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New to the country? Let’s talk about the importance of medical assistance in Portugal! Here’s what expats need to know.

Last Updated on February 5, 2024 by Laila Oliveira

The anxiety just before moving is high! You’re thoroughly researching the neighborhoods, jobs, schools, etc. And in this pre-planning stage, it’s also a good idea to research the healthcare system. Certain language barriers can exist, so it’s good to be prepared to navigate medical assistance in Portugal! 


Beyond the scenic vistas and cultural delights, having a safety net for your health is crucial. From routine check-ups to unforeseen health conditions, Portugal’s commitment to top-notch healthcare carves a worry-free experience. 

In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at the healthcare system. Explore insurance options, online medical assistance for expats, and much more. So stick around to learn all you’ll need to know about healthcare in Portugal! 

Overview of Healthcare in Portugal

Portugal’s healthcare has a separate public and private healthcare system. The National Health System, or the SNS, is a common choice among many, including expats. It offers free access to healthcare services and is extensively utilized because of its reliability and accessibility. 

Under the SNS, public hospitals provide various services, from emergency care and maternity services to nursing, post-operative care, psychiatric services, and much more. This comprehensive coverage ensures that locals and expats can access diverse healthcare services when needed. 

Nonetheless, for specific cases or customized care, you can opt for private insurance. Let’s take a look at how the two differ. 

Private vs Public Hospitals

Public hospitals are accessible with a personal Utente Number to avail a wide range of medical services. While most services are covered, it’s important to note that certain aspects, such as dental care, may not be included. So, having insurance can be beneficial for supplementary coverage. 

Additionally, public hospitals may have longer waiting queues, and English-speaking staff may be limited. The sector still strives to offer more than mere basic services.

For immediate or specialized care, private healthcare facilities in Portugal provide quicker access to medical services. This is beneficial if you’re seeking specific treatments or if you require a personalized healthcare experience. 

You can even opt for a dual approach where you can utilize public healthcare for routine check-ups and minor issues and keep your private insurance for urgent or specialized needs. 

Accessing Public Healthcare As An Expat

Accessing medical assistance in Portugal is a straightforward process. Here’s a simple two-step guide:

  • Obtain a Número de Utente. See the section below for more details on this. 
  • Register with SNS by handing in the paperwork to a local Health Center. You may reach out to Viv Europe for assistance with any immigration assistance.

Once registered, you can access comprehensive coverage, including emergencies, maternity care, nursing, and intensive outpatient programs. 

It’s best you regularly visit your healthcare center for routine check-ups and screenings provided by the public system.

Número de Utente

The Número de Utente is a crucial pre-requisite to accessing healthcare in Portugal. This is essentially your user number within SNS, and you’ll need it regardless of whether you are an EU or non-EU citizen. 

For EU citizens, the Número de Utente facilitates automatic recognition of their existing healthcare rights, making access to medical services on par with Portuguese nationals. 

Non-EU citizens need the number to regularize their legal status in Portugal and gain entry into the National Health System. Here’s what you’ll need:

Understanding Expat Health Challenges

While healthcare is conveniently accessible, it does come with certain challenges for expats. Reasons for this vary from being new to the country, taking time to figure out the system, or language barriers. 

You’ll need to navigate two main areas:

Identifying and Locating Specialized Healthcare Providers

Being new to the country may mean missing out on certain healthcare offers or choosing the wrong provider due to a lack of information. To navigate these challenges, you should conduct thorough research. 

For this, you can explore online resources, expat forums, and social media groups to gather recommendations and insights.

Portugal also has healthcare directories specific to regions that you can use. These directories list specialized providers, making identifying professionals catering to particular medical needs easier. 

The country also allows you to engage in medical concierge services that specialize in connecting expats with suitable healthcare providers. These services streamline the process and offer personalized assistance in identifying specialists.

Additionally, you also have the option to engage with local expat support groups. These communities share firsthand experiences and recommendations and help expats connect with appropriate healthcare professionals. Join our Facebook Group – All About Portugal For Expats to connect with expats! 


Cultural and Language Barriers

With medical assistance in Portugal comes certain cultural challenges. Since Portuguese is the primary language of communication, expats might find understanding medical instructions and discussing symptoms difficult. 

However, with time, you will find English-speaking healthcare providers who can bridge this language gap, ensuring clear and precise communication.

You may also find the doctor-patient communication styles, approaches to treatment, and expectations regarding patient involvement in decision-making quite different from those in your home country. 

Even understanding appointment scheduling and punctuality practices might be challenging. Appointments may not always adhere strictly to the scheduled time, which you will grow to accept with time. 

Challenges of the Public Healthcare Sector

You might have to deal with more barriers in the public sector than in the private one. The reasons for this are:

  • Public hospitals have a higher proportion of staff with limited English language skills, which can lead to difficulties in effective communication. Expats may find a scarcity of translated materials, hindering their ability to fully comprehend medical conditions and treatment options.
  • Extended waiting times in public healthcare for consultations, diagnostic tests, and elective procedures.
  • Administrative processes may come off as complex with paperwork and documentation. 

Unfortunately, these challenges are a worldwide phenomenon, which is why people opt for private medical assistance.

Medical Assistance For Expats

To begin, you must be a legal resident to access medical assistance in Portugal as an expat. Then, of course, you’ll need your Número de Utente, as discussed above. 

Sometimes, expats can seek medical help from local pharmacies. These offer OTC medications and guide you on minor health concerns. It’s a convenient resource for over-the-counter remedies and expert suggestions. 

