Obtaining a Driver’s License in Portugal

(If you’ve ever had to deal with bureaucratic red tape, you’ll love the short clip above)

We became residents of Portugal in 2017. Initially we purchased a small apartment in the Alfama area, the old town district of Lisbon, and then began the process of establishing everything else that comes with residency – bank accounts, home services, tax accountants, and deciding whether to buy a car/motorcycle or not, or both. We decided on both. And that’s where the fun began.

Having lived in Mexico for the past 30 years, my driver’s license was obviously Mexican, allowing me to drive both a car and a motorcycle (I drove both in Mexico). I had held onto and kept my Canadian one up-to-date, but it only had me down for driving cars.

In early 2016 I had begun to look into what it took to obtain a Portuguese license as a new resident, and I discovered that for EU residents they can use the license of their original country, they just have to register themselves with IMTT (Institution that issues drivers licenses). I also discovered that Portugal has a reciprocal exchange program with some countries, (such as the USA, Australia, and in my case, Canada), but not with Mexico. Meaning if I wanted a Portuguese license and I was showing them my Mexican one I’d have to take the Portuguese driving course and test, as if I were a new driver.

My first initial problem was that my Canadian license isn’t for motorcycles and I needed that. So rather than taking the course in Portugal (and in Portuguese), I decided I’d just go back to Canada and do the motorcycle test there, hoping I could fast track it.

So began the process…

I went to Canada and I took a short course with a motorcycle driving school, who said they could get me in to take the actual test quickly, as I obviously knew how to drive. I passed, got my learners, and then in two weeks was eligible to go in and take the final exam. But I could only sign up for the final test at the end of the two week learner period. When that time arrived and I tried to sign up, no dates were available for the test before my departure date. And I wouldn’t be back in Canada until next July. Also, if I didn’t go back and take the test within a year, I’d have to start the process all over again.

01.07.2017 (one year later)
I got an appointment for the test in Canada set up online, went to Canada and passed. I was then issued a new driver’s license for both cars and motorcycles. So far so good.

I gathered the information I needed for IMTT – copies of current license, passport and residency card, tax number, and saw that I needed a medical report and a complete description of what my license allows me to do, including a report if I’ve had any infractions recently. I went online and found out that back in Canada (British Columbia) an online report can be issued by ICBC, but it wouldn’t include a description of the different classifications, nor a letter signed from the department. I called ICBC and they said they do such reports but they are only issued by written request. So I mailed them the request and waited.

I was in the Algarve so I went to a local clinic to find out if I could see a doctor, with the printed form needed issued from IMTT for him to sign. A doctor came to see me and asked if I had a social security number. I didn’t. Said I needed that first, and also that it can only be issued by the SSN office in the neighborhood where one lived. Once I had that, it was easy (not so easy, I was to find out) to do as it was now all online and I didn’t need the form. I was leaving Portugal shortly, so I’d have to wait until my return in December to do this. Still needed my ICBC report anyways.

Received my complete report from ICBC in the mail (2.5 months). Now I just needed the medical report.

Arrived in Lisbon on a Saturday and was there until Wednesday afternoon. So I had just over two days to do what needed to be done: Get a SSN#, a medical report, and then file it all with IMTT. Went to the SSN office in my neighborhood on Monday morning to get my social security number. Had to take a number and wait in line. I had all the documents I needed and got the number, but now I needed a medical report. I asked them about this but said they only take appointments for that and they were booked up until next week. I was leaving in two days so that wouldn’t work I said. Well, they said, if I came very early the next morning, 1/2 hour before it opens and stand in line, I may be able to get an appointment. So that was one option but I needed a better one.

So I visited a couple of hospitals and they all told me they don’t do that, only at the SSN office. Finally at one hospital someone who spoke English told me that the driving schools have doctors who work for them that do this. I found a driving school nearby so we walked over and they said the doctor wouldn’t be in until 4PM the next day. Well, at least I now had two options: tomorrow morning at SSN or tomorrow afternoon at the driver’s school.

Got up early in the cold and went to the SSN office at 7:30AM. There was already a line-up of people. They opened the doors at 8AM and I got a ticket. At 8:30 I was told I had an appointment scheduled and to wait. Around 9AM my name was called. Dra Franca spoke no English and spoke Portuguese very fast. What I got from her is that she just couldn’t sign me off, she’d need to do a full medical exam. So she started doing that and then gave me a printout of all these blood tests she wanted me to get done. (This was supposed to be easy!) I didn’t want to do this and couldn’t as we were leaving the next day. So now there was only option two.

