Healthcare in Portugal: A Guide for Expats

Introduction

Portugal’s healthcare system ranks 12th globally according to World Population Review. The public healthcare system in Portugal is under the management of SNS (Serviço Nacional de Saúde), which is Portugal’s national health service. SNS is funded by the Ministry of Health (Ministério de Saúde).

Moreover, you can have access to both public and private healthcare services in Portugal. While public healthcare services are mainly free for citizens and legal residents of the country, private healthcare services are paid. Considering this, you can benefit from the national healthcare system in Portugal as an expat, if you are a legal resident of Portugal.

Furthermore, unemployed people, retired people, and dependent family members also benefit from the state healthcare system. If you are not a legal resident or you are not from the EU, EEA, or Switzerland, then you have to buy private health insurance. On the other hand, if you are a citizen of EU/EEA/Switzerland, and if you bring your EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) with you, you can benefit from the national healthcare system of Portugal. 

The Public Healthcare System in Portugal

You can find a variety of local and regional health centers and hospitals in Portugal. These health centers provide primary medical care. The system in Portugal works like this: You first register in your local health center. Then, if there is capacity, they will appoint you a family doctor. If there is no capacity, they will add you to the waiting list.

Moreover, in the case that you have a family doctor appointed to you, you will first consult them about your health condition. If necessary, your family doctor refers you to a specialist or directs you for a special exam. It is important to note that it can take months for you to see a specialist. Additionally, you can’t choose your specialist because they will assign the most suitable specialist depending on the specialist’s availability. 

Services Included in Public Healthcare and Hospitals

Public healthcare in Portugal covers many services, such as:

  • Doctor and general practitioner services
  • Childcare and maternity services
  • Primary emergency care if the emergency is not a very serious condition
  • Outpatient treatment
  • Nursing
  • Care for fatal diseases
  • Psychiatric care
  • Post-operative care

Usually, public healthcare doesn’t cover dental care unless you are among the vulnerable group and unable to pay. The vulnerable group includes children, elderly and disabled residents. To benefit from dental care in this way, you should bring your healthcare card with you to be exempt from the payment. 

How to Make an Appointment or See a Doctor 

Online appointments are possible through the SNS website. Yet, you shouldn’t forget that not all health centers may allow online appointments. So, if that is the case, you should contact the health center via phone or go to the health center in person.

Alternatively, on some specific days, doctors in health centers allow patients to visit them without an appointment. You can directly see the doctor available on the specific days, whether you are on the waiting list or not.

Cost of Public Healthcare in Portugal

As stated above, the Portuguese public healthcare services are mainly free. However, some conditions may require fees such as:

  • Visits to emergency rooms or family doctor
  • The need for a medical emergency
  • Doctor’s appointments
  • Diagnostics exams

The fees for the above range between €5 and €20. Exams, on the other hand, do not exceed €40.

Moreover, social security contributions support the healthcare system in Portugal. If you are an individual who has a job, you have to make contributions. However, if you are unemployed, a retiree, or a dependent family member, you don’t need to make contributions.

You can find some of the costs for the above-mentioned services in the following table:

Service Fee (in USD)
General consultation with GP

$5,27

Basic consultation with a nurse or health professional at a health center

$4,10
Consultation with a health professional at a hospital

$5,27

Consultation with a specialist

$8,78
Home visit

$10,54

Consultation over the phone

$2,93
Overnight stay in a hospital

$29,27

How to Register for the Portuguese Public Healthcare System 

If you are an expat, you should register with the Portuguese Social Security. Then you will receive your social security number. If you work somewhere in Portugal, then your employer should obtain the number on your behalf. On the other hand, if you are self-employed, you will complete the process by yourself.

Moreover, when you receive your social security number, you should bring the following documents to the local health center:

  • Your social security card
  • National ID card or passport 
  • Residence permit in Portugal 

When you complete this registration process, you will receive a healthcare card. You must carry this card with you whenever you need a healthcare service. 

Private Healthcare System in Portugal

Private healthcare services have some advantages over public healthcare. For example, there are shorter waiting lists in private hospitals. Also, most of the staff in private hospitals speak English. Another benefit of private healthcare is that you can choose your specialist when you need one. You can arrange it by searching for them online and getting in contact with a private health center for an appointment.

Private healthcare services are, of course, more expensive than public healthcare services. If you have a doctor’s appointment, you should expect to pay a fee of around €40-50. 

Private Health Insurance in Portugal

Temporary residents in Portugal can’t access public healthcare for free, which is why we recommend that you look at private Insurance. You can choose your insurance plan from a pool of several plans. Furthermore, you can create a personalized plan by adding special or additional treatments to the plan offered to you, such as:

  • Surgery
  • hospitalization
  • Ambulatory services
  • Appointments with doctors and/or specialists
  • Exams and tests
  • Physical therapy
  • Childbirth
  • Dentistry
  • Ophthalmology
  • Prosthetics

Moreover, it is important to note that if you exceed the arranged amount, you may need to cover the rest of the fee yourself. Another benefit of private insurance is that you can include your family members in your plan as well. 

How to Apply for Private Health Insurance

First of all, if you work in Portugal, you should check your contract if it covers private insurance. In that case, you don’t need to apply for it. In other cases, you should first get in contact with your local insurer. You need to share your medical history and needs with them. After this process, they present you with the most suitable insurance plan according to your needs and budget. You may wait for around three months until your insurance becomes active.

Cost of Private Health Insurance

The average amount is €400 per year. However, if you prefer to obtain a comprehensive plan, you may need to pay around €1000 a year. 

Emergency Services in Portugal

You can get emergency services in Portugal regardless of your residency or insurance. Yet, you need to present proof of insurance or residency to cover the costs. 

The number of emergency service in Portugal is 112. You can reach the ambulance, police, and fire services via this number.

Pharmacies in Portugal

 

Pharmacies (Farmacia) are easy to find in town centers and malls. They are generally open on weekdays from 9 am to 7 pm, with two hours of break between 1 pm and 3 pm. On Saturdays, they are open from 9 am to 1 pm. It is also possible to find pharmacies on duty. You can check their schedule and location on the website of SNS. 

Public healthcare covers most of the prescribed medication costs. However, you may still need to pay a contribution fee. Some medicines can only be bought with a doctor’s prescription. You can buy other over the counter drugs directly from pharmacies.  

Mental Healthcare in Portugal

Mental healthcare is available in both public and private institutions. To access public mental healthcare services, you should first consult your GP (General Physician). Your GP either prescribes medication, or they refer you to the necessary specialist, counseling, or unit depending on the severity of your condition. However, SNS provides only some of the mental healthcare services. This is why you may need private health insurance to benefit from a comprehensive service.

If you are interested in healthcare as a temporary resident, you can check out our article on Portugal Golden Visa.