Last Updated on January 12, 2022 by Lea Melo
Last updated in December 12th, 2021.
Getting to know healthcare in Portugal is one of the main things to do even before moving. With more than 600,000 foreigners residing in the country, Portugal and its public health system guarantee everyone excellent service. But how does healthcare in Portugal work? Do expats really have access to it? What about health insurance? Let’s clear all these questions related to the subject.
What is healthcare in Portugal like?
It is a well-known fact that health systems in Europe are, in general, one of the best and most modern in the world. They are, also, somewhat socialized, and the idea of insurance, although also valid, is not as necessary or of ulterior importance as, say, in the USA or Brazilian model.
Portugal is not an exception to this fact: this country has both a public and private system of health. However, the public parcel of healthcare is by far the most used and functions quite well, apart from one or two exceptions.
It is called Sistema Nacional de Saúde (SNS), which translates to National Health System. It has universal access, that is, anyone in the country has access to the services, whether Portuguese or not.
Public Healthcare in Portugal
Portugal has an organigram that shares responsibilities regarding the different aspects of healthcare and services for the public.
The main urban centers in the country have large Public Hospitals to meet all demands, especially more complex ones. In addition to these, there are also Health and Extension Centers for less populated areas. We will explain in more detail how they work below.
In these health centers, Family Doctors – general doctors assigned to a household – perform regular appointments, and it’s also the place where most vaccinations and consultations take place.
In some Health Centers, there are also Basic Emergency Services, but very serious cases are sent to the nearest Hospital.
The norm is that every citizen has the right to a Family Doctor to monitor their health. However, there are some exceptions to the rule. Especially in the Algarve and Alentejo regions, the Portuguese Public Health System usually receives complaints about the lack of doctors. It may take you many months, or even years, to get one of these doctors, but you do manage to be seen by other doctors on duty.
The Hospitals, particularly District Main Hospitals, also perform consultations, but these are normally more specialized. They are also the place where the most infirm patients are interned, and where emergencies take place.
In addition to these, there are also hospitals with some specific specialization, which are a reference in the country. These are usually located either in Lisbon or in Porto. Take a look at the most renowned public hospitals in Portugal:
- Central Lisbon Hospital Center (Dona Estefania Hospital);
- Porto Hospital Center (Santo Antonio General Hospital);
- Portuguese Institute of Oncology in Lisbon;
- Barlavento Algarvio Hospital Center (Portimão);
- Braga Hospital;
- Coimbra Hospital Center;
- Hospital do Espírito Santo de Evora;
- Setúbal Hospital Center;
- Faro District Hospital.
How much are the consultation fees in Portugal?
From 2021 onwards, all primary health care consultations in the Portuguese public service became free, that is, without any taxas moderadoras (moderating fees).
Public healthcare in Portugal operates under a cost-sharing regime between the patient and the State. So much for access to the family doctor, specialized outpatient clinic and internment. In addition, the State shares the price of medicines, according to different levels.
Even if paid for out of user fees, medical services must be accessible to all citizens. A basic emergency in a public hospital would have a fee of €14, while an emergency surgery would cost €16.
If you cannot afford the costs, it is also possible to request exemption from payment of user fees. In the group of people exempt from payment, there are:
- Pregnant women;
- Blood donors;
- People with renal problems;
However, if by some unfortunate circumstance you need surgery, you are exempt from paying.
Using SNS 24
In Portugal, every single public healthcare patient has a personalized and structured history of consultations, exams, vaccines, and so on, that are shared with private healthcare and among doctors. This facilitates diagnosis and communication between hospitals, health centers and private doctors.
The Portuguese National Health System is responsible for this. Especially in recent years, after the pandemic, healthcare in Portugal has evolved very quickly. Now the appointments are more easily scheduled and even performed over the internet or over the phone with your family doctor.
You also have access to all records via the SNS 24 app, which shows you what vaccines and appointments you had, what fees you paid, what medications you have a prescription for, and so on.
Using Public HealthCare as an Expat
European expats in Portugal will be glad to know that every EU-citizen shares the same rights as the Portuguese.
Other foreigners in Portugal, however, must obtain a Número de Utente, a user number of the National Healthcare. To do so, your legal status in Portugal must be regularized. You must have either a visa or residence card within the expiry date. This way, you have access to the same rights under the same conditions.
Furthermore, there are some countries with bilateral treaties with Portugal that also share the rights of Portuguese citizens, namely: Andorra, Québec, Morocco e Tunisia.
Brazilian and Cape Verde citizens also have it easy: by applying to a document called the PB4 in their own countries, they have access to the Portuguese National Healthcare. For Brazilians, obtaining a Certificado de Direito à Assistência Médica (CDAM) is enough to access Public Healthcare with the exact same rights as a Portuguese Citizen. These rights are transferrable to all of its dependents.
With a Utente Number in hands, you shall have no problems accessing the Portuguese Public Healthcare System.
Do tourists have access to public healthcare in Portugal?
Yes, the Portuguese public health system, as well as the private and like any other country in Europe, does not deny assistance.
If a foreign tourist without residence in Portugal and without a Número de Utente needs medical services, they will be assisted. But the difference is that the service fees will not be co-funded by the State, that is, the tourist will be the only payer.
Portuguese Private HealthCare
Having access to quality healthcare is not a problem for Portuguese citizens and those who have access to the National Healthcare, since it works exceptionally well and is generally praised worldwide. Most citizens choose not to pay for medical insurance and never even use private healthcare.
If, however, you have the need for more urgent or even specialized care, there is also the option of the private healthcare system in Portugal.
There are many excellent hospitals and private health clinics across the country. The assistance in these services is private, but there are health insurances that can help you to cover the expenses.
Particularly in the case of dental care, which unfortunately is not covered by Public Healthcare, having insurance can be profitable.
Will I need health insurance?
The private healthcare system in Portugal is expensive, as in any other country in the world. Therefore, health insurance is recommended for co-payment of fees.
In fact, every traveler in Portugal needs to have health or travel insurance that allows you to be repatriated in the event of a tragedy.
But health and travel insurance are different things. For foreigners who want to live in Portugal and use private hospitals, you will need health insurance. But don’t worry, there are packages of all types, specialties, and prices.
Normally, when you take out health insurance in Portugal, you and your family pay an annuity that entitles you to co-pay for medical services.
In such cases, insurance with a lot of coverage for a person aged 30, for example, would cost €500 a year. For this case, the insurance would pay 90% of medical expenses for consultations, exams, surgeries, hospitalizations, even childbirth. Also, in general, fees for the private health service are €15 per appointment, €35 per emergency. Of course, it all depends on your insurance.
You need to do some in-depth research and get to know a trustworthy insurance manager before committing to any insurance. The indication is to pay attention to reviews and ensure you receive good service from the first contact.
All things considered
If you’re considering moving to Portugal, for quality of life, the stability of the political regime, weather, or safety, you can add health to the picture.
Both Public and Private Healthcare have their merits and are recognized as one of the best, even to European standards, and access is open to foreigners.
In Portugal, your health will be in good hands. So don’t be afraid to join the expat community in Portugal, starting with our Facebook group All About Portugal For Expats.
And don’t forget, you can count on Viv Europe’s team of professionals at all stages of your move to Portugal, including creating a Número de Utente or finding an ideal health insurance policy. Let’s turn your Portugal plan into a reality.