Portugal Healthcare System


Updated: April 28, 2021

Introduction

Portugal has strong public and private health care systems. The medical staff are qualified and the hospitals are equipped with the latest technology.

Portugal’s healthcare system was ranked as the 13th on the 2018 Euro Health Consumer Index. Compared to other European countries, life expectancy in Portugal is higher.  Public healthcare is managed by the Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS), which is the national health service of Portugal.  It is managed by the Portuguese Ministry of Health (Ministério de Saúde). The only regions with independent health care systems are Azores and Madeira.

In Portugal, there is one central health care administration managing the five regional administrations which are namely North, Central, Lisbon, and Tagus Valley, Alentejo, and Algarve.

Who can benefit from the Portuguese healthcare system in Portugal?

Everyone who is a legal resident of Portugal can have access to healthcare and benefit from the national health system in Portugal.

This means that expats can also benefit from the Portuguese healthcare services if they obtain legal residency. These groups of people include the unemployed under certain conditions, the retired, or dependent family members. 

For short term visits to Portugal, individuals from the EU/EEA/Switzerland can have access to public healthcare provided that they bring their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with them. 

On the other hand, non-residents and short term visitors should obtain private health insurance to cover their stay in Portugal. Only the individuals from the countries Andorra, Brazil, Cape Verde, and Morocco may have access to public healthcare either for free or at a lower cost because these countries have reciprocal healthcare agreements with Portugal.

Registering for the public healthcare system in Portugal

To register for public healthcare in Portugal as an expat, you first need to register with the Portuguese Social Security and get your social security number.  If you have a job, your employer may obtain it for you. If you are self-employed, you must do it by yourself. Once you get your social security number, you will bring the following documents to the local health center and register there:

  • Social security card
  • Passport or national ID card
  • Portuguese residence permit

After registering for public healthcare, you will receive a healthcare card. You will need this card whenever you access healthcare services in Portugal.

Through the SNS website Portal Citizen Area, you can arrange online appointments and get information about issues such as Portugal health insurance, healthcare in Portugal, and the national health service in general.

If you have registered at a local healthcare center, you can have free or discounted access to public hospitals provided you bring your healthcare card with you. Except for emergencies, your family doctor will give a referral for you to get treatment from the public hospital. It is best to know before going to the hospital that public health insurance does not cover some costs. 

In Portugal, the health services of public hospitals include:

  • Emergency treatment
  • Outpatient treatment
  • Nursing
  • Psychiatric care
  • Care for people with fatal diseases
  • Post-operative care
  • Maternity care

Costs in the Public Portuguese Healthcare System

Public healthcare in Portugal is mainly free for all citizens and legal residents. In some instances, such as visiting emergency rooms or family doctors, having a medical emergency, doctor’s appointments, and diagnostics exams, there may be some fees to be paid. It differs between €5-20. For exams, the number will not be more than €40. On the other hand, dental care and cosmetic surgery in Portugal are excluded from the state’s help. You can check the following table for each service: 

Type Of appointment Cost in USD
General Practitioner $4.90
Specialist $7.60
House Visit $9.80
An infirmary or other complementary services (hospitals) $4.90
An infirmary or other complementary services (local health centers) $3.80

In addition to taxation, healthcare in Portugal is also supported by social security contributions. These contributions fund the health system in Portugal, and they are paid by the residents who work. However, if you are unemployed, a dependent family member, or a retiree, then you don’t have to make contributions to the Portuguese health system.

Public Health Centers and Medications

For national health, there are many local health centers of municipalities in Portugal, which supply primary medical care. When the individual registers with their local health center, they will be appointed a family doctor if there is capacity. If not, they will be added to the waiting list.  Mostly, a family doctor will be an individual’s first contact in cases such as directing the individual to a specialist or other special exams.

Most of the health centers in Portugal are open from 8 a.m until 8 p.m. In addition to doctor or general practitioner services, there are also maternity and childcare services, basic emergency care. In some of them, you can find dental services, too.

People can easily find pharmacies in town centers and malls. While some medications can be bought only after being prescribed by a doctor, you can directly buy the other medicines without a prescription. With the prescribed medication, you only pay some percentage of the total cost, and the state of Portugal covers the rest. Generally, on weekdays, the opening hours of pharmacies in Portugal are between 9 a.m until 7 p.m (between 1 p.m-3 p.m: lunch break). On Saturdays, they are open from 9 a.m to 1 p.m. There are also pharmacies on duty, which are available 24/7. You can find their list either in any pharmacy or on the website of SNS (https://www.sns.gov.pt/sns/pesquisa-prestadores/)

There are some grades of medical costs, and these grades have state subsidies as it is stated below:

  • 90% – Grade A
  • 69% – Grade B
  • 37% – Grade C
  • 15% – Grade D

Private Healthcare Services in Portugal

Private healthcare is more expensive than public healthcare in Portugal. An average doctor’s appointment is around €40-50. However, there are some advantages to private healthcare over public healthcare. To begin with, there are shorter waiting lists in private healthcare, and you can access more services in private hospitals than in public ones. Furthermore, you are more likely to encounter staff who speak English.

