The healthcare system in Portugal

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Updated 2021-09-27 13:29

When moving to a new country, healthcare is one of the most important factors to consider. This is especially so if you are relocating with your family, have small children or are retired. So, if you are thinking about settling in Portugal, it's definitely a good idea to do some research into the country's healthcare system.

You will probably be happy to learn that Portugal boasts some of the highest standards of healthcare services in Europe. In fact, in the 2018 Euro Health Consumer Index, the country came in 13th place.

Below, you will find more information on the Portuguese healthcare system.

Healthcare in Portugal: at a glance

The healthcare system in Portugal includes three main elements:

First, it's the National Health Service (Servico Nacional de Saude, often abbreviated as SNS)

Second, there are special social health insurance schemes. These are based on occupation and apply to certain members of the public: police, military, etc.

Third, there is voluntary private health insurance.

The National Health Service (SNS) is managed by the Portuguese Ministry of Health. It is available to all Portuguese residents for free — including expat residents. With that, it's worth noting that you will probably incur extra charges for healthcare services — even with SNS coverage.

Medical services generally covered under SNS include:

  • Visits to GP and local health centres
  • Specialist visits, if you have a referral
  • Hospital and emergency treatments
  • Pharmacy and prescription medicines are heavily subsidised
  • Maternity coverage

Who is eligible for national healthcare (SNS) in Portugal?

SNS eligibility depends on whether you are a legal resident in the country. So, if you are an expat with legal residency status in Portugal, you will be eligible for the National Health Service coverage.

If you are in Portugal as a visitor and have a non-resident status, you will need to purchase private health insurance to cover you for the duration of your stay. However, if you are a resident of an EU member state, you will be able to get healthcare access via your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

If you are a resident of a non-EU country, you may also be able to benefit from public healthcare provided your country of residence has a healthcare agreement with Portugal. Currently, the countries that have such an agreement are Andorra, Brazil, Cape averse and Morocco. However, as things change by the time this article is published, you should check whether your country has a reciprocal healthcare agreement with Portugal at the time of your visit.

If you are a non-EU resident and your country doesn't have a healthcare agreement with Portugal, you will need to purchase private health insurance for the duration of your stay prior to arriving in Portugal.

Health insurance in Portugal

As we've already mentioned above, there are several ways to obtain healthcare insurance in Portugal:

If you are a legal resident and are employed by a company in Portugal, your health insurance would typically be covered by your payments to the Social Security Institute).

If you are a resident of an EU member state, you will get healthcare access via your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

If you are a visitor from a non-EU member state and your country doesn't have healthcare agreements with Portugal, you will need to purchase private health insurance.

If you are a resident in Portugal but are unemployed or retired, you can access public healthcare by filling in an S1 form.

Some Portuguese residents do choose to complement their public healthcare access with private health insurance. This gives them access to more services that are not covered under state insurance. It also gives them the option to receive treatment in private hospitals — which is often a more efficient and hassle-free solution.

Private health insurance

Although the public system provides basic care, if you wish to purchase additional coverage, or if you do not qualify for public health care, you can purchase private coverage. Private health insurance costs can range from a few hundred to a few thousand euros per year, depending on a range of factors, such as pre-existing conditions. However, private coverage often is more comprehensive than public, offers shorter waiting times, and allows access to private hospitals and specialists. You can also purchase private insurance for specific areas of coverage, such as dental. Private insurance is also likely to provide more access to English speaking doctors and specialists.

There are many insurance companies to choose from, according to your needs and budget. Some of the leading health insurance providers are:

Consider having a look at their offers according to your needs and get a free quote on Expat.com's Health Insurance for expatriates in Portugal page.

Private healthcare in Portugal

Along with public healthcare, Portugal has a developed private healthcare sector. As one might expect, the prices for medical devices in private hospitals are higher than in public ones. With that, there is a number of benefits that come with using private healthcare:

  • Waiting periods and lines are shorter
  • You get access to a wider selection of services and treatments
  • Private hospitals tend to offer a more personal approach and nicer facilities
  • You may also find English-speaking doctors and medical staff

If you want to be treated in a private hospital, you will need to purchase private health insurance. Unlike under the national healthcare plan, you will need to pay for medical treatments upfront and on the spot. You will then be reimbursed (to a certain extent) by your insurer. Make sure to carefully read through your insurance policy conditions and coverage.

Hospitals in Portugal

Most hospital visits in Portugal start with an appointment with a general practitioner. You will then be referred to a specialist doctor for further treatment (if needed).

Public hospitals in Portugal generally offer the following services: emergency care, outpatient care, maternity care, post-operative treatment, psychiatric care and palliative care.

Note that your public health insurance may not cover all costs at a public hospital. Thus, it is always a good idea to check about possible costs prior to your visit.

How to see a doctor in Portugal?

Once you have registered for public or private health insurance in Portugal, you will be able to schedule an appointment with a doctor.

As we've mentioned above, you will need to start with an appointment with a general practitioner. You will then be referred to a specialist (cardiologist, ophthalmologist, psychologist, etc.) based on your condition and needs.

Most doctor fees should be covered under your SNS scheme. However, you may need to pay extra fees for consultations and other services.

