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Driving into Brexit

BREXITnumberplate‘Brexit’ is rapidly becoming synonymous with the joke term ‘mushroom management’, where we are kept entirely in the dark until a door is briefly opened and manure is heaped upon us. This applies very much to the topic of driving licences.
During March many of the UK newspapers picked up on a report published by the EU, on the future of transport beyond Brexit. It raised the prospect that UK driving licences might no longer be accepted in the EU. The effects of this for those that live in the EU, whether with legal residency or not, could be profound. Most of us rely entirely on our cars to get around.
In Portugal, if you have lived here for more than 185 days you are required to have a Portuguese driving licence. Until Brexit Brits remain EU citizens and can simply go to their local IMT and register their UK driving licence without the need to swap it for a Portuguese licence. To do this you first need to be granted residency and within 60 days, register your driving licence. After Brexit this will no longer be an option.
Until Brexit, you can also swap your UK driving licence for a Portuguese licence very easily for €30 without the need for costly translations and so forth. All that is required is:
  • a medical declaration from your Portuguese GP that you are fit to drive
  • your residence permit
  • proof of your address (utility bill)
  • your existing driving licence.
IMT offices are now equipped with digital technology for your photo and signature.
All the while you are an EU citizen it is illegal to hold two EU licences. When you swap your UK licence for a Portuguese licence your UK licence is taken away and the Portuguese authorities check it against the details held at the DVLA through the EUCARIS* system, to make sure it has not been restricted, suspended or withdrawn. It is then returned to the DVLA who will cancel it.
I have often heard Brits say that they apply for a second UK license prior to swapping so that they can use it in the UK, but as the licence is invalid the repercussions are clear. The fine for holding two EU licences is £1,000 and if the licence holder is involved in an accident in the UK then it will invalidate the owner’s insurance.
*EUCARIS is the EUropean CAR and driving licence Information System. It is an information exchange system that allows countries to share their car and driving licence registration information. Therefore, at the tap of a screen the GNR can access information on both the driver’s licence and the car.
If the EU and UK cannot come to an agreement about the acceptance of each other’s driving licences then this may mean that after Brexit, swapping to a Portuguese licence will require taking the Portuguese driving test in Portuguese. Therefore, it makes sense to swap your UK licence for a Portuguese licence before Brexit. Once you have your Portuguese licence you can no longer drive a foreign registered vehicle, in Portugal i.e. UK registered.
If there’s a ‘hard Brexit’ and the UK leaves the EU in March 2019, without a withdrawal agreement, there will be no transition period either. If you aren’t a resident and travel to and from the UK, or hire a car in Portugal, you will need to apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP) which is a document you carry with your driving licence.
Unfortunately, this is not as straightforward as it sounds because there are different types of IDP and each is valid for a different period. Which one you need depends on which country you are driving in and each is governed by a separate United Nations convention.
The 1949 convention IDP lasts for 12 months. After 28 March 2019 in the EU, a UK issued 1949 IDP would be recognised in Ireland, Spain, Malta and Cyprus.
The 1968 convention IDP is valid for 3 years, or for however long your driving licence is valid, if that date is earlier. After 28 March 2019, a UK issued 1968 convention IDP would be recognised in all other EU countries, plus Norway and Switzerland, including Portugal. For those of you that drive across into Spain you will require both IDPs.
Currently, a UK issued IDP for Portugal isn’t available but from 1 February 2019, the government will begin providing both forms of IDP at 2,500 Post Offices across the UK. At the moment, applying for an IDP takes around 5 minutes on a turn-up-and-go basis. However, be aware that the UK only usually processes around 100,000 applications a year but after Brexit this could leap to over 5 million and there is not the staff in place to cope with this volume.
Under Portuguese law any foreign registered car must be matriculated onto Portuguese plates after being in the country for more than 183 days. If the car was originally registered before July 2007 this is no longer possible because the Portuguese authorities issued a cut-off date when they changed the rates and methods of calculation of the IUC (annual road tax).
The tax is now centred around CO2 emissions. CO2 emissions also count towards the ISV (sales tax), paid upon matriculation. The higher the CO2 emissions, the more you will pay. The EU imposes continuously reducing CO2 reduction targets on car manufacturers and it follows that the older the car, the more CO2 emissions it will have, which is why Portugal has decided not to permit the import of older, more polluting cars.
The law covering foreign vehicles is already in force and well known and with the EUCARIS system detailed above, the GNR can quickly determine the legality of the car. Foreign vehicles must be legal in their country of registration, which means having a valid MOT, tax payment and insurance. Some Brits believe that putting their UK reg. vehicle through a test in a Portuguese inspection centre and paying the Portuguese road tax makes their car morally legal, but it is not actually legal. In fact doing this simply highlights to the police that the car has been here longer than 183 days.
Those that have a SORN ticket (standard off road notice) with the DVLA to avoid paying UK road tax, make their cars illegal here. Sanctions for having an illegal car vary but if the car cannot be matriculated onto Portuguese plates then the police have little choice but to confiscate and destroy it with an additional fine for the owner.
Whilst Brexit has no direct effect on UK registered cars it does have an effect on their owners. To matriculate a UK registered car means that you must have Portuguese residency. After Brexit or after 185 days of living here, you will have to swap your UK drivers licence for a Portuguese driving licence and again, you will need to have residency. Once you have your Portuguese licence you are unable to drive a foreign registered vehicle in Portugal.
If you decide to go down the route of matriculation the advice from most people that have gone through the process, is to find a trustworthy ‘agent’ to do it for you. A friend of mine has done just this and the cost was €1,000. Prices vary but the best advice is to use someone that has been recommended. It is possible to matriculate a vehicle 'tax-free' when you apply for residency but the rules are very strict and personal situations vary so you need to seek advice first.
If you want to see how much the ISV (sales tax) will be on your car here is a link to a simulator. It’s in Portuguese but relatively easy to use:
One thought to bear in mind is that if you have a RHD car then the chances of being able to sell it on in Portugal is very limited, particularly once Brexit has happened.
Also, UK reg. cars will soon be almost the only non-EU, non-Schengen cars on Portuguese roads, which could make them an ideal target for police checks.
But do you drive your UK car on the road - that's the difference? If the car is permanently in a garage then it's not a problem.
Until now, because the UK is in the EU the police have been pretty fair, in my opinion as they could sit at Brit hotspots like Apolonia or Leroy Merlin and check the papers of all the UK cars and make a fortune, but they don't probably because it's hard to determine exactly when the car came into the country etc through free movement. 
After Brexit this attitude could change as Brits won't be EU citizens (unless they have residency) nor in a Schengen country and can only stay in Schengen for 90 days in every 180.
For details on obtaining residency in Portugal: