Dear Reader and Future Traveler:
If you found incorrect or incomplete information on Portugese toll systems as I did, look no further, this is the blog you need!
In all honesty, I have never seen so many toll gates on one single road and so many different toll systems in a single country, as here. It does not matter where you enter Portugal, you can’t avoid paying tolls, which already starts at the borders. Upon entering Portugal you can’t miss these large signs asking foreign vehicles to register for EasyToll. This is a very simple and quick process; you approach the EasyToll machine (make sure your car stands fairly close to the gate), slide your credit card (and leave it inside the machine for processing unlike in the USA where you quickly swipe it), the camera takes a picture of your license plate and associates it with your credit card. The sign up has a cost of 0.60 Euro+VAT and each journey has an administrative cost of 0.26 Euro+VAT, which will be charged to your credit card.
-These machines do not accept credit cards with a chip so you better have the right credit card with you because you can’t turn around here!!!!
-If you change rental cars during your trip, you can update your registration online but you can’t switch credit cards so make sure your credit card has funds.
You are going to get a receipt as proof of registration, showing your license plate, identifier number and the last four digits of your credit card number. The registration is valid for 30 days and with EasyToll registration you can drive on regular toll and EasyToll roads. Every time you cross a toll gate the camera will read your license plate and automatically charge the toll to your registered credit card without stopping. The amount of toll for each car category is posted on a big sign just before the gate. YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO USE THE VV (VIA VERDE) LINES with this type of registration unless your car is also equipped with a transponder. When you leave Portugal don’t forget to cancel this service to make sure nobody drives the same rental car with your registered credit card!!!
The toll gates cost nickel and dime but they surely add up because the gates are only a few kilometers apart. There are secondary roads if you want to avoid paying toll but they barely qualify for roads; you basically have to share a single lane with incoming traffic, which could easily mean anything from crossing goats to tractors. Somewhat scenic but there are no facilities between the villages unless peeing in the bushes satisfies you, not to mention you can’t drive faster than 25 KPH. We did not last long driving on secondary roads, immediately set our GPS to allow toll roads from that moment on and saved an hour on a 2 hour drive! People, gasoline in Portugal is 1.48 Euro a liter so do the math, it is more economical to take the toll roads, trust me on that, so worth it!
Another toll option is a 3 day sticker which entitles you to unlimited use on regular toll roads (driving light vehicles only) but not good for EasyToll roads. It costs 20€ with a service cost of 0.60€+VAT and an administrative cost of 0.26€+VAT per journey. There is also an option of a pre-paid ticket with previously defined date and journey:
Journey from Spain – Porto Airport, via A28 or A41 (round trip)
Journey from Spain – Faro Airport via A22 (round trip)
On a side note: I heard this sticker does not come off easily and rental car companies don’t like it.
The third option is a transponder, so-called Via Verde device. This device allows you to use the VV (Via Verde) line which is the express line in Portugal while the toll gates debit the amount from your device. You can rent a transponder and return it or just buy one if you don’t like the hassle. Cost of rental: 6 Euro in the first week and 1.50 Euro for each week after that. Initial deposit is 27.50 Euro (value refunded upon return of the device) and the consumption is depending on the use. You can purchase this product in Via Verde stores or in service areas, IN CASH. For permanent stays, the driver may purchase a Via Verde device with direct debit online, Via Verde stores or at the Caixa Geral Bank in Spain. Validity period of 90 days, extendable for an equal period whenever a new minimum preload is made before the expiration of that period.
The fourth option is the TollCard which is activated through an SMS, with a fixed amount to be consumed depending on circulation. This solution allows payment in cash or with bankcard, is valid for one year and your balance can be found on the Internet. It is aimed at tourists and immigrants. The driver can buy a pre-loaded card with 5, 10, 20 or 40 € (with an added service cost of 0.60€+VAT for each purchased card).
After purchasing the card the driver shall proceed to its activation by sending an SMS by mobile phone with the code printed on the card and the license plate of the vehicle (instructions on the card), so that it is associated with the license plate of the vehicle. You can activate more than one card, with the accumulation of balances.
The driver can check the card balance online at www.portugaltolls.pt and when the card balance runs out, the customer will receive an alert SMS. The activated balances will be consumed depending on the use of highways with electronic toll collection only and for each journey it´s applied an administrative cost of 0.26€+VAT. Each card is valid for one year after its activation.
A tollcard that is not activated or damaged can be returned in any CTT office and its purchasing cost will be refunded. The remaining credit can also be refunded if a credit card was used for the payment (as long this was ordered during the sign up), in a 6 month maximum period. Buy it at CTT post-offices, at Portuguese highway´s service areas or at www.tollcard.pt.
Lastly, the fifth kind of toll, which is not mentioned on any website, are the manned toll booths on certain sections so you have to pick up a ticket the old fashion way and pay the toll when you exit or whenever you get to next pay gate on your road. They accept cash and credit cards as well.
IMPORTANT: IF YOU FLY INTO PORTUGAL AND RENT A CAR, YOU MUST ASK YOUR CAR RENTAL AGENCY TO RENT YOU A DEVICE OR A TOLLCARD BECAUSE YOU CAN’T REGISTER FOR EASYTOLL IF YOU ARRIVE BY AIRPLANE!!!!
LASTLY: TRY TO LINE UP AT MANNED TOLL BOOTHS FOR PAYMENT, THE OPERATORS ARE PRETTY QUICK, THEY ARE FASTER THAN THE MACHINES THAT PROCESS YOUR CREDIT CARDS. MACHINES OCCASIONALLY DONT ACCEPT FOREIGN CREDIT CARDS OR CARDS WITH CHIPS SO AVOID THE HASSLE AND JUST HAND YOUR CREDIT CARD TO THE OPERATOR INSTEAD. ONCE THE MACHINE HAS AN ERROR READING THE CREDIT CARD YOU CANT CANCEL THE TRANSACTION AND NEED TO ASK FOR HELP BY PRESSING THE “I” BOTTON WHICH IS INFORMATION AND MEANS A 15 MINUTE STOP. EACH TOLL BOOTH HAS 2 CARD READERS OUTSIDE BUT YOUR BEST BET IS THE OPERATOR.
ADVISE: IF YOU ARE ON A ROAD TRIP CROSSING FROM SPAIN COVERING A BIG PART OF PORTUGAL AND DON’T KNOW WHICH METHOD IS THE BEST FOR YOU: DO WHAT WE DID: REGISTER FOR EASYTOLL. IF YOU ARE FLYING IN THEN RENT A DEVICE. I WOULD NOT SUGGEST THE 3 DAY STICKER SINCE MOST ROADS ARE ELECTRONIC TOLL ROADS, IT ALSO HAPPENS THAT ONE ROAD HAS BOTH EASYTOLL AND REGULAR TOLL SECTIONS WHICH MEANS THAT YOU WOULD BE PENALIZED FOR USING THE WRONG METHOD FOR EASYTOLL.
Image: engenhariacivil, autotraveler