Portugal offers free healthcare for children, which is good news for parents planning on moving there with their families. That said, you will probably want to know what to expect when it comes to visiting a doctor and accessing Portuguese healthcare.
With this in mind, this article covers everything you need to know about children’s healthcare in Portugal, including the following:
- Children’s healthcare in Portugal
- How to access healthcare for your children in Portugal
- Taking your child to the pediatrician in Portugal
- Taking your child to see a doctor or specialist in Portugal
- Children’s hospitals in Portugal
- Children’s dental care in Portugal
- Mental healthcare in Portugal
- Preventative healthcare programs for children in Portugal
- Useful resources
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Children’s healthcare in Portugal
The standard of children’s health in Portugal is fairly good. In fact, 90.2% of Portuguese children are in good or very good health, and only 1.1% are in poor health; which is slightly below the EU average. Nevertheless, the Portuguese healthcare system ranked in 17th place in the 2021 World Index of Healthcare Innovation, above Sweden and Austria.
When a child is born in Portugal, they are automatically registered in the National Healthcare Service (Serviço Nacional de Saúde or SNS). At the same time, they are assigned a family doctor (médico de família). However, parents can also register their children for Portuguese healthcare at a later date, which this is usually the case for expat parents arriving with family.
The Portuguese Ministry of Health (Ministério da Saúde) regulates the healthcare system in Portugal. All residents can apply for state healthcare, which is covered through social security payments. And as long as you are registered in the country, your children can receive free medical care.
How to access healthcare for your children in Portugal
In 2020, Portugal spent 10.1% of its GDP on general healthcare, which was in line with most European countries. All children can receive free public healthcare in Portugal. However, parents will need to register and contribute to social security to cover the costs.
Notably, some treatments, such as dental and eye care, have limited coverage through the SNS. As such, many residents choose to take out supplementary private health insurance, and it is possible to do this on your own or through your job.
Public healthcare for children in Portugal
As mentioned, anyone who lives or works in Portugal can access public healthcare, and children born in Portugal are automatically placed in the system. Expat parents, however, will need to do this themselves. The first step is to register for social security. Once you have arranged this, you can sign up with a GP at your local health center (centro de saúde).
You will need to bring along a few documents, such as your:
- Social security number
- Passport or national ID
- Portuguese residence permit
While the quality of public healthcare in Portugal is generally quite good, there may be long waiting times for certain services. General healthcare treatments are free for children in Portugal.
These include the following:
- Pediatric appointments until age 18 through a GP
- Free vaccinations
- Preventive dental care, excluding orthodontic treatments like braces
Dedicated youth centers in Portugal
Some health centers also have dedicated youth departments which are known as centros de atendimento para jovens. These are aimed at children and young adults between the ages of 12 and 21. The centers provide free support and information about general healthcare, including sexual and reproductive health.
Private healthcare for children in Portugal
Many families in Portugal also choose to have private healthcare. This can bring a few benefits, such as gaining access to more multilingual services, extended dental treatments, and shorter waiting time for specialists. This can also help cover the costs of accessing private hospitals and clinics which can be more expensive.
If you are working in Portugal, your company may provide this as a package. Otherwise, you will have to sign up for it yourself. Notably, most insurance providers can cover children in their parent’s policy, but it’s always good to check in advance. It is also possible to take out separate policies for as little as €7 a month. Of course, insurance quotes will vary according to your medical needs.
Some of the main international health insurance providers that operate in Portugal include:
Taking your child to the pediatrician in Portugal
Pediatrics is one of the top medical specialties in Portugal, with 7.6% of doctors practicing in the field. Children can see a pediatrician for general healthcare until the age of 18. Portuguese pediatricians work at health centers, hospitals, and specialized clinics.
Usually, your child is assigned a family doctor at your local health center. They will be the one to guide you through regular checkups. They can also refer you to a specialist such as a a pediatrician, whenever it makes sense. This is part of the state healthcare plan.
Alternatively, you can register for a pediatrician at a private hospital or clinic. In this case, you can choose your own doctor. While most doctors in Portugal speak fluent English, it is often easier to find an English-speaking practitioner at a private institution.
Routine health checkups for children in Portugal
Between birth and the age of 18, every child in Portugal will go through a series of routine checkups. Some will be with the child’s GP or pediatrician, while others, such as hearing and eyesight checks, might take place at their school. This is part of the National Program for School Health (Programa Nacional de Saúde Escolar) which is covered by the state.
Between their third and sixth day of life, your child will have to do the Guthrie test (teste do pezinho) to detect phenylketonuria. This can be done at a maternity, hospital, or health center. Besides this, they should see the family doctor at the following times:
- First-year: one week old, one month, two months, four mounts, six months, nine months
- One to three years old: 12 months, 15 months, 18 months, two years, three years
- Four to nine years old: four years, five years (global health exam to check learning abilities before entering primary school), six or seven years (after the first year of school to detect any signs of learning difficulties), eight years
- 10 to 18 years old: 10 years (to prepare for the start of puberty), 12 or 13 years, between 15 and 18
Every time a child goes to one of these checkups, the doctor will record the results in a personalized booklet which is known as the boletim de saúde. This document also includes information about their stage of development and vaccinations. If you have a baby in Portugal, you will receive the booklet directly at the maternity. You can also get it later when you register at a public health center.
