Vehicle registration plates of Portugal

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Post-2005 type licence plate (for a January 2006 registered vehicle)

The Portuguese Car number plate system for automobiles and motorcycles is simple and sequential. The system has no link to geographical locations or similar. It is an incremental numbering system consisting of three groups of two characters, separated by dashes. This system started in 1937 with AA-10-00, then went on to 00-00-AA and recently changed over to 00-AA-00. When this last sequence comes to an end, the plan is to replace it with the sequence AA-00-AA.

The Portuguese System is similar to the Netherlands former license plate systems, and follows the same lines as former AA-00-00 and 00-00-AA, current 00-AA-00, and (presumably) future AA-00-AA, AA-AA-00 and 00-AA-AA.

More photos of plates and corroborating references can be found on this external link.


Initially there were white characters on a black background, all of plastic. In 1992, the design was changed to one of black characters on a white background in metal or fibreglass; in that same year, the European blue ribbon was added with the Portuguese 'P' denominator. In 1998, a yellow ribbon on the right side was added with the month and year in which the car was first registered (e.g. 99/12 for December 1999 - the year comes on top of the month). This is different from systems such as in Germany (where the numbers indicate the start and end month of the vehicle's registration) and more similar to systems such as in Italy (where the date indicates the year of vehicle registration). Note that the date is that of first-ever registration of the vehicle, not the date the vehicle was registered in Portugal. Some vehicles carry plates that have a year and month seemingly out of tune with the alphanumeric sequence, and the reason for this is that these are imported used vehicles.

Special licence plates[edit]

Diplomatic plate
Portuguese National Republican Guard
Trailer plate
  • The sequences MG-00-00, ME-00-00 and MX-00-00 are only used by Portuguese Army vehicles.
  • The sequence AP-00-00 is only used by Portuguese Navy vehicles.
  • The sequence AM-00-00 is only used by Portuguese Air Force vehicles.
  • The sequence 00-01-KA to 80-79-KF was used for second hand imported vehicles in 1997. The letters K, Y and W are not used as they are not part of the Portuguese alphabet.
  • The Portuguese National Republican Guard uses the special sequence GNR A-01 to GNR Z-9999 in which the letter after the GNR identifies the type of vehicle (e.g. B for armoured vehicle, J for off-roader, L for patrol vehicle, T for traffic, etc.)
  • Diplomatic vehicles use the sequences 000-CD000 (diplomats), 000-CC000 (consular personnel) and 000-FM000 (non-diplomatic embassy personnel) in which the first group of three numbers identify the country, with red characters on white and without the European blue ribbon.
  • New, unregistered vehicles for sale use special plates with the name of the dealer followed by an identification number, with white characters on red and without the European blue ribbon.
  • Trailers use another sequence which consist of two groups of characters separated by a dash. The first with one or two letters is the code of the regional registering office. The second is a sequential registration number with up to six digits.
  • Vehicles for exportation use an inverse sequence of the trailers, first the registration number and second the office code. In this vehicles the letters "EXP" are placed in the yellow ribbon above the date.
  • Industrial machines use the same sequence as cars and motorcycles but with black characters on red. These vehicles have an symbol indicating commercial class in the yellow ribbon rather than the year and month of registration.
  • Duty unpaid vehicles use two groups of characters separated by a dash. The first is a sequential number up to five digits while the second is a letter. The year band is white, the colour is yellow like Netherlands vehicle registration plates.
  • Iberlant NATO Base plates had a blue background with a yellow font and the sequence IBL-00-00.
  • NATO plates start with NATO and followed by four numbers.

District codes[edit]

Trailers and vehicles for export have the following district code letters in their licence plates:[1]

Until the 1970s only the codes A, AN, C, H, L, M and P were used. After that, other registration offices were created with new codes.

The following special codes are also used for trailers:

  • D - Diplomatic
  • F - non-diplomatic embassy.



Local licence plates were issued from 1901 onwards by the District Governor’s Office, and usually consisted of the full name or the abbreviation for the district followed by a serial number. (e.g. "LISBOA 123" or "L.XA 123" for a vehicle registered in Lisbon).


A national car registration system was established in 1911. The country was divided into zones (North, Centre, South, and, from 1918, the Azores and Madeira), each having an identification number sequence for the licence plates, which was N-000, C-000, S-000, A-000 and M-000 respectively. Hire cars had a letter A added after the registration (e.g. S-4226-A) and provisionally registered vehicles had WW added (e.g. S-1703-WW). The plates were white letters on a black background.

By the mid-1930s so many vehicles had already been registered, especially in the South Zone (which included the city of Lisbon), that the identification number had already reached five digits. As this created difficulties in the identification of vehicles by authorities, the system was changed. However, in the Azores and Madeira it persisted until 1962.


Type of licence plate issued between 1937 and 1992

On 1 January 1937, the second national car registration system came into force. This consisted of the sequence AA-10-00 to ZZ-99-99. The sequencing by zones was maintained, with the letters AA to LZ reserved for the South (Lisbon), MA to TZ for the North (Oporto) and UA to ZZ for the Center (Coimbra). Again, the plates were white letters on a black background.

Vehicles registered under the previous system had to change to the new one. In Lisbon the vehicles of series S-000 and S-1000 changed to series AA-00-00, those of S-10000 to AB-00-00, those of S-20000 to AC-00-00 and those of S-30000 to AD-00-00. In Oporto the changes were from N-000 and N-1000 to MM-00-00 and from N-10000 to MN-00-00. In Coimbra all vehicles changed to the series UU-00-00. In doing so, re-registered vehicles kept the last four digits that they had had under the old system so that e.g. C-123 changed to UU-01-23, N-1234 to MM-12-34 and S-12345 to AB-23-45.

