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Expat Exchange - Healthcare in Portugal
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LX Factory - Alcantara, Lisbon, Portugal


Healthcare in Portugal

By Joshua Wood, LPC

Portugal Residency Advisors
Portugal Residency Advisors

Summary: Expats in Portugal with a residency visa can participate in the national health care system. Here's what you need to know about the SNS and the combination of public and private services you'll need to manage your health in Portugal.

Health care in Portugal is a key component of life there for all expats. The information below will give you an excellent start on understanding how to navigate the system.

Is Health Care Free in Portugal?

Expats in Portugal should develop an understanding of what is provided to legal residents that are not citizens of Portugal.

The Portuguese health care system has three components:

One expat reported about the health care system: There is "much confusion exists for Americans and other third country nationals residing in Portugal and our access to Portugal's national health system. While we will always have access to the national health services and won't be turned away from a hospital or clinic, our primary care is served by the private health system for which we buy private international health insurance. We register at the Portuguese 'Center de Saude' or local health clinic and get a 'numero de utente,' a health ID number, which we can use with your private physician to enjoy the lower Portuguese citizen's prices for prescriptions, but we will pay out of pocket if we incur charges at the public hospital. So our first option is to use the private health system, which exists in all major cities and is extensive, inexpensive and state of the art."

"Public Healthcare is very good in Portugal but can be slow depending on your situation. We are Canadiens and in Canada the Healthcare is a public Healthcare (like Portugal) so if you're case is not urgent, you will have to wait but if it's urgent, you will be taken care right away," commented one member.

William RussellWilliam Russell
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William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

William RussellWilliam Russell

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.
Get Quote

Is Health Insurance Required to Get Your First Residency Permit?

"You get a temporary residence permit, not visa, after you enter on the visa and go through your meeting with SEF. You will need private health insurance for the residence permit and you will not be able to get a number in the health system until you have your permit. This was loosened during covid but appears to be back to normal. Once you get a health number, you can wait for a long time for an assigned doctor. Depending on the local health center, it can take a year or more. The private system is very slow and under-resourced. Elective surgery is scheduled very far in advance when it is actually scheduled. Immigrants are far better using private health insurance and private health care, it's not particularly expensive and is a lot faster," wrote one member in a recent discussion about healthcare in Portugal. Another member who is an immigration consultant added, "You must apply for a visa from your home country, not from Portugal. Regardless of having a resident permit or not, you can use the public health system for emergencies. One of the resident visa requirements is either being registered at the public system or have a private insurance, but there are many requirements before that, that you need to meet in order to apply and submit a visa request."

In the article United States Citizens Moving to Portugal: Demystifying the Paper Trail, which is about getting the first residency permit, Susan Stults-Korthase writes:

"Each applicant must have medical insurance that meets the Schengen Area requirements. Regulations for the Schengen Area Visa state:

"...applicants shall prove that they are in possession of adequate and valid travel (or other) medical insurance to cover any expenses which might arise in connection with repatriation for medical reasons, urgent medical attention and/or emergency hospital treatment or death, during their stay(s) on the territory of the Member States. The insurance shall be valid throughout the territory of the Member States and cover the entire period of the person's intended stay or transit. The minimum coverage shall be 30,000 euros (per applicant).

"If you have existing insurance coverage that includes the features noted above, your proof of medical insurance can be an invoice or your annual statement showing the name of the insurance company, policyholder names, the dates of coverage and proof of evacuation coverage. If you don't currently have insurance with these features, look into a travel insurance plan or an annual plan that covers you in Portugal. Many sources provide travel insurance policies to support Schengen Area Visa applicants."

William Russell

Learn MoreGet Quote

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

William Russell

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William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

How do I find English-speaking doctors in Portugal?

Expats in Portugal will be a key resource for navigating the health care system there. One expat advised others to: "Connect with other expats to obtain physician references and sources of private insurance so you can benefit from their research and experience. Bring copies of your medical records with you. Quality of care can be very high in Portugal's major communities. Costs are much lower, by about half, and prescriptions range from a tenth to a half of the costs in the US."

What do I Need to Know about Healthcare in Portugal?