Secondly, as an expat, you need to know that vaccination is crucial, and staying up-to-date with the schedule recommended by the healthcare system is essential. 

It may be a good idea to keep a list of emergency contacts handy, including the universal emergency number: 112. In non-emergency cases, online healthcare facilities are a great way to address your concerns! 

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Online Healthcare Facilities

Through online healthcare, expats can schedule appointments via customized, user-friendly interfaces. And through telemedicine services, expats can consult healthcare professionals virtually. 

This way, you need not tire yourself in long pharmacy queues because you can order prescription medications with a few clicks. It’s convenient and efficient! 

Certain health apps can help track fitness goals and monitor nutrition. This also brings the concept of e-prescriptions, which are easier to access, save, and share. 

Similarly, through online facilities, expats can save their medical records virtually, organizing their access and updates. But before diving into the online healthcare pool, ensure the platforms adhere to stringent security measures to protect your medical information.

Algarve MedAssist

Speaking of medical assistance in Portugal, we’re excited to announce our partner, Algarve MedAssist, is helping our clients meet their healthcare needs with ease! 

It is commonly popular in the Algarve and primarily helpful for retirees seeking health and well-being in the region. 

Here’s what MedAssist helps expats and locals with:

  • Guides expats through the intricacies of the Portuguese healthcare system with personalized assistance;
  • Provides telemedicine services, allowing retirees to consult healthcare professionals remotely;
  • Ensures multilingual support, facilitating clear communication with healthcare professionals;
  • Simplifies healthcare logistics in appointment scheduling, streamlining the process for retirees who may prefer a hassle-free experience;
  • Understand the unique needs of retirees and tailor services accordingly;
  • Ensures a culturally adaptable approach, recognizing and respecting the preferences and requirements of retirees;
  • Provides retirees with a sense of security, knowing they have a reliable partner for medical assistance, contributing to a stress-free retirement experience in Portugal.

If you’d like to connect with Algarve MedAssist with special plans, feel free to reach out to Viv Europe for exclusive suggestions! 


Benefits Of Using Medical Assistance

Knowing you have access to reliable and efficient healthcare in a new country can be relieving. Let’s go over these benefits in detail!

Peace of mind for retirees

Accessible services, personalized care, and telemedicine options make medical assistance in Portugal easy access for retirees. With streamlined appointment scheduling, multilingual support, and a focus on well-being, expat retirees can navigate healthcare effortlessly. 

Also, collaborative programs like Algarve MedAssist offer tailored support and a stress-free retirement experience. This transforms the retiree experience with comfort, convenience, and a sense of security. We know so many young expats who prefer using the same service for reliability! 

Instant Facilities

Having quick access to online medical facilities relieves you of stress you wouldn’t want to deal with. This means no longer waiting in long queues! 

Here are a few reasons why instant facilities make the most sense for expats: 

  • Online Prescription Services: Swift and convenient ordering of prescription medications;
  • 24/7 Emergency Hotlines: Immediate assistance through dedicated emergency hotlines; 
  • Multilingual Support: Instant communication with healthcare professionals in multiple languages for clear understanding;
  • Virtual Health Records: Quick retrieval of medical history for efficient and informed healthcare interactions;
  • Appointment Scheduling Apps: User-friendly apps for instant and hassle-free appointment scheduling;
  • Crisis Helplines: Rapid response through crisis helplines for immediate support during unexpected situations, like accidents.

Decreased Complexities

The revamped appointment scheduling and prescription refill method have simplified access to healthcare. The scheduling services reduce administrative complexities, while new prescription refills allow expats to purchase their medications hassle-free. 

Expats can now understand the healthcare system on the various online health forums and expat communities. This helps them be aware of the system and stay up-to-date regarding any changes, ultimately aiding them in an efficient and frustration-free experience. 

Algarve MedAssist reduces complexities through personalized healthcare guidance for all, including retirees.

No language barriers

Through personalized medical assistance, you minimize the stress that comes with language barriers. While the country embraces its diverse expat population and tries to navigate through these challenges, you’re bound to face barriers at one point. 

Using online medical assistance, such as Algarve MedAssist, will enable clear communication so you can describe your concerns in detail. 

Emergency Medical Assistance Numbers

With all this being said, online medical assistance in Portugal is not a replacement for hospital care, especially in emergencies. We advise you to practice caution and take the patient to the nearest hospital for emergencies. 

For your convenience, we’ve compiled a list of the prominent contacts you’ll need for medical assistance in Portugal. 

112Emergency Services Covers all emergency services, including medical assistance
808 250 143National Poison Control CenterProvides immediate guidance and assistance for poisoning emergencies
808 242 424Lisbon’s Medical Emergency Hotlineconnects with medical assistance in case of emergencies in Lisbon
296 209 900SOS AzoresConnects with local medical assistance services in the Azores
291 705 500SOS MadeiraFor emergencies in the Madeira region

Do you need medical assistance in Portugal?

Everyone needs medical assistance in Portugal at some point! No matter how healthy you are, it’s good to stay updated with what’s going on in your body. Take your vitamins, get regular blood analysis, and stay regularly active. Your body will thank you for years ahead. 

If you’re moving to Portugal and don’t know where to start, feel free to reach out to Viv Europe for a stress-free relocation experience. From Visa assistance to post-relocation planning, we’ve got you covered! Book a consultation and start your journey now! 



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