Vaccinations for children in Portugal
Vaccinations for children in Portugal are free. Usually, a nurse will adminster these at your local health center. The Portuguese National Vaccination Program (Programa Nacional de Vacinação) recommends the following vaccinations for children:
- Hepatitis B: at birth, two, and six months old
- Haemophilus influenzae b: at two, four, six, and 18 months old
- Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis vaccine: at two, four, six, and 18 months old, an additional booster dose at five years old
- Polio vaccine: at two, four, six, and 18 months old, an additional booster dose at five years old
- Pneumococcal (PCV) vaccine: at two, four, and 12 months old
- Hib/Men C vaccine: at 12 months old
- Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine: at 12 months old, an additional booster dose at five years old
- HPV vaccine: around ten years old, two doses given six months apart
While vaccinations are generally not mandatory in Portugal, there are a few exceptions, such as the Diphtheria and Tetanus shot. In fact, your child must have these in order to access school in Portugal. Other available vaccines include Chickenpox, Hepatitis A, and Rotavirus (gastroenteritis). However, you will have to pay for these, as they are not part of the Portuguese National Vaccination Program.
Taking your child to see a doctor or specialist in Portugal
When it comes to children’s healthcare, your family doctor is usually your first port of call. You can register your child with a GP at your local health center and state healthcare will cover the costs.
That said, there may be times when your child needs to see a specialist. In this case, you can find specialist doctors at a hospital or private clinic. Unless it is an emergency, you will need a referral from the GP to access a public hospital. Private institutions, on the other hand, allow you to book an appointment directly with your chosen specialist.
Beyond pediatrics, the Portuguese healthcare system includes several specialist services for children such as ENT, neonatology, neurology, and orthopedics.
Children’s hospitals in Portugal
Most Portuguese hospitals have pediatric wards which offer specialist treatment for children. You can access public hospitals for free with state healthcare, but will need a referral from your family doctor to arrange an appointment. However, it is also possible to access specialist treatment at a private hospital without a referral, but you will need to cover the costs yourself or through insurance. Of course, if it is an emergency, you can head straight to the hospital or call the emergency number, 112.
You can find specialist children’s hospitals in the main Portuguese cities, including:
Children’s dental care in Portugal
Children can receive free dental care in Portugal until the age of 18 as long as they are registered with the SNS. Usually, an oral hygienist will conduct an initial screening at your children’s school and refer them to a dentist, if necessary.
Families can also request a dental voucher (cheque-dentista) through their GP. These vouchers are part of the National Program for Oral Health (Programa Nacional de Promoção de Saúde Oral). Once you receive this, you can book an appointment with any dentist in Portugal who is signed up with the program.
While preventive dental care is free under public healthcare, you will have to pay for specific treatments such as braces or retainers.
Mental healthcare in Portugal
The National Program for Mental Health (Programa Nacional para a Saúde Mental) is responsible for providing support regarding mental health in Portugal. While there is still little data about children’s mental healthcare in the country, in 2017, the government promised to increase the number of initiatives for mental health promotion and mental illness prevention by 30%. Part of the strategy included creating more mental health facilities for children.
Children can now have mental health appointments within specific hospitals, and the Ministry of Health has shared a list of public providers. If your child is struggling with their mental health, you should first schedule an appointment with your GP. They will refer you to a specialist in the area of psychiatry or psychotherapy. Alternatively, you can book an appointment directly with a doctor at a private clinic or hospital.
Many primary and secondary schools also have a psychologist department for children and teenagers who need mental health support. Furthermore, you will find community healthcare initiatives such as ENCONTRAR+SE; a private institution that provides psychological support for children and their caregivers.
Preventative healthcare programs for children in Portugal
The Ministry of Health is responsible for developing preventative healthcare measures for children in Portugal. These are part of the National Child and Youth Health Program (Programa Nacional de Saúde Infantil e Juvenil), which covers the regular checkups.
Schools also play a major role in providing advice and promoting a healthy lifestyle. As a result, the ministry has also created the National Program for School Health. This addresses issues such as mental care, sexual health, nutrition, physical activity, and information on the risks of alcohol, tobacco, and drug consumption.
In addition to these, local councils have also started their own community programs. For example, the Comboios de Bicicleta helps children cycle to schools in Lisbon.
- SNS – the website for the Portuguese National Health Service (SNS)
- ePortugal (in Portuguese) – provides information about routine health checkups for children in Portugal
- Sociedade Portuguesa de Pediatria (SPP) – the website of the Portuguese association for pediatricians
- Criança e Família (in Portuguese) – a website created by the SPP that provides information on children’s rights, health advice, and more
- High Commission for Migration (Alto Comissariado para as Migrações) – a support network for migrants in Portugal
- Instituto de Apoio à Criança – an institution that promotes and defends children’s rights offering emergency helplines and family support