Healthcare in Portugal: A Guide for Expats
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. As an expat, you can benefit from the national healthcare system in Portugal if you have residency status.
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 get 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.
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.
Public healthcare in Portugal covers many services:
- Doctor and general practitioner services
- Childcare and maternity services
- Primary emergency care if the emergency is not a very serious condition
- Outpatient treatment
- Care for fatal diseases
- Psychiatric care
- Post-operative care
Usually, public healthcare doesn’t cover dental care unless you’re 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|
Basic consultation with a nurse or health professional at a health center
|Consultation with a health professional at a hospital|
Consultation with a specialist
Consultation over the phone
|Overnight stay in a hospital|
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:
- Ambulatory services
- Appointments with doctors and/or specialists
- Exams and tests
- Physical therapy
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.
For immediate medical attention in Portugal, head to your closest health center.
Severe emergencies should be dealt with at the nearest hospital's emergency room. The European Emergency Number, 112, connects to ambulance, police, and fire services.
Additionally, the SNS information line at 808242424 operates 24/7, providing support in English without any charges.
Pharmacies in Portugal
Pharmacies (Farmácia) 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
About one in five Portuguese face mental health challenges. However, the mental health services available aren’t as advanced as some other countries.
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 may either prescribe medication, or refer you to the necessary specialist, counseling, or unit depending on the severity of your condition. However, SNS provides only some mental healthcare services. This is why you may need private health insurance to benefit from a comprehensive service.
Portuguese Healthcare for Different Groups
Portuguese Healthcare Services for Women
Women’s healthcare in Portugal is available at hospitals, health centers, and clinics. Maternity and childcare are covered by the national health system. Pregnant women typically receive care from nearby public hospitals but can opt for private care. Prenatal care is hospital-based, and a Pregnancy Booklet is provided to track medical progress. Gynecologists can be accessed through GPs.
Healthcare Service for Children in Portugal
Children in Portugal enjoy free healthcare services, including regular health checks, vaccinations, and screenings. There’s also a national vaccination program covering several diseases.
Healthcare for Golden Visa Holders in Portugal
Before acquiring the Golden Visa, those applying under the Portugal Golden Visa scheme should have travel insurance from their home nation that’s valid in Portugal. After obtaining the Golden Visa, they can access the Portugal National Health Service (SNS) but need to register first. Dental services aren’t covered. They also have the choice of private health insurance from renowned companies like Allianz and Cigna Global.
If you are interested in getting residency through investment in Portugal, check out our case study on the Portugal Golden Visa.
Healthcare for Portugal D7 Visa Holders
D7 Visa applicants must get travel health insurance from their home country, valid for a year. Upon initial approval, a four-month visa is given, during which they must report to the Portuguese immigration authorities. The travel insurance remains valid till the D7 residence permit is issued. After receiving the D7 permit, they can use public healthcare but need to register with the SNS. They also have the option of private health insurance.
To learn more, read our guide on D7 Visa in Portugal.
Healthcare for Short-term Residents and Visitors to Portugal
Short-term visitors with a Schengen visa need health insurance coverage of at least €30,000. Various companies offer suitable travel and Schengen Zone insurance. Those applying for temporary visas should have health insurance. International insurance for expats is available from providers like Allianz Care International Health and Cigna International Healthcare. Non-EU/EEA students need full health insurance for visa approval and school registration.
Healthcare in Portugal for Short-term Working Residents
Working residents contribute to the Social Security system, allowing them to obtain a Numero de Utente and a GP. Those staying for at least 90 days can get a residence proof document from the local Junta de Freguesia. This, along with a photo ID, IRS number, and address proof, allows them to access national health services at reduced rates. There are subsystems covering public employees, but most individuals pay for private health insurance.
Healthcare in Portugal for Non-Habitual Tax Residents
Portugal’s non-habitual resident (NHR) tax program attracts many. Those under the NHR scheme contributing to social security can use public health services, while others might prefer private healthcare.
Learn more about program in our guide on Portugal NHR Program.
Healthcare in Portugal for Foreigners: EU Citizens
EU visitors can access Portuguese healthcare via reciprocal agreements, using their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Private clinics are widely available, with a GP consultation costing about €40.
Healthcare in Portugal for Foreigners: Long-term Residents
Long-term residents have two healthcare options: contribute to the social security system or opt for private insurance.
Frequently Asked Questions
How good is the Portuguese healthcare system?
Portugal boasts a high-quality healthcare system. Both the public and private healthcare services are commendable. Portuguese residents enjoy minimal medical fees. Portugal stands at 25th on the 2023 Health Care Index by Numbeo. In 2022, the life expectancy was 82.47 years, showing a small rise from 2021. The nation's healthcare is a blend of both public and private services. The public sector is managed by the Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS). To enjoy the state's medical offerings, registration with the local council is crucial. The World Index of Healthcare Innovation 2022 placed Portugal 22nd, highlighting its quality, innovation, and quick emergency responses.
Is there a language barrier regarding healthcare in Portugal for foreigners?
Medical professionals in Portugal, both in public and private sectors, predominantly speak English, facilitating communication with foreigners.
Is healthcare free in Portugal?
Portuguese citizens have minimal medical fees, though services aren't entirely free. Contributions to social security allow access to the SNS. Permanent residents, temporary residents, and some tourists may have to pay for some services.
How do foreigners access Portuguese healthcare?
Foreigners can register with the SNS, providing them with a Numero de Utente. The EHIC grants EU citizens access to Portuguese healthcare. Private health insurance is an alternative for those not registered with the SNS.