A US expat living in the Algarve offered some cautionary advice about the healthcare system in Portugal after facing a serious health problem, "If you are considering moving from the US (I don't have experience with the healthcare in other countries) to Portugal, think hard about the healthcare. Don't get carried away by the stories of expats who didn't have any serious medical issues. On the surface it looks marvelous: the private hospitals are new and shiny and the healthcare here is extremely affordable - I pay for private insurance (several hundred per year) and they cover 90% of most services. CAT scan with interpretation costs 10 euros and a major 5-hour surgery with two nights in the hospital cost me less than 600 euros. But be aware that if you have a serious and urgent problem, your mileage would vary and you may be risking your life! If it is serious but not urgent, you can probably go through all the bureaucracy and go to a different country for treatment, but it would take time to arrange it. If you already live in the Algarve or other peripheral area, go to Lisbon (or probably Porto) for all your healthcare needs. Portugal is a small country and it would not take much of your time and money to go to Lisbon. After my experience, I would not trust Algarve hospitals with an annual health check-up. And the situation here seems to be deteriorating every month: it is already a catastrophe in public hospitals (someone recently waited 28 hours in the emergency room!), but the availability of the doctors in the private hospitals gets worse too."

Pre-existing Conditions and Insurance in Portugal

Expats report that it is relatively easy to get insurance with a pre-existing condition in Portugal. One expat wrote: "You can definitely get insurance, whether thru a bank or a broker, but the pre-existing conditions coverage requires that you show you've been and are currently covered and treated for those conditions. That's it! Simple."

Prescription Medicines in Portugal

When first coming to Portugal, bring with you a list of the prescriptions you're taking, with the Latin name, generic name, dosage and reason for taking....your current doctor will give you this. Be certain it includes your name, US address, date issued and doctor's signature. You can take these to any farmacia to be filled immediately without any issues!

Pharmacies are numerous in each major city and at least one exists in the smaller towns. Using a list from our US physicians of regularly taken medications, the pharmacies here continue to dispense this medication. Costs are at least one half less than in the US, and with some scrips can be about a tenth of the cost in the US. Pharmacists will also listen to customer health complaints and offer medication that would have required a doctor visit in the US, such as some allergy medications, cold, muscle pain, stomach ailments, headaches.

Hospitals in Portugal

Larger cities offer several choices of public and private hospitals within a few kilometers of each neighborhood; smaller villages rely on the larger city that could be 20 or 30 minutes away. Care in private hospitals tends to be quick, appointments are timely and modern, clean environments prevail. Emergency services in private hospitals tend to be better staffed, so more responsive. Public hospitals are busier and can lack sufficient doctors and nurses, but care tends to be good, just not as good as the private care. In Lisbon and through the Coast north, we have the CUF networked hospitals that serve both private and public patients, the Hospital da Luz, British Hospital and about 10 other hospitals.

Hospital de Santa Maria (Public)
Av. Prof. Egas Moniz
Lisbon
21 780 5000

Hospital de S. Jose (Public)
Rua Jose A. Serrano
Lisbon
21 884 1000

Hospital de S. Francisco Xavier (Public)
Estrada Forte do Alto do Duque
Lisbon
21 043 1000

Hospital CUF Descobertas (Private)
Rua MarioBotas Parque das Nacoes
Lisboa
21 002 5200

Hospital da Luz (Private)
Avenida Lusiada, 100
Lisbon
21 710 4400

Hospital dos Lusiadas (Private)
Rua A e D do Loteamentodo Alto do Moinhos
Lisbon
21 770 4040

Hospital de Cascais (Public)
Av. Brigadeiro Novais Goncalves
Alcabideche
21 465 3000

Hospital Amadora-Sintra (Public)
I.C. 19 Amadora
Sintra
21 434 8200

Hospital CUF Cascais (Private)
R. Fernao Lopes-Cobre
Cascais
21 114 1400

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000 and serves as one of its Co-Presidents. He is also one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. Prior to Expat Exchange, Joshua worked for NBC Cable (MSNBC and CNBC Primetime). Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Mr. Wood is also a licensed counselor and psychotherapist.

Some of Joshua's articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and Pros and Cons of Living in Uruguay. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.


Portugal Residency Advisors
Portugal Residency Advisors

Portugal Residency Advisors
Portugal Residency Advisors

LX Factory - Alcantara, Lisbon, Portugal

William Russell
William Russell

Get a quote for international health insurance from our partner, William Russell.
Get Quote

William RussellWilliam Russell

Get a quote for international health insurance from our partner, William Russell.
Get Quote

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