Some doctors in Portugal only work in private hospitals. In this case, you will need to purchase private health insurance.

Now, depending on what specialist you need to see, you might need to wait. Waiting lists in public hospitals can be quite long. Thus, if you do want to shorten the waiting period, it may be better to opt for private insurance.

Mental health facilities in Portugal

Mental health is an essential component of our general well-being. It may be especially important after a massive change — like a move to a new country.

You should have no trouble finding a mental health professional in Portugal — more so if you live in a big city. With that, it is important to mention that mental healthcare in Portugal is not as developed in some other European countries. This is especially true when it comes to public mental healthcare.

Mental health services are covered under SNS. To schedule an appointment with a mental health professional, you will first need to see a general practitioner. They will then refer you to a specialist based on your situation. Your general practitioner can also prescribe medication, refer you to a counselor, enroll you in a community health program, direct you to an emergency facility (if your case is severe) — and more.

Note that under your SNS coverage, you will have access to only a limited selection of mental health services. To have more options, it's best to go with private health insurance.

Other healthcare services in Portugal

Child healthcare in Portugal is free. Children have access to a wide range of healthcare devices including examinations, screening, nutritional care, vaccinations and more. Note that the country has a national vaccination program, which includes vaccinations from polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.

Dental care is not covered by SNS — unless you belong to a resident group that has been classified as vulnerable (children, the elderly, the disabled, etc.). In all other cases, you will need to pay for dental services independently. Basic dental services (cavity treatments, crowns, etc.) may be partially covered under private health insurance.

Female healthcare is well-developed and women can have access to a lot of services. To see a gynaecologist, you will first need to schedule an appointment with your GP and then get a referral to a specialist. Prenatal care is available in most health centers and clinics. Prenatal classes are also offered in most hospitals — but they are typically not covered under SNS. There are different contraception methods available in Portugal — and you can buy birth control pills at any pharmacy without a prescription. Abortion in the first ten weeks of pregnancy is legal — but it requires a consultation with a GP and a three day reflection period.

Pharmacies in Portugal

Portugal has an extensive network of pharmacies and you should have no problem finding one in your neighborhood. Typically, pharmacies are open from 9 am to 7 pm with a midday lunch break during weekdays. On weekends, they close at 1 pm.

You will also find 24-hour pharmacies that are open throughout the night in case of emergencies. To locate the nearest 24-hour pharmacy in your area, you can inquire at any neighborhood pharmacy: they will have a list of all 24/7 pharmacies in the area. You can also refer to the SNS website for this and other hospital and pharmacy information.

You should find all commonly used medication in Portuguese pharmacies. With that, if your condition requires the use of very specific medication, it's better to check with your medical specialist whether it's available in Portugal.

When it comes to bringing medication into the country, you should generally have no problems as the regulations on this are quite relaxed. If you are using prescription medication, make sure to bring it in its original packaging and have a note from your doctor ready detailing the medication name and dosage. You can take a picture of the note and show it to the custom's officer if asked — in most cases, this should be enough.

If your medication is listed in the Opium Act, you will need to obtain a Schengen certificate prior to traveling. Medicines that fall under the Opium Act typically include strong painkillers, anxiety medication (like Valium), sleeping pills, medicinal cannabis and others. Make sure to check with your doctors if the medication you use falls under the Opium Act. If it does, you will need to do the following:

First, get a certificate signed by your doctor explaining that the medicine is required for your own use.

Second, you will need to have the certificate checked and legally validated at the relevant higher institution in your country.

Health emergencies in Portugal

In case of a health emergency, you should dial 112 — which is the equivalent of 911 in the US and 999 in the UK.

112 is a general emergency number used across Europe and all calls to 112 are toll-free.

When you call the 112 emergency number, you will be asked to provide the following information:

  • The type of emergency you are facing
  • The number you are calling from
  • Your exact location
  • Age, gender and current state of the person needing assistance

Note that if you don't speak Portuguese, you should immediately inform the operator.

In this case, you may be forwarded to someone who speaks English. The best thing, however, is to have someone who speaks Portuguese by your side so they can clearly explain the nature of the emergency.

Note that a call to 112 doesn't guarantee that you will be sent an ambulance — these are reserved for life-threatening emergencies. If your emergency is not life-threatening, you may be directed to the nearest hospital.

When you do go to the hospital, it is also advisable to have someone who can speak Portuguese. You will need to describe your condition, fill in forms, etc.

If you are in need of urgent medical attention — but it is not an emergency — you can call the Saúde 24 number at 808 242 424. This is a 24-hour helpline managed by the Ministry of Health. Note that your calls are not toll-free and cost the same as local calls.

Note that emergency care in Portugal is not free. Even if you have local health insurance, you may be required to pay additional fees.

In general, you should have access to all types of medical treatments when in Portugal. The key to a hassle-free experience is doing proper research and making sure that you have the right type of insurance to cover your medical needs.

For more information on healthcare in Portugal, refer to these articles:

Accidents and emergencies in Portugal

Health for the elderly in Portugal

Pregnancy in Portugal

Useful links:

SNS

Hospital da Luz, Lisbon

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.