At 3:30 I went back to the driving school and paid my fee and waited in line. The doctor didn’t arrive until 4:40. But finally I got in to see him. The only question he asked me was “You want to change your license?” And that was it. Nothing about my health! I was issued a letter, signed by him, saying I was in good health. So now I had all the documents I need for the license exchange, but now I had to present them at IMTT.

06.12.2017 9:00AM
Went to IMTT and as I arrived I could see a line that was going out the door, down the street and around the corner. And I have a 2PM flight to catch. I got in line but soon found it was moving quickly.

06.12.2017 9:45AM
Finally my number was called and I got to present my documents. Everything was going well until she saw that my medical report only said that I was fit to drive cars, nothing was mentioned about motorcycles. She said she couldn’t process it. After some haggling she said she would process it, would take pictures and I could sign, but she would set my documents aside and if I didn’t return the next day with the corrected document, she’d cancel the whole thing.

06.12.2017 10:15AM
Rushed back to the driver’s school and explained the situation, showing the classification on a photocopy of my driver’s license (IMTT now held my original one). They were good about it, said they’d fix it and correct it in the system, but that the doctor wouldn’t be returning until the next day. I explained I was flying out in a couple of hours, so asked if could someone pick it up for me. They said no problem.

Fortunately my daughter was now working in Lisbon so she went the next day and picked up the document. But by then IMTT was closed and the next day was a holiday. Finally she delivered it to IMTT on Monday. And so I am now awaiting my new license in the mail.

Quite an adventure…

Update: May 20th, 2018
Well, I’m still waiting for the license to arrive and it is now over five months since I applied for it. I went back in April and asked if there was a problem, and they said no, it usually takes six months. So hopefully sometime next month it will arrive.

Update: May 30th, 2018
Well, I finally obtained it. Arrived in Lisbon and there was a letter in the mailbox saying the license was at IMT and I could pick it up. After all that, I sure don’t want to lose it…

8 Replies to “Obtaining a Driver’s License in Portugal”

  1. I’m going through a very frustrating process as well. The driving school said they have never heard of them doing what they did to me (but that’s an entirely different story).

    I have two questions for you, the first being, Did IMT gave you a temporary license to drive until you got your license? I’ve read online that frequently they give this to you, but since it takes so long to get your license in the mail that you have to go renew the temporary certificate at IMT. I’m happy to hear that they may have switched to making you pick up the license at IMT. I am in the process of moving to Alentejo, but was fearing the complications of my license getting sent to an old address.

    Hope you’ve found Portugal a little easier! Once in awhile you run across a government employee that is not so angry and difficult, however it is rare.

    1. Hello there. Sorry to hear you’re having problems with IMT as well. I didn’t at first get a temporary license, so went nearly three months without a license. Fortunately it wasn’t a time when I needed one. But on my return to Lisbon I went and asked for a temporary permit. They said I got one when I applied for the license exchange (I didn’t), so I had to pay a fee for a new one. But it was only good for three months. Fortunately I got my license a week before the temporary one expired. However, unfortunately they made a mistake on the new driver’s license, saying that I first got my license in 1970, which would’ve made me 12 years old when I started driving. That causes problems every time I try to rent a car, and one insurance provider wouldn’t even quote me until I got that fixed.
      It seems that the bureaucracy in Portugal is having a hard time keeping up with all the country’s recent growth. Our apartment was supposed to be delivered back in November, but has been delayed by Lisbon city hall and also the electrical department (EDP) because there’s such a demand upon them. We are finding that Portugal is a wonderful country with wonderful people, but it can be quite taxing if you lack patience and persistence.

  2. Hi I noticed you said you became a resident in 2017 but you said you tried to exchange your license in 2016 as a new resident, when did you actually become a resident?

  3. I didn’t try to exchange my license in 2016, I just looked into what it would involve to do so, so that when I did become a resident, I’d know what it all entailed. And it was good I did as that allowed me to get my licensing in order in Canada first (it didn’t show my motorbike license, I only had that in Mexico, and Portugal doesn’t accept Mexican driver’s licenses). My situation was different in that I had different licenses in two different countries prior to moving to Portugal.

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