The end of free Vanlife in Portugal?

or 'The criminalisation of my lifestyle in Portugal'

Sadly it seems the rich and the fascists have got their way once again, this time in Portugal. Those of us who remember the UK traveller scene in the 80s, will remember how the government criminalised our lifestyle as 'New Age Travellers' starting with draconian laws after the government stopped the peaceful Stonehenge peoples festival in 1985. That day they used horrific police brutality on Travellers themselves, their vehicles and their animals. Many in Ireland will know how anti-traveller sentiment led to car parks all getting height barriers and trespass being criminalised.

This is us, full-time van dwellers

There has always been anti-traveller sentiment from a section of society. Nomadic lifestyles have always scared some of the settled population, a mixture of fear, jealousy and lies in the media have contributed to the anti-traveller brigade. With the growing number of people again taking to the road, known as 'vanlifers' they are experiencing first hand the prejudice from some parts of society. 

I have written extensively about the hate campaign here in Portugal against all types of travellers in campervans and motorhomes. Here is seems they have it in for all of us that have vans, busses or trucks no matter whether we are full-time van dwellers, part-time or holiday makers, whether we are well off retired people in expensive motorhomes, surfer vanlifers in panel vans or hippies in old rusty vans and everyone else in between who travels and stays overnight in a vehicle.

Our home on wheels

My article - Groups against 'wild camping' in Portugal - exposes some of the anti-campervan groups online. If you see one of your photos on their pages report them for copyright infringement and if you see a picture of yourself or your van report them for harassment

My article - Vigilantes come in the night to evict Vanlifers, Surfers and Motorhomers in the Western Algarve - talks about the recent vigilante action, debunks the myths that people in vans leave litter, do not contribute to the economy and go to toilet in the nearest bush and gives some ideas as solutions to the issues.

My article - Advice for Van Dwellers on the Algarve - is really an earlier version of the article above although not quite the same and much shorter with links to the Portuguese constitution in English and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

My article - Parking in Southwest Alentejo and Costa Vicentina Natural Park - details the harassment we got in the daytime in Sagres during the summer. While we have only experienced a few run ins with the police this year many people have also had these experiences. 

Here we are spending money in the community, something that the anti-campervan groups say we don't do! This is at Happy Sumo in Lagos.

From the 8th of January 2021 changes to the highway code in Portugal come into effect. There are a few different changes and to see all the changes you can go HERE, the changes for us van dwellers and travellers are:

"We hereby inform you that the Government has approved changes to the Highway Code that clarify the places where motorhomes can stay overnight and parked, in contrast to the term park. At the end of a meeting of the Council of Ministers, the Secretary of State for Internal Administration Patrícia Gaspar stressed that the new changes indicate, in practice, the places where motorhomes can park and stay overnight, emphasizing that parking "is a different thing". According to the governor, parking and staying overnight is only allowed in areas previously designated for the purpose, which excludes all others that are not mentioned in the diploma. This diploma comes into force on the 8th of January 2021, and it is no longer allowed to spend the night in car parks by motorhomes, auto-dormitories or special camping vehicles.  The only authorized places are the areas designated for this purpose with the indicative signs or the campsites."

Addition to the Highway Code Article 50a - Prohibition of overnight stays and parking of motorhomes.

1 - Without prejudice to the provisions of articles 49 and 50, overnight stays and parking of motorhomes or the like are prohibited outside the places expressly authorized for this purpose.

2 - For the purposes of the preceding paragraph, it is considered: a) 'Parking' means the parking of the vehicle with more space than its perimeter; b) 'Motorhome or similar', a vehicle that presents a living space or that is adapted for the use of a living space, classified as 'motorhome', 'special bedroom' or 'caravan' by the Institute of Mobility and Transport, IP ; c) 'Overnight stay', the permanence of a motorhome or similar at the parking place, with occupants, between 9:00 pm one day and 7:00 am the next day.

