Portugal offers free and subsidized healthcare and medical prescriptions for all Portuguese nationals and residents. The system is funded by taxation and administered by the Ministerio de Saude (Ministry of Health). The state system covers all basic health issues including accidents and emergencies as well as regular consultations and treatments.
Foreigners in Portugal may access emergency treatment in any hospital from the moment of arrival, although you will be required to pay if you do not have the necessary residence documentation. If you are a European resident, you will be eligible to receive emergency treatment under the terms of your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or by obtaining a Form S1 from the country in which you normally pay your social security contributions.
In order to be eligible for subsidized healthcare and join the Portuguese system, you will need to be registered for social security with the Instituto da Solidariedade e da Segurança Social in Portugal. You should register as soon as possible after arriving in the country and beginning work, upon which you will be issued with a Número Utente and allocated to a particular physician. From this time GP visits should generally be free of charge.
If you are not paying social security in Portugal, for instance if you have retired or are living on private income, you may still receive a Número Utente by obtaining a document from your local Junta de Freguesia certifying that you have been resident in the country for 90 days or more. This document should be presented at your local health center along with photographic ID and a copy of your existing national insurance number. In this case you will be eligible for the same services as those who are registered for social security, but you will be required to pay a small tax, usually a few Euros, for the privilege.
Most towns and cities have one or more English-speaking doctors, and some have a command of other languages such as German, French or Spanish. If you need tests such as x-rays or blood analysis, or hospital treatment, a letter of referral from your general practitioner will be required. You will then need to take this letter to the relevant hospital or health center when you attend your appointment. Patients are usually required to pay a small proportion of the cost of such tests.
In the event of a medical emergency you should dial 808 242 424 for urgent advice or 112 for an ambulance (ambulancia). Alternatively, you can make your own way to the emergency department of your nearest hospital. A contribution, fixed at 15 Euros at the time of writing, is usually payable by patients requiring emergency hospital treatment.
Under the Portuguese healthcare system children, pregnant women and pensioners are entitled to free dental care. Adults making social security contributions are entitled to subsidized dental care, while others may be required to pay full price for consultations and treatment.
Pharmacies are usually open on Monday to Friday plus mornings on Saturdays. Note that on weekdays many pharmacies, in line with other high-street shops, still close at lunch time, usually from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. although times may vary from location to location. Some, especially in larger towns, are open seven days a week for those who require medication and prescriptions outside the usual trading hours.
To find the nearest pharmacy to you visit the website of the Associaçao Nacional Farmácias, which provides a list by location. If you visit a pharmacy and find it closed, details of the nearest 24-hour facility will usually be posted on the door or window.
Having a baby in Portugal
Maternity care in Portugal is covered by the country’s national health service. Most antenatal care is provided at your local public hospital, where you will be regularly monitored to check the health and development of your baby. Home births take place very infrequently in Portugal and the system is geared primarily towards hospital births. If you are working and go on maternity leave, you are eligible for 100% of your salary for 120 days, with a further 30 days payable at 80%. Fathers are eligible for five days’ paternity leave following the birth.
As with many countries operating a national health service, Portugal also has a thriving private healthcare sector. Those who can afford to often take out private medical insurance plans, either to provide full access to the system or shorter waiting lists for referrals. Some plans also include dental care and many can be tailored to patients’ individual needs.
Prices for private medical insurance vary widely according to provider, your specified inclusions and your age, state of health and medical history. You will be required to complete an in-depth medical questionnaire and your provider may also require you to undergo a medical health check before or upon issuing your policy.
Private insurers offering cover in Portugal include major international names such as Allianz and Bupa as well as domestic specialists such as Multicare. If you do not speak good Portuguese or you would simply like some help finding a suitable provider, there are several English-speaking specialists located in popular expat enclaves who will shop around on your behalf and broker the best deal for your individual circumstances. The private insurance provided by the Auto Club of Portugal provides excellent private insurance (Saude Prime).
For more information about Portuguese healthcare visit the Ministry of Health website, the Social Security Institute or contact your local health center for up-to-date advice on how to access the public system.
Personal experience and notes:
What are my medical care options in Portugal? If you are a resident, you can register with your local public health clinic (centro de saúde) and are given a number. This will allow you to have access for the VERY reasonable public health system (an American friend had a complete cancer operation with care both before and after, including all specialists for less than 100 Euros in the public hospital system). However, there are reasons why a robust private health system exists like the CUF network of hospitals. This is more expensive but still VERY reasonable compared to insured costs in the US (god help you if you are not insured in the US). But to lower this cost, there are a number of private medical insurance options. I chose one from the Auto Club of Portugal (ACP) which for a total of about 100 Euros a year gets me a card which cuts in half the cost of private medical care, covers the cost of hospitalization, and for another 15 Euros or so, eliminates the 2000 Euro deductible for hospitalization. Did I mention it costs only about 100 Euros? I saved that on my first of many visits to the CUF doctor for an injury.
If you are applying for residency, either visa or permit, they will ask you to show proof of medical insurance that will cover you in Portugal. There are many options on-line. I chose the World Nomad worldwide coverage for about 1000 Euros a year. Both the Consulate in the US and SEF (immigration office) in Portugal will ask for proof. Better have it.
So, why does a private health system exist? It can take a few months to have something NON-urgent taken care of compared to a few weeks in the private health system. You may have to wait a few hours in the public system to see a doctor compared to 5 to 20 minutes to see one in the private system. The same doctors work in both the private and public systems. So, the care is the same.