Private Healthcare Insurance

Private insurance is common among expats.  It is also increasingly chosen by locals in Portugal, mainly due to shorter wait times.

There are several private health insurance plans in Portugal, so it will be best to choose the one which best meets your needs. While hospitalization and surgery are the most common perks of private insurance, you can add the following services and other special treatments to your insurance:

  • Ambulatory services: appointments with doctors/specialists, exams and tests, physical therapy
  • Childbirth
  • Dentistry
  • Ophthalmology
  • Prosthetics

Other Important Information About Private Insurance in Portugal:

  • It is also possible to add your other family members to the same insurance plan.
  • It is best to know that most health insurance plans charge you a fixed amount. However, if you exceed the specified amount, you may need to pay more money in addition to the fixed amount.
  • Until the insurance is activated, you may need to wait for around 90 days.
  • You can apply for private health insurance by contacting your local insurer by email or phone. You will then inform them about your medical history and needs, you will check your budget, and then the insurer will provide you the insurance plan you wanted.
  • If you are going to work in Portugal, it is best to check your contract in case it already includes private health insurance. In that case, you will not need to obtain one.
  • The average cost of private health insurance in Portugal is €400 a year, and if you choose a more comprehensive one, it will cost you around €1000.

Finding a Doctor, Specialist, and Dentist and Arranging Appointments

In Portugal, your local health center will appoint you a family doctor. However, it is good to remember that your doctor may not be available when you need to see them, in that case, you will be put on a waiting list and will be supplied with any available doctor.

You can make an appointment online through the website of SNS. However, not all health centers may allow that. If that is the case, you can reach the health center via phone. And if it doesn’t work either, a third option would be to go to the health center personally.

Another option is to go to the health centers on specific days when doctors allow patients to visit without an appointment. Even if you are on the waiting list, you can still see the doctors who are available on those specific days.

When you need a specialist in Portugal, as stated above, you should first consult your family doctor. Your doctor will refer you to a specialist. However, it can take months to see the specialist. You will not be able to choose your specialist because they will be assigned according to their availability. On the other hand, if you have private health insurance, you can search for the specialist online and contact a private hospital/clinic for an appointment.

When you need a dentist in Portugal, you can search for them online (dentistas/clínicas dentárias), or you can ask the locals if they have any recommendations. Typically, dental care is not free in Portugal. However, if you are a part of the “vulnerable group,” which includes the elderly, children, or disabled residents, then you can have free treatment. When this applies to you, you must bring your healthcare card with you to the dentist to be excluded from the cost.

What is the waiting time to see a doctor in Portugal?

Public hospitals generally have long waiting lists, so it may take you more than one year to have the first consultation. Ophthalmology even takes around two years, this often exceeds the maximum limit determined by the law. You can check the other details on the SNS website. On this site, and you can see the details of the waiting times according to the priority of the patients in Portugal.

Procedure for mental healthcare

In Portugal, you can access psychiatrists and psychologists in the public and private sectors. You can access the mental health services via the SNS. However, you should first consult your GP. Your GP will then refer you to counseling or a specialist, or they will prescribe the necessary medication. Depending on the level of your condition, they might refer you to other units.

It is essential to know that only some of the mental healthcare services in Portugal are available via the SNS. So, you may need to purchase private health insurance to access more comprehensive care.

Emergency Situations

In Portugal, if you have an emergency, you will be treated. It doesn’t matter if you are a resident or if you have any insurance. However, for the covering of costs, you should later show proof of residency or health insurance.

In Portugal, the primary emergency number is 112. This number is directed to the ambulance, police, and fire services.

Health Service for Women in Portugal

In Portugal, both public and private services are available for women’s healthcare. Women can receive prenatal care in hospitals. It is good to know that the prenatal classes in hospitals are not always subsidized via public health insurance.

You can access gynecologists through your GP. Gynecologists are available in health centers and clinics in Portugal.

Healthcare Service for Children in Portugal

As stated above, children have free access to healthcare in Portugal. Their parents’ or guardian’s social security payment covers their care. From their birth, they have regular checks, and they have records of their progress. They have access to services such as vaccination, examinations, and nutritional healthcare in Portugal.

Is healthcare in Portugal free?

As a whole, Portuguese healthcare has reasonable costs. Health care Portugal is divided into two as public and private healthcare in Portugal. While you have to pay some fees when you benefit from private Portuguese healthcare, you can benefit from public healthcare at a less cost, and sometimes even free.

Is it easy to contact medical professionals as an expat?

Portuguese healthcare is very advanced in terms of language. Almost all doctors in both the public and private sectors speak English, so as an expat, you can comfortably rely on Portuguese healthcare in terms of communication.

Healthcare for Portugal Golden Visa Applicants

If you are a Golden Visa holder in Portugal, you do not automatically get healthcare. If you do not decide on living in Portugal full time, then you are required to get private healthcare insurance that covers your healthcare in Portugal.

If you decide to live in Portugal for more than half the year and become a full-time resident, then you may be covered by the public healthcare system.

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