The letters MG, and later, ME and MX were reserved for the Army, AP for the Navy, AM for the Air Force and EP for government ministries. The letters CD, CC and FM were reserved for diplomatic vehicles (respectively for diplomatic, consular and non-diplomatic personnel), but with red characters on a white background. The letters TA, TB and TC, in red plates with white characters were reserved for temporary licences respectively in Lisbon, Oporto and Coimbra. National Republican Guard and the former Fiscal Guard had special sequences beginning respectively with the letters GNR and GF.

In the Azores and Madeira the new system was only adopted in 1962. The Azores were divided into three registration districts: Ponta Delgada, Angra do Heroismo and Horta. The letters AN were reserved for Angra, AR and AS for Ponta Delgada and HO for Horta. For Madeira the groups MA and MD were reserved. The white letters on red TD, TG, TH and TF were for temporary licences respectively in Ponta Delgada, Angra, Horta and Madeira.

In the 1970s, new district registration offices were opened, and letters reserved for them: EM and EV for Évora, ZA and ZB for Braga, ZC and ZD for Vila Real, ZE and ZF for Aveiro, ZG and ZH for Guarda, ZI and ZL for Santarém, ZM and ZN for Setúbal and ZO and ZP for Faro. As Évora was considered a central office it also had a temporary licence code: TE. However, as the zonal registration system was abandoned relatively soon afterwards, most of these sequences were not used as zonal identifiers.

In the early 1980s the reservation of letter sequences by zone was discontinued, and vehicles were registered sequentially at a national level, so that letter combinations previously reserved for Oporto and Coimbra might be seen on vehicles registered in the Lisbon offices of the National Registration Office.

In 1985, diplomatic plates adopted the format 000-CD000, 000-CC000 or 000-FM000, with the first three numbers a country identifier, and the last three sequential.


Type licence plate issued between 1992 and 2005, before the introduction of the yellow ribbon, in 1998.
Type licence plate (for a June 2004 registered vehicle) issued between 1992 and 2005.

In March 1992, the AA-00-00 format came to an end and was succeeded by the genuinely national-level 00-00-AA sequence. The type of plate also changed to black characters on a reflective white background, with the blue ribbon, with the emblem of the European Communities (now Union) on the left hand side and the letter P as a country identifier. Under this new sequence no combination of letters was reserved for specific entities or areas. However, in 1997 the combinations KA to KZ, the first letter of which sequence does not occur in the Portuguese alphabet and so had not previously been used, were given over to pre-registered imported vehicles. The groups WA to WZ and YA to YZ were likewise reserved for this purpose, but the system was abandoned at the end of the year.

In 1998 a yellow ribbon with the date of the first registration of the vehicle was introduced, placed on the right hand side of the plate. This is mandatory for all newly registered vehicles, whether new or second-hand imports. In 2005 the 00-00-AA sequence ended, and 00-AA-00 was introduced. Currently, at time of writing (early June 2017) the sequence has just reached initial median letter T (i.e. 00-TA-01). A comprehensive list of the history of sequences from 1956 to mid-2015, in Portuguese, can be found here.

Sequences with the letters CU, FD and OO, were originally not used, the first two because they coincided with a slang words (CU - "arse", FD - Portuguese abbreviation for "fuck") and the last to avoid confusion with 00 (zero, zero). However, The CU sequence was used in 1982 on Lisbon registered vehicles and OO in 1966, 1967, 1978, 1979 and 1982 on Oporto registered vehicles.[2]

It should be noted that it is technically incorrect to say that licence plates are issued. The authorities issue a registration number and it is then the owner's responsibility to have the plates made up, either of plastic or metal, on production of the appropriate documentation. In the case of new car sales, this is done by the dealer.

Portuguese Overseas Territories former plates[edit]

Angolan license plate in 1949, with serial number.
Angolan plate, 1972, showing an initial A.

The models of Portuguese car plates were followed by the then Portuguese overseas territories. At the beginning the model of 1911 was followed. Each colony had a group of one to three letters which designated the colony itself or a district inside the colony. The letters were followed by a serial number (e.g. G-1234 for a car registered in Guinea or CVS-1235 for one registered in the south-east district of Cape Verde). In the 1950s and 1960s, the licensing systems in all colonies were changed to systems based on the Portuguese one of 1937. By territory the sequences used were:

  • Angola: Axx-00-00 - the second and third letters were reserved by district
  • Cape Verde: CVx-00-00 - the third letter identified the island group (S: Sotavento, B: Barlavento)
  • Portuguese Guinea: G-00-00
  • Portuguese India: Ixx-00-00 - the second and third letters were reserved by district (IGA to IGZ for Goa district)
  • Macau: M-00-00 and later Mx-00-00 - the second letter was sequential (ME-00-00 numbers did not cause problems as Portugal withdrew its armed forces in the 1970s)
  • Mozambique: Mxx-00-00 - the second and third letters were reserved by district
  • São Tomé and Príncipe: STP-00-00
  • Portuguese Timor: T-00-00 and latter TP-00-00

With some minor differences, these systems are still in use in São Tomé and Príncipe, Mozambique, Macau, and Angola. Cape Verde has adapted the system to use different two-letter codes for each island.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Trailers in Portugal at the end of the site
  2. ^ Car Registration Plates in Portugal - Letter Sequences by Year

External links[edit]