Driving A Car On Madeira – Information Sheet

Important Things To Remember If Driving On Madeira 

Please read the disclaimer at the bottom of this page.

1. If you are a tourist or visiting Madeira, you may hire a car. You cannot own and drive, or borrow a car, unless your licence has been registered with the driving authorities. Nearly all of the car rental agencies are based in Funchal, and some also have booths at Madeira Airport. Most international car rental companies cover Madeira, but not all, and so reservations can usually be made online.

Research shows that most problems with car rental generally are the result of surcharges for extras, petrol, and vehicle damage. Keeping petrol receipts, and doing a careful inspection with photographs of any damage might help you later in the event of problems. Also check the terms of the insurance, as if you make a claim and haven’t followed the requirements, your claim could be rejected.

2. If you are resident on Madeira, you have the option to keep your own European format driving licence, having registered it with the authorities, or you may swap your driving licence for a Portuguese licence. You must register with DGV within 30 days of becoming resident on Madeira.

Registering A Driving Licence – The DGV (Direcção Geral de Viação) is the licensing authority, and is based either behind the casino in Funchal or in the ‘Loja do Cidadão’. To register a EU issued driving licence, you need to complete their registration form, copy it, and take two copies of your ID and two copies of your driving licence. Also you may need to provide photographic ID. You can do this by post or in person. They will give you back a stamped document, which you must keep. With the exception of hire cars, you cannot drive a car on Madeira without registering first.

3. In line with most of Europe, in Portugal you drive on the right hand side, and if you buy a new car it will be left hand drive. You use roundabouts in an anticlockwise direction, otherwise the driving rules are similar to the UK, and the traffic signs and warnings should be recognisable, if not readable.

Many of the roads on Madeira are hilly and have sharp bends, so extra attention is needed. The standard of driving is generally good on the island, but as in any country you need to be beware of the odd idiot driver.

Speed limits on Madeira are signposted, and are generally 40 to 50 kph (kilometres per hour) in built up areas, other wise you can drive at up to 80 kph. The major dual carriage ways (via rápidas) have speed limits of up to 100 kph, with lesser limits displayed where road conditions warrant a reduction.

4. You can import a right or left hand drive car onto Madeira, but the importation process is complex and time consuming, and the re-registration will require you to have a new vehicle registration plate. Right hand drive cars are not popular, and if you try and sell one it will be difficult and you will achieve a considerably lower price than for the same left hand drive model.

The car must be registered within 30 days of arrival on the island, and the importation process must be complete within 180 days, on the risk of impoundment for tax evasion.

5. Depending on  your residency status, you may be able to import a car tax free to Madeira if you have owned the vehicle for sufficient time. If you do have to pay tax it is based on the car age and emission rating, and may result in a considerable tax charge. The charges are available at Finance offices, otherwise the company managing the car import should be able to advise on tax liabilities. You are strongly advised to consider tax implications before bringing a car to Madeira.6. Portuguese law states that you must carry a red warning triangle and a yellow reflective vest in the car at all times, for safety reasons, for use in the event of a breakdown or accident. You must wear the seat belts in both the front and back of the car, and children under the age of 12 years must sit in the back seats.

7. You should carry your insurance, car registration documents, and driving licence with you, when out driving. If stopped by the police you should produce these at the time, if not you may be fined and told to report to a police station on Madeira with your documents. All cars on Madeira should also show 2 or 3 stickers in the top right corner of the windscreen.

The first is provided by the insurance company (seguro automóvel). Car insurance is available on 3 main levels, fully comprehensive, third party fire & theft, and third party. Other additions such as windscreen damage are available for an extra premium, and ‘no claims’ are accrued and can normally be ‘imported’ from non-Portuguese insurance companies, and these ‘no claims’ can also be insured for the car owner only.

The second should show that you have paid your car tax for the year. From 2008, the car tax is paid annually on the anniversary of the vehicle registration,  and can be renewed at Finance offices or over the internet. Car tax has been very cheap for many years, but new rates based on fuel consumption and exhaust emissions are now in place that will penalise gas guzzling cars. You should receive a bill at the address registered in Finances when the car tax (IUC) is due, although Madeira does not seem to be in line with the rest of Portugal in this respect, so it is best to keep a diary note to avoid a late payment fine. There is more information on renewing car tax via the internet below.

The third sticker is necessary if the car is over 4 years old, and will be issued at one of Madeira’s inspection (MOT) centres. After the first inspection (4 years), the next is at 6 and then 8 years, and annually thereafter. The inspection will give one of 3 decisions. Pass, with up to 7 minor defects (which although not serious safety issues still need to be rectified). If more than 7 minor defects or a safety defect, you can be failed, on the proviso that you bring the car back promptly with the faults fixed. And lastly, failed with a serious defect(s), in which case the car has to be towed to a garage for repair.

Getting Your Car Inspected (MOT test) – In some respects the car inspection system on Madeira is quite advanced, and a lesson in production line methodology that other countries could learn from. No appointment is needed.

Having got yourself to the test centre, going west out of Funchal and turning off after the petrol station at the sign for the Botanical Gardens, you park up and go into the reception.

There you have to produce the car registration documents, insurance, the previous inspection record, and the princely sum of €26 (2007). Strangely there is no receipt issued. You then put yourself and your car in one of the queues at the back of the building, and drive bit by bit into the building where the test is carried out.

