What makes Portugal a unique country to travel to?
Portugal is a developed and stable democracy with a developed economy. Tourist facilities are widely available.
Portugal has a relatively low rate of violent crime; however, crime in all categories is steadily increasing. Your greatest crime risk is becoming a target of pickpockets and purse snatchers, particularly at popular tourist sites and restaurants, or on public transportation. Rental cars and vehicles with out-of-town or foreign license plates are frequent targets for break-ins, particularly when parked in popular tourist destinations and beaches. You should always remove visible luggage or personal items from cars when parking. The Embassy has learned of incidents where travelers discover a flat tire and someone immediately volunteers to assist. Capitalizing on the distraction, an accomplice meanwhile steals valuables from the vehicle. Keep your car doors locked when stopped at intersections. You should also avoid using automatic teller machines (ATMs) in isolated or poorly lighted areas. In general, visitors to Portugal should carry limited cash and credit cards on their person, and leave extra cash, credit cards, and personal documents at home or in a hotel safe. While thieves may operate anywhere, the U.S. Embassy receives most reports of theft from the following areas:
Lisbon: Pick pocketing and purse snatchings in the Lisbon area are most likely to occur in buses, hotel lobbies, restaurants, the airport, trains, train stations, and trams, especially onboard tram number 28 to the Castle of São Jorge. At restaurants, items that hang over the backs of chairs or are placed on the floor are particularly vulnerable. Unattended luggage can be stolen at the Lisbon Airport. You should take special care in the Oriente, Santa Apolonia, and Rossio train stations, the Sete Rios bus station, the Alfama, Baixa and Bairro Alto districts, and the tourist area of Belém.
Outside Lisbon: Thefts have been reported in the popular tourist destination towns of Sintra, Cascais, Mafra, Fatima, and in the Algarve. Thieves reportedly scout parking areas alongside tourist attractions and beaches watching for rented cars. You should take special care when parking at the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace in Sintra; and at the beachfront areas of Guincho, Cabo da Roca, and Boca do Inferno. We have received some reports that vacation homes have been robbed in the Algarve. When renting vacation lodging, make sure to assess the accommodation’s security systems.
Madeira: Pick pocketing, while infrequent, may occur in the Old Town and Santa Catarina Park areas of Funchal.
Trains: Public transportation is considered safe and reliable; however, during the summer months, there are occasionally reports of youth gangs accosting passengers riding trains between Lisbon, Cascais, and Sintra. The authorities have increased their patrols in response to these incidents.
Taxis: Taxis are a reliable means of transportation, though you should be alert to possible discrepancies between the meter fare and the amount requested by the driver. Always ask the taxi driver to use the meter. A tourism information kiosk in the arrivals area of the Lisbon airport sells taxi vouchers at standardized prices for many locations in the city and metro area. As part of this voucher service, a member of the tourism office will also escort you to your taxi. Some cases have been reported involving taxi drivers in the arrivals area of the airport who overcharge, threaten and/or harass passengers.
Beaches: Beaches are generally considered safe, but beachgoers should not leave their personal belongings unattended. Youth gangs have been known to congregate along the beaches between Lisbon and Cascais and occasionally accost beach-goers. The authorities have increased their patrols in response to these incidences.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in Portugal, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own..
Although it is not illegal, it is advisable not to take pictures of military and security sites in Portugal. You can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy bootleg or pirated goods.Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Portugal, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not wherever you go.
Possession and use of narcotic drugs is an administrative offense in Portugal, and users can face mandatory drug treatment. Penalties for trafficking in illegal drugs are severe, and offenders can expect long jail sentences.
Arrest notifications in host country: While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Good medical care is available, but facilities may be limited outside urban areas. Public hospitals offer services at costs lower than private hospitals, but sometimes do not maintain the same comforts as hospitals in the United States. You should obtain insurance that covers medical services from a private Portuguese hospital or clinic. Private hospitals will ask for a credit card or other form of payment upon admission. In a life-threatening emergency, you can ask for a public ambulance by calling the national emergency response telephone number, 112. On the other hand, private ambulances should only be used for transport, not life-threatening emergencies, and usually require on-the-spot payment. Note that the responsiveness of emergency services is not up to U.S. standards.
Prescription Medicines: Travelers sometimes request that relatives or friends in the United States mail prescription medicines to them in Portugal, but doing so violates Portuguese law and usually results in the shipment of medications being impounded by the Portuguese customs office. When this occurs, your medications may not be released. If you use prescription medicine, you must bring a sufficient supply with you to cover your anticipated stay in Portugal, along with a copy of your physician's prescription. Should an unforeseen need for prescription refills or new medications arise, Portuguese pharmacies generally carry equivalent medications to those found in the United States; however, they may be sold under a different brand, may not be available in the same dosage, and may require a prescription from a local doctor.
Safety and Security
Portugal remains largely free of terrorist incidents; however, like other countries in the Schengen area, Portugal’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow possible terrorist groups to enter and exit the country with anonymity. U.S. citizens are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security.
General strikes and public protests against government austerity measures have occurred with increased frequency during 2012. These are rarely violent, but travelers are advised to avoid areas where these public protests are taking place.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Portugal, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
While Portugal has significantly expanded its motorway network with well-constructed roads, leading to a resulting decrease in accidents and fatalities, its road-accident fatality rate is still higher than the EU average, according to Eurostat. You should use caution, as aggressive driving habits and high speeds pose special hazards. Use appropriate care and caution while on the roadways, practice safe driving habits, and adhere to the applicable speed limits.
Fines for traffic offenses are substantial in Portugal. Speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and the use of mobile phones while driving are heavily penalized. Use of seatbelts is mandatory for drivers and passengers. Small children must be in child safety seats with the seatbelts fastened in the back of your car. The police in continental Portugal have the authority to fine on-the-spot and most of their vehicles have portable ATM machines to facilitate immediate payment.
Taxis are a reliable means of transportation, but are subject to the same road conditions listed above. Refer to the crime section of this page to alert yourself to other threats relating to taxis.
Buses are reliable.
In the Azores, driving can be challenging due to narrow cobblestone streets, blind curves, blind corners, and herds of cows on country roads. In contrast to the situation on the Portuguese mainland, payments are not made on the spot; traffic violations are registered by radar and later forwarded to the offender via the postal service. Taxis do not have meters; the fare consists of a base fee plus a posted rate per kilometer traveled. Public buses are inexpensive. Bus services begin at 7 a.m. and generally operate until 8 p.m., depending on the destination.
U.S. citizen visitors to Portugal may drive with a valid U.S. driver's license for up to six months. For international driving permits, please contact AAA or the National Auto Club.