Should you ship your car or buy one in Portugal?

The 2003 VW Golf I bought in Portugal through the website

Car buying in Portugal is an expensive experience. That’s true even if you’re buying a second-hand car. So, it may seem like a good idea to ship your car along with your household goods instead of buying one in the country. I thought about doing this.  Why? Because my car was paid off and I didn’t want to take on debt to buy another. As part of my advance research, I posted a question on the expat Facebook group “Pure Portugal.” I wanted advice from expats in Portugal on whether to buy or ship a car. Facebook groups are a valuable source of on-the-ground information.

What the expats said:

Responses I received advised strongly against trying to ship my car for several reasons:

  • My US-bought Mazda 3 had an odometer in miles not kilometers, which would make it difficult to resell.
  • It uses gasoline rather than diesel which is more common in Portugal because diesel is cheaper.
  • The cost of shipping a car from the US to Portugal can run to several thousand dollars.
  • The complexity of paperwork required to import and “matriculate” or register a car in Portugal.
  • The amount of tax you have to pay. This also runs into the thousands of dollars.

I weighed up my options and decided against trying to ship my nine-year old car. So, I sold it before I moved. Once in Portugal, I asked friends about the best options to buy a car. The route I took, on the advice of contacts, was to use the website, which is similar to Craigslist in the US. It’s a site where you can find all kinds of secondhand items for sale. Look for “carros, motos, barcos” (cars, motorcycles, boats.) I ended up with a 2003 diesel engine VW Golf TDi with 280,000 kilometers on the clock or about 174,000 miles. I paid a little more than what I’d got for my 2010 Mazda3. Luckily, I have always been a manual transmission kind of gal, because it’s rare to find an automatic in Portugal.

I met the young man who was selling the vehicle in Lisbon. To complete the purchase I had to have: a resident’s card, a tax number (NIF), and proof of ID (I used my passport.