Who qualifies for healthcare in Portugal? Find the conditions for accessing the Portuguese healthcare system, including details on health insurance, hospitals, pharmacies, dental care and maternity in Portugal.
If you’re a foreigner living or working in Portugal, you will typically be eligible to access subsidised state healthcare in Portugal. The Portuguese healthcare system incorporates both public and private healthcare services and the standard of Portugal’s healthcare is high.
The healthcare system in Portugal consists of three coexisting systems: the National Health Service (NHS, or Servico Nacional de Saude, SNS), special social health insurance schemes (health subsystems) and voluntary private health insurance. The Portuguese Ministry of Health (Ministério de Saúde) is in charge of managing the NHS, which is financed through general taxation.
This guide explains Portugal’s healthcare system and how expats can claim Portuguese healthcare benefits while resident in the country. The guide below includes:
- Healthcare in Portugal for expats and visitors
- Portugal healthcare statistics
- Portuguese healthcare system overview
- How to register for healthcare in Portugal
- Health insurance in Portugal
- European Health Insurance Card
- Private healthcare in Portugal
- Occupational Portuguese health systems
- Health centres in Portugal
- Going to see a doctor in Portugal
- Seeing a specialist
- Hospitals in Portugal
- Dental care in Porgugal
- Pregnancy and birth in Portugal
- Emergencies in Portugal
- Portuguese healthcare contacts
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Eligibility for the Portuguese healthcare system is residence-based, meaning healthcare in Portugal for expats is available for those who are legal residents in Portugal. This can include non-working residents under certain conditions, such as unemployed, retired or dependent family members.
You can use either a Portuguese citizen card or social security card as proof of residence to obtain a SNS healthcare card (cartao do utente), which is available at health centres. Read the conditions for Portuguese citizenship, permanent residence and social security in Portugal.
Non-residents and temporary visitors to Portugal will need to purchase private health insurance to cover their stay in Portugal. This will enable them to access doctors, emergency treatment and other Portuguese health services. Those on short visits from the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland can access public healthcare in Portugal through their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Nationals from non-EU countries that have reciprocal healthcare agreements with Portugal may also be able to access public healthcare in Portugal for free or at a reduced cost. The countries with agreements currently in place are Andorra, Brazil, Cape Verde and Morocco.
If you are in Portugal for more than 90 days and don’t have a Portuguese permanent residence, you can get a certificate from your local council office (junta de freguesia) which can be used to access public healthcare in Portugal.
Portugal has a high standard of healthcare services. The Portuguese healthcare system ranked 14th in the 2016 Euro Health Consumer Index (EHCI), climbing six ranks from the previous year and up from 25th since 2012. to put it ahead of the UK and Spain for the first time. Portugal performed particularly well for price-quality rankings.
The healthcare system in Portugal is overseen by the Portuguese Ministry of Health and consists of a universal residence-based public healthcare system Servico Nacional de Saude (SNS), a voluntary private health insurance scheme which is used by around one-fifth of the population, and a health ‘subsystem’ insurance scheme used in certain professions.
Portugal currently spends around 8.9 percent of its GDP on healthcare, just slightly below OECD averages. Around 70 percent is public expenditure and 30 percent private expenditure, with the EU reporting less than 5 percent coming from social security contributions. The average life expectancy in Portugal is 78 for males and 84.4 for females, above the European average. Portugal has approximately 4.5 doctors per 1,000 of the population, which is also slightly above the average in Europe.
The public healthcare system in Portugal is delivered through the Portuguese National Health Service, the SNS, which was founded in 1979. Similar to the National Health Service in the UK, the SNS is free and available to all residents, including expats in Portugal, although charges have been introduced for many services in recent years.
The SNS covers all of mainland Portugal (the regions of Azores and Madeira have their own healthcare systems), is managed by a central administration and delivered by five regional health administrations (North, Central, Lisbon and Tagus Valley, Alentejo and Algarve). The SNS covers primary healthcare – GP services, maternity and family services, community healthcare, some dental services – delivered mostly from public health centres and secondary care (hospitals and specialist units).
Public medical care in Portugal is partly funded by social security contributions, paid by working residents in Portugal. Residents who are unemployed, dependent family members and retirees do not have to make contributions.
To register for public healthcare in Portugal, you first need to register with Portuguese Social Security (Seguranca Social) to get your social security number. This is usually done by your employer if you are in employment. Self-employed people need to arrange this themselves. You can read more about the process in our guide to social security in Portugal.
