of visa or work permit you may need with the Portuguese Immigration Service or the Embassy of Portugal in UK.
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.
Travelling with children
Non-resident children travelling to Portugal
Children aged 17 and under travelling to Portugal alone, or accompanied by 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 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 (full names, date of birth and passport number) and contacts details of the parent or guardian. The letter should also state the child’s dates of arrival and departure and the address at which they will be staying during their visit to Portugal.
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.
If you travel with a child, without consent from their parent or guardian, you may be questioned on arrival. Your entry may be delayed.
Non-resident children leaving Portugal
Non-resident children aged 17 and under who leave Portugal alone or in the company of a person who is not their parent or guardian will require a letter of authority if they are returning to a country other than their country of origin.
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.
Vaccination requirements (other than COVID-19)
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 and drink into the EU
You cannot take meat, milk, or products containing them into EU countries. There are some exceptions, 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.
You should also read FCDO’s overall travel advice.
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. You should remain vigilant 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 your belongings
Crime rates are low but pickpocketing, handbag snatching, and theft from holiday properties are common in major tourist areas. Foreign-registered and hire cars are often targeted by thieves. Thieves can use violence, you should:
- 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
Pickpocketing is a risk. Take care on public transport and at busy stations and crowded bus and tram stops.
Report the loss or theft of your passport immediately to the local police and get a police report. You will need the report for insurance claims.
Check your holiday accommodation is secure. Lock all doors and windows at night and when you go out.
Attacks or assault, 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. Drinks served in bars overseas are often stronger than those in the UK. Stay with your friends, and don’t go off with people you don’t know.
Laws and cultural differences
By law, you must show some form of identification, if asked by the police or judicial authorities. Sometimes a photocopy of the data 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. Organisers, participants and anyone on the premises may be arrested, charged with a criminal offence and fined or imprisoned. If in doubt, ask if the venue is legally licensed.
Illegal drugs and prison sentences
Selling or trafficking drugs is illegal and can have severe penalties. If you are caught taking, buying or in possession of drugs for personal use, you may be arrested, summoned to appear in court and fined. Any substance you have will be confiscated.
If you hire a car, make sure you have the appropriate insurance and familiarise yourself with the arrangements for paying toll charges.
Licences and permits
You can drive on a full, valid UK driving licence in Portugal.
If you’re living in Portugal, read living in Portugal for information on requirements for residents.
Driving a British car abroad
You may need a UK sticker to drive your car outside the UK. UK stickers have replaced GB stickers. Check the government guidance on displaying number plates for more information on what to do if you are driving outside the UK.
Bringing a vehicle to Portugal
Tourists can bring their 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 plan 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.
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 undercurrent
- swim at beaches without lifeguards
- dive into unknown water as hidden rocks or shallow depths can cause serious injury or death
Be aware 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:
- the red flag means danger: do not go into the water
- the yellow flag means caution: you can walk in the water, but you cannot swim
More tips can be found on ABTA’s swim safe pages.
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.
Extreme weather and natural disasters
Forest fires can occur 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.
Forest fires are highly dangerous and unpredictable. The Portuguese authorities may evacuate areas and close roads for safety reasons. You should:
- familiarise yourself with local safety and emergency procedures
- follow the advice of the Portuguese authorities
- call the emergency services on 112 if you see a wildfire
Starting a forest fire, even if it is by accident, is illegal in Portugal.
There is more advice on what to do during an earthquake on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Extreme weather warnings
For severe weather warnings, visit 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 promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Read more information on healthcare when travelling in Europe.
Vaccinations and health risks
At least 8 weeks before your trip check:
- the latest information on health risks and what vaccinations you need in TravelHealthPro’s Portugal guide
- where to get vaccines and whether you have to pay on the NHS travel vaccinations page
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.
TravelHealthPro explains best practice when travelling with medicines.
The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.
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 facilities in Portugal
You can view a list of English-speaking medical facilities in Portugal.
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
TravelHealthPro has general advice on travel and COVID-19.
Health insurance cards
Apply for 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 necessary during your trip. Any treatment provided is on the same terms as Portuguese nationals. If you do not have your EHIC with you or you’ve lost it, contact the NHS Overseas Healthcare Team.
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. An EHIC or GHIC 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.
GHIC and EHIC cover state healthcare only, not private treatment. You will be responsible for the cost of any treatment provided by a private doctor or private clinic.
Travel and mental health
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:
dealing with a death in Portugal
being arrested in Portugal
getting help if you’re a victim of crime
getting help if you’re a victim of rape or sexual assault
what to do if you’re in hospital
if you are affected by a crisis such as a terrorist attack
Help abroad in an emergency
If you are abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy or consulate.
You can also contact FCDO online.
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)
Risk information for British companies
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.