What are the requirements to see a Portuguese doctor? This guide explains how to find a doctor or specialist in Portugal, plus information on doctors’ fees and reimbursements.
The level of care and accessibility to doctors in Portugal ranks high in global healthcare reports. The EU reports there are more than 46,000 doctors and specialists in Portugal, around 4.4 per 1,000 inhabitants.
If you’re an expat in Portugal, you’re eligible for the Portuguese National Health Service (Servico Nacional de Saude – SNS) if you make social security contributions or are retired. This allows you to pay subsidised fees for seeing a doctor in Portugal via the SNS, or you can choose to see a private doctor if you have private health insurance.
This guide to seeing a doctor in Portugal provided by Expatica includes:
- Conditions for seeing a doctor in Portugal
- How to find a Portuguese doctor
- Seeing a specialist in Portugal
- Portuguese doctor appointments
- Doctor fees in Portugal
- Portuguese doctors in emergency situations
Doctor in Portuguese
- médico (for male doctors)
- médica (for female doctors)
- médico cirurgião (surgeon)
There are both public and private doctors in Portugal. Doctors in Portugal that provide services through the publicly-funded SNS work mostly in the local health centres (centros do saude). Doctors services are only free for certain groups; others must make a small contribution towards costs. If you are a foreigner in Portugal with residence status, you will be eligible for treatment through the SNS. Read more in our guide to healthcare in Portugal.
To visit a doctor in Portugal on the SNS, you must register with a local health center. The SNS then assigns you a family doctor (medico familia). You’re free to choose which health center you register with, although it will need to be in your area. You can find your closest health centre on the SNS website here and also register online here.
Patients make appointments with a doctor in Portugal over the phone, in person, or online. In many health centers, you can also turn up on the day and take a ticket to use the walk-in service. Waiting times can be long, however. You can also request a home visit, but the cost is slightly more expensive. Many expats choose private doctors in Portugal due to shorter waiting times.
Many doctors speak at least some English; this is more likely in areas with high expat populations. It’s easier to find these doctors in Lisbon or the Algarve, for example.
If you’re a non-resident or ineligible for SNS treatment, you must see a private doctor in Portugal. Private doctors are more expensive but private health insurance can cover the costs. If you’re on a short-term visit from the European Union, European Economic Area, or Switzerland, you can use your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to see either a SNS or private doctor in Portugal.
You are free to choose your own doctor in Portugal. However, you can also just go with the doctor assigned to you by your local health center. If you want to choose a specific doctor, there are a few different ways you can go about it.
You can search for healthcare providers on the SNS website if you want to be sure of finding a doctor in Portugal who provides public-funded care. You can also find a doctor in Portugal through the Portuguese Yellow Pages; type in ‘médico‘ (doctor in Portuguese) to find a list of nearby doctors. If your local health center doesn’t have English-speaking doctors, you may visit a health center farther from your home once you explain the situation.
Most embassies also have a list of recommended native-speaking doctors in Portugal. Details of British embassies in Portugal are available here, or see the UK government’s list of English-speaking doctors in Lisbon. The US embassy and consulate provides a list of doctors in Lisbon and the Azores here. You can also check our guide to finding an English-speaking doctor abroad.
There are many specialists in Portugal (dermatologists, cardiologists, etc.). To ensure your specialist consultation is covered by state health insurance, you must get a referral by your Portuguese doctor. However, if you need emergency specialist treatment, you can go straight to a local hospital; request a specialist consultant once you arrive.
Most specialists in Portugal work at Portuguese hospitals, although there are some within health centres or in their own private practices. If you are referred to a specialist by a doctor through the SNS, you will typically have to pay a percentage of the costs, unless you are from a vulnerable group eligible for free treatment (such as children and retirees). You are free to choose your own specialist and hospital, and your doctor will be able to provide you with information to help you make a decision.
There can be long waits to see certain specialists in Portugal through the SNS, unless you require emergency treatment. Exact waiting times vary depending on type of treatment. It can be up to several weeks or months. Your doctor can provide information on waiting times recorded in the last quarter.
You can find information on some of the specialist care available though the SNS here.
If you have made an appointment with a doctor under the state Portuguese healthcare system, you just need to turn up on the day with your SNS health user card (cartao do utente), which acts as proof of your Portuguese health insurance. If you prefer, you can use ‘open door’ walk-in services to get a same-day appointment, if your local health centre offers this. You may have to wait a while. Health centres in Portugal are normally open from 8am–8pm.
If you are visiting a Portuguese doctor and are not covered by the SNS, you will need to show proof of health insurance to be seen.
You will need to see the receptionist at the health centre to let them know when you’ve arrived and to pay the mandatory co-payment towards consultation costs. Following the appointment, your Portuguese doctor will make any arrangements for follow up appointments or specialist referrals if necessary (including sending across medical records or reports to the hospital where the specialist is based).
If you have been issued with a prescription, you can pick it up from a local pharmacy (farmacia). There are pharmacies in town centres and shopping malls open from 9am–7pm on weekdays (typically shut 1–3pm for lunch) and 9am–1pm on Saturdays. There are also out-of-hours duty pharmacies (farmacio de servico) that open late or 24/7. You can find a list of pharmacies in Portugal on the SNS website along with a list of community pharmacies.
If you are seeing a private doctor in Portugal and are covered by private health insurance, you should check with your insurer how much they will cover and if they pay the healthcare provider directly. Otherwise, you will need to settle any outstanding costs at the surgery and get a reimbursement from your insurer.
Public health costs are largely subsidised by the SNS but patients are expected to make a contribution unless they qualify for exemption, such as children and retirees.
The current co-payment costs of doctors in Portugal under the state healthcare system are:
- General consultation with GP – €4.50
- Basic consultation with a nurse or health professional at a health centre – €3.50
- Consultation with a health professional at a hospital – €4.50
- Consultation with a specialist – €7.50
- Home visit – €9
- Consultation over the phone – €2.50
- Overnight stay in a hospital – €25
Costs for additional treatment can be anything from a couple of euros up to a maximum of €7.50. A full list of costs is available (in Portuguese) here.
You will also be expected to pay towards prescription costs under the state Portuguese healthcare system. Medicine costs are graded in Portugal, with grades subsidised by the following percentages: Grade A (90%), Grade B (69%), Grade C (37%), and Grade D (15%).
Children, pensioners and those with monthly earnings of less than 1.5 times the value of the index of social assistance (IAS) do not have to pay these fees. The income threshold is currently €943.25 per month, although calculations apply, for example, on the total household income and number of family members.
Private health insurance to cover doctor fees in Portugal
Costs of private doctors in Portugal are more expensive, with a consultation costing around €40. This can be covered via private health insurance, which can cost anything from several hundred to a few thousand euros a year, depending on the extent of your coverage. You can compare private health insurance providers or see a list of health insurance companies.
There are a number of expat-friendly international health insurance firms which provide adequate coverage for foreign residents that will cover the costs of doctors’ fees and medical treatment. These include:
Emergency treatment in Portugal is available to all regardless of residence status, although once your condition has stabilised you will need to show proof of residence status or health insurance to have fees covered. In an emergency that your doctor can’t treat, you do not need a Portuguese doctor’s referral to visit a hospital.
The main emergency number in Portugal is 112, which connects to ambulance, police and fire services. Our guide provides more useful emergency numbers in Portugal.
- Chame uma ambulancia – Call an ambulance
- Gostaria de ver um medico – I would like to see a doctor
- Estou doente – I feel ill
- Gostaria de marcar uma consulta – I’d like to make an appointment