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Safety Travel Safety: Europe: Portugal

Portugal: Portuguese Republic
Capital: Lisbon
Population: 10,084,245
Currency: euro (EUR)
Languages: Portuguese
Religions: Roman Catholic 94%, Protestant (1995)
Borders: Spain 1,214 km

Portugal is a developed and stable democracy with a modern economy. Tourist facilities are widely available.

After the March 11, 2004 train bombings in Spain, Portuguese security officials were on a heightened state of alert, which continued on through the Euro 2004 games. In general, Portugal is not prone to political or civil violence. However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Portugal �s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity.

Portugal has a relatively low rate of violent crime. However, petty crime is on the rise in continental Portugal. Travelers may become targets of pickpockets and purse-snatchers, particularly at popular tourist sites, restaurants, or on public transportation. Rental cars and vehicles with non-local license plates can be targets for break-ins, and travelers should remove all luggage from vehicles upon parking. Travelers should also avoid using Automatic Teller Machines in isolated or poorly lit areas. Drivers in continental Portugal should keep car doors locked when stopped at intersections.

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 reports of theft from the following areas:

Lisbon Area: Pick-pocketing and purse-snatching in the Lisbon area sometimes occur in buses, restaurants, the airport, trains, train stations, and trams, especially tram number 28 to the Castle of Sao Jorge. Thefts of purses, briefcases, and wallets have also occurred in hotel lobbies, restaurants, and elevators. At restaurants, items hung over the backs of chairs or placed on the floor may be stolen. There have been reports of theft of unattended luggage from the Lisbon airport. Special care should be taken in the Santa Apolonia and Rossio train stations, the Alfama and Bairro Alto districts, the Castle of Sao Jorge, and the area of Belem.

Other Areas: Thefts have been reported in Sintra, Cascais, Mafra, and Fatima. Automobile break-ins occur in parking areas at tourist attractions and near restaurants. Special care should be taken in parking at the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace in Sintra and at the beachfront areas of Guincho, Cabo da Roca, and Boca do Inferno.

Azores: Pick-pocketing and purse-snatching are not common occurrences in the Azorean archipelago. There are no reports of organized crime or gangs.

Madeira: Pick-pocketing, while infrequent, may occur in the old town and Santa Catarina park areas of Funchal.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Portuguese laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.

Consumption, acquisition, and possession for personal use of small amounts of drugs, not to exceed 2.5 grams of hashish or 1 gram of cocaine or heroin, are administrative offenses. Criminal penalties for trafficking in illegal drugs, however, are strict and can range up to 15 years in prison. If the defendant belongs to a criminal organization, jail sentences range from a minimum of 10 years to a maximum of 20 years.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

Medical facilities are available in Portugal, but in some cases they may not meet U.S. standards.

Portugal has a history of infrequent but severe seismic activity. Responsibility for caring for disaster victims, including foreigners, rests with the Portuguese authorities. General information regarding natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) home page at

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Portugal is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of roadside Assistance: Fair

Portugal has one of the highest rates of automobile accidents and fatalities in Europe. Portuguese driving habits, high speeds, and poorly marked roads pose special hazards. In continental Portugal, fines for traffic violations are substantial and usually must be paid on the spot. Taxis are a reliable means of transportation, though travelers should be alert to possible discrepancies between the meter fare and the amount requested by the driver. Buses are reliable and inexpensive.

In the Azores, driving can be treacherous due to narrow cobblestone streets, blind curves, unprotected embankments, herds of cows in the countryside roads, and the high speeds of other drivers. In contrast to the continent, traffic violations are registered by radar and later forwarded to the offender via the postal service - payments are not made on the spot. 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.

In Madeira, road conditions have improved substantially over the last few years. Drivers must still be wary of speeders, however.

U.S. visitors to Portugal may drive with a valid U.S. driver's license for up to six months. For international driving permits, please contact the AAA in the U.S. at tel. 1-800-222-4357. For specific information concerning Portuguese driver's permits, vehicle inspection and mandatory insurance, please contact the Portuguese National Tourist Office by telephone at 1-800-767-8842 or via the Internet at

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Portugal's Civil Aviation Authority as Category 1 - in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Portugal 's air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at tel. 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA�s Internet web site at

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at tel. (618) 229-4801.

Please also refer to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

July 29, 2004

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