Discover more from Expat in Portugal
Driver's License Exchange
We often hesitate to begin a “project” fearing we don’t know all the steps, that it will be incredibly frustrating, or damn near impossible. Some even hire a third party to embark on the process for them. But I found that exchanging my US driver’s license for a Portuguese one was really quite simple.
Before We Left the States
We reestablished residence in Florida before we left the States. While we had sold our home in California, the laws regarding paying California state taxes regardless of where you physically reside were a concern. So while we imposed on friends and waited for our D7 visa to arrive, we registered to vote in Florida and exchanged our California drivers’ licenses for ones from Florida. We also got a printout of our driving records from Florida. We then sent them to the state office in Tallahassee with a check for $10 (I think) and an envelope with an international stamp, addressed to our D7 accommodations in Estoril asking that they certify it. We hoped it found its way to us and in fact, about 8 weeks later it did.
Driver’s License Exchange & Covid
I am not certain exactly how one exchanged their license before Covid. I am told that you went to their version of the DMV (IMT) and handed in your existing one, paid a fee, and got a Portuguese one in exchange. However, now most of the process is done online. If you want to follow all the rules (above) and do it most efficiently, you:
Become a temporary resident, i.e. you complete your SEF meeting. If you have been reading along, you know that our originally scheduled meeting was canceled and rescheduled due to Covid closures.
Get a driver’s license physical. Since we have private health insurance we simply scheduled an appointment with a private general practitioner. She asked us a bunch of questions (medications taken, do you wear glasses, if you answer yes to the glasses question you get a simple eye test, etc) and gave us a document declaring we were fit to drive.
Access the IMT website: From there, you can link to a site that lists the countries that have bilateral agreements with Portugal governing driver’s license exchange. The US was on the list.
Complete the application process online. The form is in Portuguese and English so I didn’t even need my translator. (Note the Número de identificação civil is the number that appears on your resident card.)
Attach scanned copies of a few items. In my case a scanned copy of my resident card, the certified driving record, my physical exam, and my Florida driver’s license.
Within minutes of submitting the form and attachments, I received a reassuring, automated email saying it was received and giving me a tracking number. A few minutes later I received another email saying it was assigned.
Wait. I guess since it was immediately assigned I assumed within hours or days I would receive another email. I did not. I actually asked our friendly banker how long was appropriate to wait without following up. He said two months. So exactly two months later, I sent a follow-up email. I attached the confirmation receipt and asked: Posso pedir a vossa ajuda? Gostaria de compreender a situação deste pedido. Vamos mudar-nos para o Algarve em Janeiro e, se possível, gostaria de completar o intercâmbio antes da nossa mudança.
I’m not certain if it is just happenstance or my follow-up email did some good. But about 9 days later I received further instructions from the IMT. It provided me with the information required to make a €30 payment online (via Multibanco). I made the payment.
The next day I received an email with a document attached which was my temporary driver’s license. It instructed me to send some paperwork and my US driver’s license to Coimbra. Finally, I was instructed to have my biometrics collected.
I went to a city office in Cascais to find out about “biometrics”. They explained the nearest office was in Lisbon and provided me with an email address as scheduling an appointment was required at this time. I sent the email and quickly received a reply with an appointment date and time. Last Wednesday, we took the train to Lisbon, had a lovely lunch then went to the IMT office. There my photo was taken, a new temporary license with my photo and signature was produced and given to me. Voilá-la!
Do NOT Fear the List
Okay, it seems like the list is long. And yes, right now all I have is a temporary license with my photo on it that is good for six months. And yes, we are moving soon and I have no idea (today) how the license will get to me. I suspect I will be letting our current landlord know that we are expecting an important document from IMT and asking them to forward it to me. (And yes, under full disclosure, this loose end does gnaw at the back of my brain.)
But if you review the list again you will see that each step is quite simple and logical. We have a friend that was told by other expats that the process was complex and best handled by an attorney or solicitor. She hired an attorney about one month before I began the process. To date, she has not even received her temporary license. Perhaps it is time for some follow-up to the attorney or she should embark on this process on her own.
I am also told there are offices that will handle the process for you. If you review the list above there really isn’t very much they can do for you. You will still need to get a physical, provide the documents to be scanned, pay the fee, etc. Buck up buttercup…you can do this!
Not to Dissimilar to the CA DMV
If I did any step in the process incorrectly it was the last one. We finished lunch around 13:20 and my appointment wasn’t until 15:40. It wasn’t a particularly nice day so we decided to go to the IMT office early. Perhaps if we got in the queue we would complete the process before the assigned time. Nope.
In fact, upon arrival, we entered a code that was on the email we received with the scheduled appointment time into a kiosk. It spits out a ticket with a number on it: M100. We then sat and waited. In fact, we waited until 16:50. We learned that regardless of when we showed up we would be taken by appointment time. Also, they were a bit behind schedule that day. Because my Portuguese is rather limited taking the photo and getting the document took about 2 minutes. (If I was fluent in Portuguese I suspect it would have taken longer…there are niceties to exchange, discussion of family members, the weather, etc, etc.)
I likely would have waited just as long in the Palm Desert DMV office, albeit without the chit-chat.
Full disclosure: Denise completed her online form about one month after I did and is still on step 7, i.e. wait. We also recently met with a couple who are also on step 7…at this point, they have been waiting for 12 weeks.
Editors Update: I learned that the license would be sent requiring my signature. So I had to pay the CTT (postal service) a fee to have my mail forwarded. On 9 February I received an email from the IMT saying the process was completed and the license was sent. I worried, endlessly, that it would not find its way to me. But on 21 February there was a slip in my box indicating that the post-person had attempted delivery. So how long did it take? I think I did the online form in October…so with mail forwarding, about 4.5 months.