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. The Portuguese healthcare system incorporates both public and private healthcare services and the standard of Portugal’s healthcare is high.
This guide provided by Expatica explains the healthcare system in Portugal and how expats can claim Portuguese healthcare benefits while residing in the country. The guide below includes:
- Portuguese healthcare system overview
- Healthcare costs in Portugal
- Health insurance in Portugal
- How to register for healthcare in Portugal
- Private healthcare in Portugal
- Going to see a doctor in Portugal
- Women’s healthcare in Portugal
- Children’s healthcare in Portugal
- Dental care in Portugal
- Hospitals in Portugal
- Health centres in Portugal
- Pharmacies in Portugal
- Mental healthcare in Portugal
- Other forms of healthcare in Portugal
- Emergencies in Portugal
- Useful resources
The Portuguese healthcare system
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) that are occupation-based schemes used in the public sector and in certain professions such as police, military and banking;
- voluntary private health insurance
The Portuguese Ministry of Health (Ministério de Saúde) is in charge of managing the SNS, which is similar to the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK. It is free and available to all residents, including expats in Portugal, although charges have been introduced for many services in recent years. Both primary and secondary healthcare services are covered, including:
- GP services;
- maternity services;
- some dental care;
- community healthcare;
- hospital and specialist care
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).
Portugal has a high standard of healthcare services. The Portuguese healthcare system was ranked 13th on the 2018 Euro Health Consumer Index. It has improved in recent years, having been ranked 25th in 2012.
Who can access healthcare in Portugal?
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.
Non-residents and temporary visitors to Portugal will need to purchase private health insurance to cover their stay in Portugal. 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. Other non-EU residents will have to purchase private health insurance for coverage.
Healthcare in Portugal is funded through general taxation as well as from social security contributions paid by working residents. Those who are unemployed, dependent family members or retirees don’t have to make contributions.
Portugal currently spends around 9.1% of its GDP on healthcare, making it the 12th biggest spender out of EU/EFTA countries. Around 70% is public expenditure and 30% private expenditure.
Residents have to pay a small contribution towards certain costs for doctors, specialists, hospital treatment and prescriptions, unless they are from a vulnerable or low-earning group. Most dental care costs also have to be paid out of pocket.
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 for non-EU visitors.
Some residents (around 20% of the population) 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% of costs covered. This also entitles them to treatment from private healthcare providers in Portugal, which can be quicker than public healthcare services.
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.
Large expat-friendly health insurance companies which provide private coverage packages include:
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.
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:
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.
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.
Similar to elsewhere, private healthcare in Portugal is more expensive although not as expensive as in some countries. An appointment with a private doctor will cost around €40-50. Waiting lists for private services 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% using private services. Some services, such as dental and eye care services, have limited coverage through the SNS, so some residents have little option but to seek out private providers.
Unlike the SNS which is largely free at the point of use, you will normally have to pay for private services upfront and claim a reimbursement from your insurer. Check your policy for exact details and procedure.
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.
To see a specialist through the state healthcare system (e.g. 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 in our guide to doctors and specialists in Portugal.
Women’s healthcare in Portugal is delivered through health centers, hospitals and clinics. 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 prenatal classes, although they are not usually subsidized through public health insurance in Portugal. Midwives (doulas) are available to help with the birth delivery.
Gynecologists work in health centers and clinics. You can access them through your GP. They can provide health advice and carry out routine examinations.
Contraception is widely available and used in Portugal. According to a 2015 UN report, 74.3% of Portuguese women use some form of contraception. You don’t need a prescription for the birth control pill and you can buy condoms from many places including drugstores and supermarkets.
Since 2007, abortion in Portugal is legal in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. You are required to consult first with your GP and undergo a 3-day period of reflection. Abortion costs are usually covered by insurance.
Children’s healthcare in Portugal
Portugal has a National program for the Health of the Child and Youth, which began in 1992. Healthcare is delivered by GPs (approximately 70% of children) and pediatricians (30% of children).
Children are entitled to free healthcare in Portugal, covered by the social security payments of their parent or guardian. Health is regularly checked from birth, and services include screening and examinations, vaccinations and nutritional healthcare. Records are kept to chart the child’s progress.
Portugal has a National Vaccination Program included on the SNS. This includes vaccinations for diseases including:
- Hepatitis B;
- Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis;
- Measles, Mumps and Rubella
Pediatric healthcare in Portugal is overseen by the Society of Portuguese Pediatricians (Sociedade Portuguesa de Pediatria). Read more in Expatica’s detailed guides to children’s healthcare in Portugal and vaccinations in Portugal.
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, elderly or disabled residents. Most dental treatments such as crowns and bridges can be covered by some form of private health insurance in Portugal.
If you qualify for either free or subsidized 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.
Hospital services are provided with a discount, and sometimes even without charge, for people that are registered at a local health center. You should bring your healthcare 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 services including:
- emergency treatment;
- outpatient treatment;
- post-operative care;
- maternity care;
- psychiatric care;
- 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.
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.
You can find pharmacies (farmacia) in Portugal in town centers 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 subsidized by the following percentages:
- Grade A – 90%
- Grade B – 69%
- Grade C – 37%
- Grade D – 15%.
Mental healthcare in Portugal
Mental healthcare in Portugal is provided through mental health teams working in health centers and hospitals. Recent studies have shown that around 30% of Portuguese residents have experienced some form of mental health problem. The country has higher than EU average levels of depression and substance abuse.
However, Portugal’s mental healthcare provision is not as developed as in several other countries. There are 12.4 psychiatrists per 100,000 inhabitants, which is below the EU average. Community-based mental healthcare is also underdeveloped.
You can access mental health services through the SNS. Your GP should be your first point of contact. Depending on your situation and service availability in your region, your GP can:
- prescribe medication;
- refer you for counselling;
- depending on your condition, refer you to a specialist;
- for more serious conditions, refer you to a psychiatric unit or emergency unit;
- refer you to a community-based program
Only some mental health services are available through the NHS. You can purchase private health insurance to access a wider range of treatments. Psychiatrists and psychologists in Portugal can be found in both public and private sectors.
See more information in our guide to mental healthcare in Portugal.
Other forms of healthcare in Portugal
Although alternative and complementary medicine is generally not available through the SNS, it is frequently sought and used in Portugal. According to one study based on Lisbon patients, 76% have used some form of alternative therapy.
Alternative and complementary treatments can be practiced by licensed professionals in Portugal. You will have to pay out of pocket for these unless you have a private insurance policy that covers it. Acupuncture has been integrated to some degree into regular medical practices, so you may be able to access this through your GP.
Treatments that have been granted a license in Portugal include:
- herbal medicine;
Read our guide to alternative medicine in Portugal for more information.
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).
- www.apf.pt – Portuguese Family Planning Association website.