Traveling to Portugal
Portugal: An Overview
Portugal joined the Schengen Area in March 1995. Resting on the Iberian Peninsula on the western edge of Europe it is bordered by Spain to the north and west. Its location at the edge of the Atlantic speaks to its oceanic culture and tradition. For more than 12 million visitors each year the country offers a sun-kissed southern coast for verified beach bums, a modern hillside port of the capital city of Lisbon, and a rich cultural fabric evidenced by ancient castles and monasteries, Mediterranean-influenced food, famed Port wine and coveted Cristiano Ronaldo shoes.
Your passport must be valid for at least three months beyond your planned date of departure from the Schengen area. You must have at least one blank page for stamps in your passport. If your stay is beyond 90 days, you will need a Travel Visa. If you are a citizen of and ETIAS-eligible country, you will need an approved ETIAS to travel to Portugal beginning in 2021. Learn more about the application process and sign up for ETIAS alerts to get the latest news.
Be sure to make photo copies of all your travel documents to take with you on your trip. It also makes sense to leave copies with a family member or friend back home.
Where to Go
Lisbon with its vintage trolleys and riverfront location is a delightful study in contrast. Melding history with the present this hilly coastal city, which is Portugal’s capitol, looks and feels as if an artist waved a palette knife of multi-hued paints across the city’s canvas. Wandering through the cobbled streets visitors can nibble at outdoor cafes, visit designer shops, or embark on a walking tour of neighborhoods each prettier than the last, and visit the historic Moorish quarter, the Mouraria District. Fine dining, museums, and nightlife are plentiful. Revive after a long day sightseeing with Lisbon’s world-class pastries and Portugal’s tasty cherry liqueur, Ginjinha. Porto is a quaint northern city and the ideal spot for fine Port tasting. It is overflowing with old-world charm, especially along the river where brightly painted boats roll gently to the river’s tempo. The medieval Ribeira District’s narrow cobbled lanes lead toward cafes and vibrant nightlife. Historic sites including Baroque churches and colorful plazas dotted with colorful tile façades are infinitely inviting. At night, Douro River “light-seeing” (sightseeing) cruises are a romantic way to experience the city. Accommodations within walking distance of the city sights appeal to those who are exploring on foot. We also like the idea of the luxe hotels in Vila Nova de Gaia just across the river which offer heart-melting views of the beautiful old city.
Portugal—especially The Algarve region—is home to premier golf courses. Accolades include “best golf destination in Europe,” from the World Golf Awards. Along the Lisbon coast and throughout Portugal golfers enjoy courses that have been designed by luminaries Jack Nicolaus, Steve Ballesteros, Robert Trent Jones, and others. Golf packages created with international travelers in mind are widely offered, so book an adventure, and bring your clubs!
The coast is dotted with unabashedly scenic beaches. From the Algarve region with its roughhewn coastal beauty, to those hailed for incredible deep-sea caves, or those at the base of rugged cliffs, the beaches of Portugal are as diverse as they are breathtaking. Further north, photogenic Praia de Miramar beckons aficionados with its wide sandy beach, and the Beach of Falesia (Praia De Falesia) boasts dramatic red cliffs and orange-tinged sands. Wonderful coastal accommodations are plentiful and include beach resorts, private villas, chain hotels and cozy bed & breakfasts.
Portugal borders Spain to the north and east. Both European countries are part of the Schengen Area and will require an ETIAS visa waiver for entry beginning in January of 2021.
Electrical outlets and Adapters for US products
Portugal uses C, & F Plugs. You will need an adapter and maybe a transformer to use products made for the US electrical grid. Portugal runs on a 230 (220) volts, 50 hertz AC current, while US runs on 120 (110) volts and a frequency of 60 Hz AC current. Many American products are able to run on 230 (220) volts, 50 hertz AC current. You need to check your electrical product to make sure it is labeled "dual voltage" before you plug it in, otherwise you may burn out the components rendering it useless. Learn more about the different European plugs and currents here.
Pickpockets and theft
Nearly all crimes suffered by tourists in Portugal are nonviolent and avoidable, however you should be prepared for pickpockets. Europe’s transit systems are notorious for pickpockets.
- Being vigilant is your best friend when you are in high theft areas: train stations, trains, city buses, subways and open air shopping areas.
- Store important documents, money and phones in zippered or buttoned pockets, specialized travel day bags or a money belt.
- You should never leave your bags unattended! Make sure you can see them at all times. Better yet, you should keep in physical contact with your bags in public places.
First, be sure to check that your phone will work in Portugal. The easiest way to find out is to check with your mobile phone service provider. You can also find out if your service provider offers international plans for Portugal. We recommend signing up for an international plan if you plan on using your smart phone to connect to the internet or use the travel apps you may have installed on your phone. If you decide not to sign up for an international calling and data plan, costs can add up very quickly!