3 - Anyone who violates the provisions of paragraph 1 shall be sanctioned with a fine of (euro) 60 to (euro) 300, unless it is an overnight stay or parking in areas of the Natura 2000 network and protected areas, in which case the fine is from (euro) 120 to (euro) 600 (euro).

In short unless you are parked on a campsite, aire or other area deemed as an area to park campervans you will be breaking the law if you park overnight and sleep in your vehicle anywhere else! Not sure yet what this means for people whose only home is their vehicle as the constitution here does offer some protection but who really wants to be arguing with the police over that as they are writing out a fine?

Our van parked near Meia Praia beach in Lagos. This is a parking area that gets quite busy in the summer but most of the year is quiet. We park here quite often as its out of the way but with amenities like waste bins and toilets nearby.

The only hope is that this new amendment to the highway code gets overturned and the people to support in doing that are the Portuguese Motorhome Association or CPA. You can join the association HERE for 30euro a year and a one-off joining fee of 37.50euro, you can also join their online FORUM to take part in discussion. There WEBSITE is very informative and has lots of up to date information.

This is the press release from the CPA regarding the change to the highway code:

To all campervans, representatives of campervans and trade companies in the campervans sector, restaurants and the small local commerce area.  

The Autocaravanista Association of Portugal - CPA STRONGLY REPUDES the attack on the practice of motorhome and the motorhome citizens that the concept of overnight stay introduced by Decree-Law No. 102-B / 2020 represents: “'Overnight', the permanence of a motorhome or similar at the parking place, with occupants, between 9:00 pm one day and 7:00 am the next day ”. 

After an intense manipulation of some media, in public opinion, a false image was created that the campervans do not respect the environment, nature, people and the places where they pass.  Then, in the shadow of COVID-19's containment measures, when everyone at the international level argued that motorhomes were the safest and least contagious way to take a family vacation, the Government came to test the unjustified and discriminatory measure of  motorhomes cannot stay overnight in the car parks near the beaches.  This is a clear violation of the right of campervans to access public places.  With these measures to remove motorhomes, the Government thus contributed to increasing the difficulties of local commerce, which was thus deprived of a vast number of consumers throughout the year, as are practitioners of itinerant tourism. 

AHRESP (Association of Hotels, Restaurants and Similar in Portugal), boasts of having the Government acceded to its pressure from the campsites it represents. In order to serve the interests of campsites, the Government in this second legislature came, with rules that we believe to be unconstitutional because they create citizens who own Light Vehicles with first and second category rights, to change the Highway Code, adding it, in the article 50a, the concept of overnight stay, which is nothing more than an instrument to accommodate the motorhome citizens in spaces that do not meet the necessary conditions to accommodate all the motorhomes that exist and circulate in the country, much less the many foreign motorhomes that pass by long periods, mainly in low season.

We regret the practice of police forces that for a long time, and contrary to what would be desirable, voluntarily ignored the bad practices of some campervans, but who are now quick to prosecute those who, for some reason, ignore the signaling that the campervan is banned. That many municipalities, to the detriment of their local commerce and restoration, have placed.

As a result of a whole campaign where they never wanted to give voice to the adversary, we also regret that, in a Rule of Law, the Authorities, the Political Power and the Judiciary, who do not forgive motorhomes, do not identify or prevent militia members in the middle of the night, armed with sticks and eventually other instruments of coercion, they replace the security forces, running with vehicles - motorhomes or adapted vehicles - that decide to stay overnight in any space, as happened in Silves and had television honors.

The CPA will do everything in its power to revert what it considers a Government decision conditioned to well-placed lobbies without having heard the interested parties. And we are working on it legally. The CPA has joined forces with the FPA to combat the damaging actions of the practice of motorhomes that have been announced for months. We salute the companies in the sector that have joined this effort.


We count on you. Count on us.
CPA, December 13, 2020

Here we are enjoying the beach at Meia Praia in Lagos last month. Hardly anyone around as its a bit chilly! We do a lot of walking and swimming on this beach even in the cold.