At the first stage they test exhaust emissions, lights, horn, and some under the bonnet stuff. Also they check you have the safety jacket and red triangle in the car. The car then goes onto some rollers to test the brakes, and then is driven over a pit where the car is shaken around to test for unwanted movement in steering and suspension mechanisms. And that is pretty much it!

You then park up at the front, and go into the office to wait for the verdict, hopefully a green certificate with as little printing as possible. This is where things may become a little puzzling, as on occasions money changes hands. Whether this may or may not influence the outcome of an inspection is hard to say. Just ‘tips’ perhaps! And, whilst on the subject of ‘puzzling’, you will also find a bar on the premises, so take it steady!

If you are not so lucky, they will explain what you need to do, which could involve a retest (about €13 in 2007). There is a further test centre at São Vicente, but it is a mobile unit but it is worth checking it is in place to avoid a wasted journey.

Vehicle inspections take place on the anniversary of registration of the vehicle in Portugal, and are based on age of the vehicle. Private vehicles have their first inspection after 4 years of age, then 6 years, 8 years, and then every year. You can take your vehicle for inspect in the two months prior to the due date. Do not leave it until the very last day possible, as the queues can be substantial.

8. On the spot fines are normal for minor traffic offences on Madeira. More serious offences, such as drink driving, may land you in court, resulting in a suspension of your licence and a driving ban, as well as a large fine. If you drive with more than 1.2 g/l of alcohol in your body you will be arrested. Using a mobile phone whilst driving is also an offence.

Drink Driving Limits For Portugal & Madeira – If after a test the alcohol reading equals or exceeds 0.5 g/l but is than 0.8 g/l, the penalty varies between €250 and €1250.  If it is equal or exceeds 0.8 g/l and is lower than 1.2 g/l, the penalty varies between €500 and €2,500 and the driving licence is withdrawn. The length of withdrawal depend on the circumstances and the quality of the defence, but in the best cases it is likely to be at least 3 months. Police are now very vigilant for drunk and dangerous drivers, and the local newspaper publish the numbers arrested every week.

9. Portuguese car insurance covers the car, not just the person. If you lend your car to someone they should be covered, but they must have your authority in writing to borrow your car (meeting a specified format). You must check your insurance policy before lending your car to someone.

10. Outside of Funchal, petrol stations can be sparse, so its best to fill up when you see one unless you know where they are situated. You can buy ordinary grade unleaded petrol (gasolina 95), high grade (gasolina 98) and diesel (gasóleo), but they are all fairly expensive due to the importation costs to Madeira.

11. If you breakdown on the Madeira dual carriageway (via rápida) phone 800 290 290 for
assistance. There are plenty of cameras along the busiest sections, so you may find help is on the way before requesting it. Be aware that mobile phones may not work inside the tunnels, and keep clear of any burning vehicles inside tunnels.

12. If you need to park on Madeira, you will probably have to use a car park if you are in or near a town / city centre. There is no established formula across the island for calculating parking charges, but they are comparatively expensive for local people, who tend to know where else to go to avoid paying. Also, some supermarkets will pay for limited parking when you shop with them. 

Where the ‘P’ sign shows the word ‘LIVRE’, it means parking spaces are available. ‘COMPLETO’ means full up.

13. Car Tax is due on the anniversary of the month of the vehicle registration in Portugal. The tax authorities on Madeira are encouraging car owners to renew car tax through the internet, although it is still possible to do so in your local Finance Office (take all your vehicle documents and tax number with you).

To renew on the internet is fairly simple if you understand Portuguese and have a password to access the IRS website. If you don’t speak Portuguese but are happy to give it a go, go to the IRS website and enter your tax number (Nº Contribuinte) and password (senha). Then go to the grey menu on the left, and select CONTRIBUINTES, ENTREGAR, IU CIRCULAÇÃO. You should find your vehicle listed. Once you have selected your vehicle and submitted your application (EMITIR), you then need to make arrangements to pay. This can be done at the Finance office, through the multibanco machines (ATMs), or through internet banking. Whichever way you choose, you will have to refer to the PDF document that will be presented to you after ‘EMITIR’  to obtain the payment references.

The payment references can also be obtained through the grey menu : CONTRIBUINTES, CONSULTAR, IU CIRCULAÇÃO, DOCUMENTOS.

If you go back through the links above a couple of days after payment, the certificate should be updated with your payment details. Print this off and keep it in your car as proof of payment. You should be sent a window sticker to prove you have valid car tax, but this can take some weeks after renewing to arrive by post.

DISCLAIMER – THE INFORMATION PROVIDED HERE DOES NOT CONSTITUTE PROFESSIONAL ADVICE, AND IS PROVIDED FOR BRIEF GUIDANCE ONLY, ON A BEST ENDEAVORS BASIS.

NO RESPONSIBILITY CAN BE ACCEPTED FOR THE ACCURACY OF INFORMATION SHOWN HERE, AND YOU SHOULD SEEK INDEPENDENT VERIFICATION OR PROFESSIONAL GUIDANCE. THIS PAGE WAS LAST UPDATED IN 2008.

This information sheet is copyright material – do not reproduce in part or full without written consent                                     

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