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🇵🇹🚗 Trading a Foreign License to Drive in Portugal

The automobile is the default mode of transportation in Texas. Public transport is sadly lacking (and will probably continue to be for the next few years or decades).

I owned a car in Texas. I drove it everywhere. I didn’t love it. Environmental concerns aside, driving is stressful. I hate finding parking. I dislike vehicle maintenance. I’m wary of accidents. I’d rather do something else.

I moved to Lisbon in 2019 where public transport and affordable rideshare let me live a car-free life for nearly two years. Two events broke that model:

  1. My wife, Rachel, began working at A-to-Be, part of the larger Brisa transportation company. We purchased a used car to save her hours each week during her commute.
  2. We moved to Sintra (well, we moved about 15 minutes east of Sintra to a tiny village). I live further from a city center than I ever have in my life. I love it, but nothing is really walking distance. The car we share helps make that easier. However, Rachel became increasingly annoyed with being the only chauffeur/driver in the family.

Under increasing pressure, I finally committed to getting my license. Obtaining a driver’s license in Portugal was a bit harder than I expected. I finally did it a few months ago and wrote down the steps that worked for me.

⚠️ Proceed with caution. I’m not a lawyer or an expert. These steps worked for me. It might work for you. I’ve talked to people who started this process months before me and are still waiting.

⏰ Watch the clock. In theory, if you wait too long to exchange a foreign driving license in Portugal you will have to start over and apply for a new license directly from Portugal. I’ve heard that this cutoff is six months after you obtain residency, and other guides seem to confirm that. COVID appears to have extended that deadline. I was able to exchange mine about 16 months after becoming a resident.

Alright, let’s get started. I’m writing this guide using a day counter to give you a sense for timeline. I’ll also be collapsing the text I sent in emails so that the guide itself is shorter. You can expand each section to copy-and-paste. I’m also redacting personal information.

🎯 I have a few goals for this project

  • Be able to drive in Portugal, legally.
  • Avoid taking a driving course and test in Portugal, because I cannot drive a manual car (I know, I know) and I would struggle with the Portuguese language aspect of the exam.

🗺️ This walkthrough covers how to:

  • Apostille a driving record in Texas.
  • Schedule an appointment to trade the license in Portugal.
  • Follow up.
  • Complete the forms and obtain a license.

Get your homework ready

You will need a driving license from your home country or state. You will also need to have your driving record apostilled.

I have wanted to write a longer post about the process to apostille documents for a long time, but in short: not every government in the world knows about every other government’s paperwork. The Portuguese government does not know what a driving record from Travis County in Texas should look like. Nor should they. Instead, they agree to an international process which validates that the particular document is authentic. This way, the State of Texas can say “trust us, this document is real.”

In my case, I first requested my driving record from Travis County in Texas, where I lived. I received the paperwork online and printed it. I then took my driving record to the Texas Secretary of State. You can walk into their office in Austin, present a document produced by a local municipality or the State itself, and they will apostille the document - certifying that it is the real deal. This consists of paperwork they staple to the front and a physical stamp. You can also do this via mail, but there is a 15 business day lead time.

Back in Portugal, you will also need a fiscal number (a Portuguese tax identification number) and your residency permit ID number.

Schedule an appointment

Day 0

From what I have heard, COVID moved much of this process online, which should make it much easier. I started by sending a request to schedule with the IMT, Portugal’s governing body for mobility and transport. I included a completed form, the Pedido de Marcação Para Atendimento Presencial, which can be found on the IMT website.

Email sent to IMT

To: drmtlvt.agendamentoscondutores@imt-ip.pt

Subject: Troca de Carta de Condução Estrangeira (EUA) para a Carta de Condução Portuguesa

Eu, Samuel Douglas Rhea, nacional dos EUA, portadora do título de
residência n.º #########, válido
até DD-MM-YYYY, venho, por este meio, requerer um agendamento nas
V. instalações da Direção Regional de Mobilidade e Transportes de
Lisboa e Vale do Tejo  (Loja do Cidadão do Saldanha), para solicitar a Troca de Carta de Condução Estrangeira (EUA)
para a Carta de Condução Portuguesa.

Para os efeitos do agendamento solicitado já reuni toda a documentação necessária.

Envio em anexo o formulário de pedido de agendamento preenchido.

Fico a aguardar a V. resposta com a brevidade possível.

Com os melhores cumprimentos,
Samuel Rhea

I received confirmation the same day with a request for a fee payment of 30 EUR.

Confirmation email from IMT

From: marc.agendamentos@imt-ip.pt

Ex.mo Senhor
 
Informamos que esta é uma caixa disponível só para marcação de Agendamentos.
 
Informa-se que para o registo do pedido de troca de Título Estrangeiro que pretende agendar,
deve aceder ao link:http://www.imtonline.pt/index.php/troca-de-titulos-conducao-estrangeiros/troca-de-titulos-de-conducao109
e, seguir as instruçõesdevendo aguardar comunicação por parte dos serviços. O processo será analisado e será
enviado um e-mail para efetuar o pagamento da taxa de 30 euros e com indicação sobre a forma de
recolha dos dados biométricos, caso seja necessário. 
 
Com os melhores cumprimentos

I was able to pay the fee online.

Day 6

I received a notice from gestao.imt@imt-ip.pt that my process was now registered. Seemed to just be a general confirmation.

Day 8

I received a PDF guide from trocas.estrangeiras@impt-ip.pt that consisted of a new form to complete with similar information to the original submission. The instructions asked me to print and mail the completed form back to IMT.

I also had to include:

  • My driving record from Texas (apostilled)
  • A photocopy of my Portuguese residency permit
  • My original driver’s license from Texas - yes, the actual card

I mailed these materials to:

CTT, para IMT-Delegação Distrital de  Santarém
Praceta Alves Redol, 7, 2000-182 SANTAREM

Follow up

I heard nothing for several weeks. I did receive an email on Day 35 that I needed to send my original license to them within 10 days, which I had done already on Day 8.

I began to worry a little bit. I mailed the materials with the local postal service here, CTT, using certified mail. I never received the confirmation back that the mail arrived.

I began to send one follow-up email each week, but I would send it on a different day of the week. First week would be a Monday, second week a Tuesday, etc. The goal was to catch someone different who could help me schedule an appointment. I’m not sure if it helped, but eventually I did hear back while others I know waited much longer.

Day 72

After one of my follow up emails, I received a response from an individual at IMT asking for my fiscal number (which I had included in my original email and in all of my documentation). I sent the information back within the hour and they responded with instructions to go to an underground shopping mall in two days.

The appointment

Day 74

Portugal has these really efficient physical centers, Loja do Cidadão which translates to Citizen Shop. They put all kinds of social services under one roof there like the IMT outpost, utility services, and tax offices. You can find them scattered around in convenient locations like shopping malls.

I arrived 10 minutes prior to my appointment. You stand outside in a big huddle and individual representatives walk outside and call your name. Be early - if you don’t jump when your name is called they move on.

Once my name was called, I followed the representative back and they asked a couple questions and took my photo. Whole process took about 10 minutes.

Day 93

I received my license in the mail!

What’s next?

If you are starting this process, good luck. Hopefully something in here helps. Feel free to ping me if you have questions or if you completed this and want to submit an improvement.