What is for certain is that these new rules will come into effect on the 8th January and it remains to be seen whether the CPA can get them overturned. I can't stress enough how important it is for anyone against these new rules to stand up and be counted, to give your support to those fighting and exposing these issues and to spread this news around the Vanlifer, Traveller, Surfer, Motorhomer, Campervanner communities. What we do not know yet is how much the police will enforce these changes.

I am not on Facebook or some of the other well used social media platforms so I urge anyone reading this to share the link to this article on their news feeds and in the groups they follow so as the information carries far and wide.

Here we are parked at a beach bar near Porto Covo. We regularly play music quite late at night at venues around Portugal and generally sleep outside the venue afterwards!

Some ideas for hashtags to use to promote the positive side of van dwelling, vanlife and travelling by campervan:


Thank you for reading :)

Lastly here we are again spending money in the community, this time at a spa hotel in Monchique for my 50th birthday!


Anonymous said…
I am pro van life. But, I was cycling around Portugal this summer, and the amount of toilet paper in areas of high van usage was horrible. I can understand the kick back to be honest.
There's so many misconceptions behind all of this - not least litter and toilet paper etc. As demonstrated by Anonymous' comment awareness needs to be raised. I know, Sam, you've covered this before but litter and toilet paper isn't solely put there by vans, on the contrary many of us actually collect the rubbish we see.

If this law is widely enforced then the impact could be huge, other than through the CPAs channels is there a petition that could be sent to the Portuguese government?
Anonymous said…
Nice read thanks, I doubt these rules will be enforced much as Portugal will be bending over backwards for any tourism as soon it warms up in the springtime
Jorga said…
Would like to sign apetition against this new law!
Anonymous said…
More fear porn
Jollyroger said…
David J said…
A great article guys, a lot of hard work has gone onto doing this and representing a lot of people. Regarding toilet paper, it is common practice in these countries, go anywhere and you will see it. It is mostly there because of women and also in places used for sexual activities. I have seen people in cars turn up and use bushes, or the cover of a van to go toilet. Good luck with your work on this.
Anonymous said…
Nice read! I had contact by email with the Portugese camper association who stated the same thing. Hope protest will lead to change. And if that doesnt work, hope that there will be enough place where police will not enforce the new regulations. We ll see.
All the best and tnx for your article again, maybe see you on the road some day. Warm regards, Kim
I applaud your initiative and hard work to make life better in Portugal (and Spain) for all people, including those of us that live on wheels.

Having said that, Portugal and Spain is doing worse than basically all countries north of their borders and it doesn't seem like the southern governments are keen to copy-paste policies and strategies implemented up north that apply to people and their liberties. So they will keep doing worse and perhaps for a long time to come. If only all of us living on wheels (some wheels as reported in this article is crazy expensive and habituated by really wealthy people dropping loads of money wherever they go) drove up north to where we are welcome. Do not ACCEPT the corrupt southern governments and their idea of forcing us to paid camp sites through nonsensical laws and violence. Go north! You don't have to go far, France is soooo much better and very enjoyable during the winter. Of course Scandinavia is the best place to be, alas a bit too cold this time of the year.
Anonymous said…
If you are not happy and you can not accept the rules, GO HOME !
Araceli de Granada España said…
Yo he ido a Portugal muchas veces y yo no he visto el papel higiénico ,es una pena porque esto quitara mucho turismo. Yo tenia en gran cariño a Portugal por su libertad ahora me pensare el ir.
Anonymous said…
Thank you so much for this. What a great effort you make for our community by sharing all of this.
Unknown said…
Hey guys! Met you both before, love the music and the blog, I am wondering what the legality of living ib a van on private land is? Thanks alot! :)
Sam Van Dweller said…
Living in a van on most private land is ok here in Portugal. Conservation land is land where you cannot live or have anything there but land classed as rustic or agricultural you are allowed temporary dwellings and sometimes more permanent structures like sheds. It is not that difficult to get a habitation licence either and in Portugal they are trying to encourage people to live out in the country as all the villages are dying due to young people either emigrating or moving to the cities.