WORDS Meredith Price Levitt

Portugal loves paperwork. And I’ll be honest – not speaking fluent Portuguese doesn’t help when it comes to endless reams of paperwork! In fact, for the last two years I’ve been trying to get a driver’s license.

When I moved to Portugal at the beginning of 2020, it was one of the only countries in the EU to require foreign residents to convert their driving license from their home country to a Portuguese driving license. And within the relatively short time frame of 90 days. Add a global pandemic to that regime and it has been close to impossible.

So what did the Troca de Título de Condução Estrangeiro paperwork involve? A valid medical exam conducted by a doctor in Portugal (within the last 90 days). Check. That was pretty easy. A letter from your embassy stating that your home license is valid. Check. The Israeli embassy sent mine within a few weeks. Copies of all your other paperwork (passport, residency, address etc). Check. An online form where you could conveniently upload all of your electronic copies of these documents (jpeg only). No check. Either they were too small, or they were too big, or they were not the right file type, or something was missing.

I don’t know if it was the Israeli driving license that threw them for a loop. Maybe it was my American passport that confused the issue. Perhaps it was because the letter had expired from my doctor by the time the forms were all sent in?

I tried three times. I sent in all the forms, made sure they were properly attached, and double-checked that I had included everything. I spent hours pouring over the rules, gathering documents, changing image sizes and writing letters to several embassies.

Each time, the response was the same. Either something was missing (it wasn’t!) or something wasn’t valid (it was!). After three times, I was almost ready to give up when a friend suggested using my American driving license to match my American passport. Even though I have an Israeli passport too, which I also submitted, I decided to try.

I dug up my American license. To my great dismay, it had expired. A long, long time ago. All the way back in 2019.

On my first trip “home home” since COVID, this August I decided to renew it. This, I hoped, would finally resolve my ongoing paperwork saga with the IMT (Institute for Mobility and Transport). As you only legally have 90 days to do this and I’ve been in Portugal for over two years, (and pulled over once by a very angry Algarve policeman who wanted to see my Portuguese license) I was keen to check this off my to-do list.

This July, the law changed. I could hardly believe my luck. Portugal decided that foreigners living in Portugal can now legally drive with licenses from their own countries! It was cause for celebration. I know. Little things excite me. 

I could stop haggling with the IMT and stop spending hours gathering useless paperwork!

Still. I need a valid US license. So this August, I went back to my sixteen-year-old roots and studied. Driving laws and road signs. Who knew that you cannot park within 50 feet of a railroad crossing? I also had to pass a vision test and take a practical exam with a nice man named Johnny. In typical small-town fashion, Johnny grew up a few miles away from where my dad went to high school in Brunswick, Georgia and knew some of the same people.

I aced the written, but the practical was harder. Johnny let it slide that I didn’t put my turn signal on in the parking lot. It took me two tries to parallel park and I had to pull forward instead of just gliding into a parking space backwards with one fluid movement, but he was so kind. “I know you know what you’re doing,” he said gently. “But pretend you’re on the real road.”

Miraculously, I passed. So now I have both an American and an Israeli driving license and no need to get a third. As a full-time resident in Portugal, this is some of the best news about paperwork I’ve had in a while.

I’m officially legally licensed. Twice!

Meredith Price Levitt is a freelance writer, an American ex-pat who identifies as a hybrid. After 20 years in Tel Aviv, she moved to the Algarve in December of 2019. Just in time for a global pandemic.

You can contact her at meredithmprice@gmail.com