Once your social security arrangements are in place, you can register at your local Portuguese health centre (centros de saude). You will need to take along your social security card along with your passport/ID and residence permit. Once you have registered for public healthcare in Portugal you will receive your cartao do utente (healthcare card), which should be used to show your eligibility every time you access Portuguese healthcare services.
You can also register to access the SNS online portal which will enable you to access information and make online appointments.
Any legal resident registered at a local medical centre has the right to receive healthcare insurance, which covers basic health issues such as sickness or accidents. Health insurance in Portugal is either covered by your employment-based contributions to the Social Security Institute or Instituto da Solidariedade e da Segurança Social (which entitles you to state healthcare in Portugal), through the EHIC if you are visiting from the EU/EEA or Switzerland, or through private health insurance.
Private health insurance in Portugal
Some residents also opt for private health insurance to supplement their public health insurance, for example, to cover extra services not included in the state Portuguese healthcare system or to get 100 percent of costs covered. This also entitles them to treatment from private healthcare providers in Portugal, which can be quicker than public healthcares services.
Extra health insurance coverage is also available to meet your individual needs. The costs of private health insurance in Portugal vary from several hundred to a few thousand euros per year. Large expat-friendly health insurance companies which provide coverage packages include:
If you are an EU/EEA/Swiss national with an EHIC card, you can use this to access public healthcare in Portugal if you are on a temporary visit. You can use your EHIC to get primary or secondary care treatment in Portugal either free or at a reduced cost.
The EHIC, however, is only valid for short visits. If you are from the EU/EEA/Switzerland and relocate to Portugal long-term, you will need to get a residence permit and a cartao do utente (Portuguese healthcare card) to access healthcare in Portugal as an expat.
If you are retired and won’t be making social security contributions via paid employment, you can still be entitled to healthcare in Portugal if you complete an S1 form, which shows you made contributions and are entitled to healthcare in another EU country.
EU/EEA/Swiss nationals who travel to Portugal with the intention of seeking medical treatment must complete an S2 form and submit it to the Seguranca Social.
Private healthcare in Portugal exists alongside the public SNS provision, with some doctors working in both sectors. The costs for private GP services, specialists and hospitals can be covered by taking out private medical insurance in Portugal, otherwise fees are considerably higher than public services. Read more in our guide to health insurance in Portugal.
Similar to elsewhere, private healthcare in Portugal is more expensive but waiting lists are typically shorter, there is a wider availability of services and there is more chance of being seen by English-speaking staff.
Private health insurance for expats in Portugal is common, as well as growing in popularity among the local Portuguese population too, with between 10–20 percent using private services. Some services, such as dental and eyecare services, have limited coverage through the SNS, so some residents have little option but to seek out private providers.
Many banks in Portugal now offer private health insurance options, alongside a mix of local and international health insurance providers. Read about banking in Portugal.
There are health subsystems in Portugal that are special occupation-based schemes, running parallel to the SNS and providing employees of certain professions with social protection. Entry into these schemes is automatic upon becoming employed and contributions are arranged by employers (consisting of contributions from both employer and employee).
The largest subsystem in Portugal is for public sector employees under the Instituto Publico de Gestao Participada (known by its former acronym ADSE). There are similar, smaller health subsystems for other sectors, both public and private, including the police, the military, bank workers and employees of Portugal Telecom.
There are numerous health centres (centros de saude) all over Portugal, where you typically start any process for seeking treatment. Health centres are where most doctors in Portugal are based and where you have to first register for public healthcare in Portugal. Most health centres in Portugal are open 8am–8pm and are staffed by various health professionals. As well as doctor/GP services, you can find maternity and childcare services, basic non-life threatening emergency care and sometimes dental services.
You can visit the SNS website for information on where to find your local health centre in Portugal.
Doctors in Portugal are part of primary medical services covered by the Portuguese healthcare system. Most doctors are based at public health centres and once you’ve registered for public healthcare in Portugal, you will be able to register and make an appointment with a doctor.
Most of the costs for doctors in Portugal will be covered by public health insurance but you will usually have to make a small contribution towards consultation costs, unless you are elderly or from a vulnerable group. To ensure costs are covered, you will need to check that your doctor is contracted to offer services though the public healthcare system in Portugal. Some doctors in Portugal only offer private services. See our guide to doctors in Portugal for more information.
