Healthcare in Portugal

Portugal is an attractive destination for expats of all walks of life. Modern urban centres like Lisbon and Porto offer a number of career opportunities, while the idyllic coastline and Mediterranean climate make it an appealing destination for those looking to retire. As a member of the European Union, most expats from other EU states should be able to adapt easily to life in Portugal.

Public healthcare

Expats will find that Portugal has an extensive, tax-funded public healthcare system. This system is known locally as the Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS). Under the SNS most essential medical services are available free of charge, while non-essential services and treatments are available for a small co-payment.  Whether or not an expat qualifies to use this system will depend on their residency status and their nationality.

EU citizens with a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or equivalent will be able to use the Portuguese public healthcare system free of charge for up to 90 days, and thereafter will need to be registered as official legal residents to continue using the system. Citizens of some European Economic Area (EEA) countries will also be able to take advantage of this reciprocal healthcare agreement.

Non-EU citizens will have more difficulty accessing public healthcare in Portugal, as they are generally not entitled to utilise the public health system unless employed in the country and paying social security. These expats will also have to be registered as legal residents of Portugal before being eligible to use the public healthcare system.  

The quality and number of public healthcare options tends to be far greater in urban areas. Expats living in rural Portugal will not only have fewer options but are also likely to have difficulty finding English-speaking doctors and pharmacists.

Overall, while the public healthcare system in Portugal is equipped to the standards expected by most expats, it is often overburdened and understaffed. These issues have resulted in long waiting lists and queues for even basic medical treatment. As a result, those who can afford private health insurance often prefer to use private services.

Private healthcare

The private healthcare system in Portugal generally offers a high level of care with many of the comforts that would be expected by expats from North America and Northern Europe.

While private healthcare is often the more expensive option, it comes with the assurance that expats will be able to bypass some of the long queues and waiting lists associated with the public system. Expats should apply for international health insurance before relocating Portugal in order to avoid the exorbitant costs associated with private healthcare.

Non-European Union nationals will be unable to use the public healthcare system until they have been registered as residents. As such, it is vital at all non-EU expats have private health insurance before arriving in Portugal to cover any necessary medical treatments.

Pharmacies and medication

Expats should not have any trouble locating or using pharmacies in Portugal. Most pharmacies in Portugal’s major cities are run by qualified chemists who speak at least basic English. Pharmacies in rural areas are less likely to have English-speaking staff, but expats can still expect excellent service.

While most prescribed medication will be free of charge or heavily subsidised, expats should be aware that non-essential medication may still be costly. There are very few restrictions on bringing prescription medication into Portugal, provided that it is presented with its original prescription and is only for personal use. Expats are likely to find that many chronic medications are available in Portugal without a prescription. It is advisable to take note of the generic name of any important medication, as brand names tend to vary from country to country.

Emergency services and important numbers

Emergency medical services in Portugal are generally efficient and highly responsive. Expats in urban areas should not experience excessive waiting times for emergency care. Many hospitals have dedicated ambulance services, and it is advisable that expats living in rural areas take note of the contact details for their nearest hospital to ensure the quickest emergency care possible.

Emergency response vehicles in Portugal are generally well-equipped and expats can expect staff to be well-trained and professional.

Expats living in Portugal can use the general EU emergency number, 112. Operators on this number can usually speak English. It is also recommended that expats take note of the contact details for their nearest local embassy or consulate for cases of emergency.

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