Free WI-FI can be easy to access, but can be very slow or not available in the countryside. Sign up for a Virtual Private Network (VPN) services to secure your phone, tablet or computer when using public Wi-Fi networks. This prevents hackers from accessing your device when using free Wi-Fi.
European Taxis, Buses and Subways
- Taxis - A good rule of thumb is use a prominent taxi service, one that has a company logo and a telephone number on the car. Avoid using taxis that just have a taxi light on the top of the car. Make sure the taxi driver is using the correct rate for the time of the day and day of the week. Nighttime and weekends have higher rates. When taking a taxi that has a set fare, for example to a Portugal airport, make sure you establish the price before you leave.
- Buses and subways - Most European cities have a great public transportation system. The cost of a transit pass for the entire time of your stay can equal the cost of one or two taxi rides. Check out the ticket options that are offered at subway stations, bus terminals and train stations. Get a transit map or download a transit app to your smart phone. Google maps have transit maps for most Portugal cities.
Exchanging Currency in Portugal
The most important thing you should understand is how exchange rates work. The Euro usually has a higher exchange rate compared to the US dollar. So if you want to get 100 euros and the exchange rate is $1.10 for one euro, it will cost you 110 dollars to get 100 euros. There are many currency conversion apps you can down load to your smart phone to get up-to-date exchange rates.
Many people like to get Euros through their bank before they leave for their trip. Check out what fees the bank charges for this service. Different banks have different fees. These fees can be expensive, so it pays to shop around.
When in Portugal avoid using currency exchange companies or booths. These companies can charge up to 15% to 20% of the amount you are exchanging. Portugal banks can also charge high fees to exchange money. You best bet is to use your ATM card with an established bank to get local currency.
Debit Cards and ATMs
First, make sure that your ATM card can be used internationally. Second, see what your bank charges for international ATM fees. Third, see what is the maximum amount you can withdraw each day. While there are fees associated with using an ATM card, they are usually much less than the fees charged by Portugal banks and currency exchange companies. ATM fees are a flat fee not a percentage. So when you are withdrawing money using your ATM card, take out the maximum amount to reduce amount of ATM fees you will incur. Also it is a good idea to use bank ATMs instead of third party ATMs, which can charge higher fees.
Cash vs Credit Cards
Using local cash is key for the European tourist. Some businesses do not accept credit cards and many businesses charge a higher price when using a credit card due to the credit card fee they pay to the credit card company. Many businesses will take US dollars, but then you will need to figure out the exchange rate to ensure you are being charged the correct amount and receiving the correct change. Having smaller bills is better than large bills. Also remember to keep your cash secure in pickpocket proof pockets or a money belt.
US credit cards are widely accepted across Portugal. Just in case, check with bank to be sure your credit card will work in Portugal. Before you leave on your trip, sign up for a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees. If you don’t, you may be in for a surprise when you get your credit card statement that contains lots of foreign transactions and currency conversion fees.
It makes sense to use a credit card for hotels, car rentals, Eurail pass, upscale businesses and restaurants. Limit the number of credit cards you take with you. Bring one back up credit card in addition to the main card you intend to use. Be sure to contact your credit card company and let them know the dates you will be traveling abroad.
Tipping in Portugal
Generally speaking, if someone in the service industry provides great service for you, a tip of a couple of euros is acceptable, but not required.
- Restaurants - 5% to 10%, with 10% being for over the top service. Be sure to check to see if service has already been included in the bill
- Taxis - round up to the nearest Euro, for example, if the fare is 5 euro give them 6
- Hotel porters - one euro for every bag
Here’s the good news: most of Europe, including Portugal, has a universal health care system that takes care of everyone – including foreigners. If you need healthcare due to illness or injury while traveling in Portugal, you won’t have to worry about getting treated. There will be out-of-pocket costs, but those are generally reimbursable depending on your health insurance.
Important Healthcare Hints
- Pack enough of any prescription medications for the length of your stay, in their labeled, original containers. It is smart to add a few more pills than you need, just in case you stay longer.
- Bring a small first aid kit with over-the-counter necessities.
- In an emergency call 112, that’s the “911” in Europe.
- If you have a non-emergency health issue, go to the nearest pharmacy first. Portugal pharmacists can actually diagnose and prescribe medications for minor issues like sore throats, sinus and stomach issues and minor aches and pains.
- If the pharmacist can’t help you, go to a clinic. They’re much like our stateside urgent care clinics, and providers can order any tests you might need like x-rays.
- Ask for a House Call. Your hotel will most likely be able to have a physician come to your room if need be.
- Most embassies and consulates have lists of physicians and hospitals in major cities. Go on the U.S. Embassy’s site, choose your destination and look under U.S. Citizens Services section.
Country of Portugal
Portugal - US Embassy & Consulate
Avenida das Forças Armadas
Avenida Príncipe do Mónaco, 6-2 F
9500 Ponta Delgada
Phone: 351 296 308 330