To see a specialist through the state healthcare system (eg. cardiologists, psychologists, etc.), you will typically need to be referred by a doctor. Patients usually have to pay something towards the costs of seeing a specialist in Portugal.
Depending on what kind of treatment is required and what kind of specialist, there can sometimes be a long wait to see specialists in Portugal on the SNS. Read more about the conditions for seeing a specialist doctor in Portugal.
Hospital services are provided with a discount, and sometimes even without charge, for people that are registered at a local medical centre. You should bring your SNS card with you.
Unless you are admitted to hospital for emergency treatment, you will need to be referred by a Portuguese doctor for treatment. Public hospitals in Portugal provide emergency treatment, outpatient treatment, nursing, post-operative care, maternity care, psychiatric care and care for those with terminal illnesses. As with doctors’ services, some hospital costs may not be covered by standard public health insurance, so you will need to check before receiving treatment.
There are both public and private hospitals in Portugal. Find a list of hospitals in Portugal in our guide. The general number to call for emergencies is 112. Click for a list of emergency numbers in Portugal.
You can find pharmacies (farmacia) in Portugal in town centres and shopping malls. General opening hours for pharmacies in Portugal are 9am–7pm on weekdays (with a lunch break between 1–3pm) and 9am–1pm on Saturdays. There are duty pharmacies (farmacio de servico) which stay open out-of-hours for emergency situations. In any pharmacy you can find a list of pharmacies providing 24/7 services. You can also find a list of pharmacies in Portugal on the SNS website, along with details of community pharmacies.
Public health insurance in Portugal generally covers some of the costs towards prescription drugs but you will usually need to contribute a payment. Medicine costs are graded in Portugal, with the varying grades subsidised by the following percentages:
- Grade A – 90 per cent
- Grade B – 69 percent
- Grade C – 37 percent
- Grade D – 15 percent.
Free dental care isn’t available on the SNS unless you are classed as being in a vulnerable group unable to pay, such as children and elderly and disabled residents. Most dental treatments such as crowns and bridges can covered by some form of private health insurance in Portugal.
If you qualify for either free or subsidised treatment, you will need to bring your cartão de utente (healthcare card) when visiting your dentist to ensure you do not pay the full amount for the consultation. Read more about the requirements for visiting the dentist in Portugal.
Maternity care is covered by the national health system, and an expectant mother generally receives care at the public hospital in her area, unless otherwise requested by her practitioner. A woman may also choose to receive private care if she is insured.
Prenatal care takes place at the hospital. During the first appointment, the mother-to-be will receive a Pregnancy Booklet (Boletim de Saúde da Grávida) in which her doctor will record ongoing medical information as the pregnancy progresses. Maternity wards in Portuguese hospitals also offer pre-natal classes, although they are not usually subsidised through public health insurance in Portugal.
Births in Portugal normally take place in the hospital maternity ward; women can sometimes choose to have a midwife (doula) present to help with delivery and is allowed at least one other person, usually a partner or friend, in the room during labour. Home births are rare in Portugal. For more information, see Expatica’s guide to having a baby in Portugal.
Emergency treatment in Portugal is available to everyone regardless of residence status or insurance, although once your condition has stabilised you will need to show proof of residence status or health insurance to have costs covered.
The main emergency number in Portugal is 112, which connects to ambulance, police and fire services. See more in our list of Portuguese emergency numbers.
Useful medical words and phrases
- Call an ambulance: Chame uma ambulancia
- I would like to see a doctor: Gostaria de ver um medico
- I feel ill: Estou doente
- I’d like to make an appointment: Gostaria de marcar uma consulta
- Health centre: Centro de Saúde
- Hospital: Hospital
- Doctor: Médico
- Medicine: Medicina
- Pharmacy: Farmácia
- Maternity: Maternidade
- Emergency: Emergência
- www.sns.gov.pt – website for the Servico Nacional de Saude (SNS), the Portuguese national health service; see also the SNS online health portal.
- www.portaldocidadao.pt – Portal do Cidadao, citizens’ portal website with details on healthcare.
- www.seg-social.pt – Portuguese Social Security website (Seguranca Social).
Learn more about healthcare systems in other countries
- French healthcare system
- Healthcare system in Germany
- Healthcare system in Luxemburg
- Russian healthcare system
- Healthcare system in the Netherlands
- Healthcare system in South Africa
- Healthcare system in Spain
- Healthcare system in Switzerland
- Healthcare in UK
Click to the top of our guide to healthcare in Portugal.