Portugal is a popular summer destination, mostly due to its great weather and amazing beaches. It also doesn't hurt that this southern European country makes for a relatively economical holiday. If you are driving in the Algarve this summer, there are a few things you should know about the A22, the highway which runs across the region, connecting most main cities.
The A22 is also known as "Via Infante de Sagres", or more commonly as "Via do Infante". It was originally built as part of the country's SCUT system, which was a network of highways that - unlike traditional Portuguese highways - did not have tolls. This changed on December 2011 and "Via do Infante" is now a toll-road. Unlike other toll roads in the country, the former SCUTs don't have toll booths, using instead an electrical toll system which registers the license plates of cars using the road.
If you hire a car in Portugal, most suppliers will offer the option to hire a device to help with the automatic payment of tolls. This device can be used both in the new highways, which have electronic tolls, and in the old highways, which have special non-stop lanes for people with automatic devices. This device is optional and clients can choose not to take it. If you accept the device, the company will charge a daily rate for its hire, and any tolls will be charged automatically to your credit card.
If you opt out of getting a device, you are left with two options. You can either choose to post-pay for the tolls or you can avoid the A22 entirely. To post-pay the tolls, you can do it in either a Payshop or in a CTT branch (Portuguese post office). This has to be done 48 hours after you have used the highway but no later than 5 days. That means that if you plan to use the highway less than 48h before you leave the country, you won't be able to pay the tolls. If you fail to pay for the tolls, you will be issued a fine by the Portuguese authorities, together with an administrative fee by the rental company.
Instead of using the highway, you can always use national roads instead, which don't have tolls. Despite claims to the contrary, it is entirely possible to travel in the Algarve using only national roads. However, you should know that many locals prefer using national roads to avoid paying tolls, which means there will be far more traffic in those roads. This is particularly true in the summer months. These roads also go through towns instead of around them, and traffic tends to get bottlenecked on the traffic lights and roundabouts going in and out of town.
If instead of holidaying in Portugal, you're only driving from a quick visit from Spain, worry not. At the Spanish/Portuguese border you will come across a vending machine where you can get an automatic device for your car. You will need to enter the car's registration number and your credit card number, and the tolls will be charged directly to your credit card. The machine has a phone that will connect you to a help line if necessary.