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Porto, Portugal

15 Expats Talk about Health Insurance and Healthcare in Portugal

By Betsy Burlingame

Last updated on Feb 02, 2023

Summary: Expats and global nomads in Portugal share their experiences with health insurance, healthcare in Portugal, local hospitals and specialists, quality of medical care and more.

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How are healthcare services Portugal?

When we asked expats and global nomads about the quality of medical care in Portugal, they replied:

"Speak to locals (especially other expats for have been around for at least a few years) to recommend health care providers, especially specialists," commented one expat who moved to Porto.

"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. 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," said another expat.

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"During the State of Emergency, we are accessing the healthcare services less than we otherwise might," added another expat.

"Unfortunately, back home health care was costing my family of 4 about $ 1,400 a month . Here, in Portugal, the equivalent coverage runs about $ 350 a month. The public health care system here is adequate and the majority of services given to its recipients is good. The only draw back is the waiting time one spends in being attended to. An example, is that of a friend who had to wait a year before having open heart surgery. The state paided most of the expenses which were incurred during the procedure. In contrast, private health insurance is moderately priced and less time is wasted in waiting to have a doctor perform an operation. Many of the local doctors also study in the States which makes them more qualified in their profession," commented one expat who moved to Leiria.

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Are healthcare and health insurance expensive in Portugal?

"I just obtained private insurance through Millenium Bank. Since I am 70 (oops - 71 today). I am limited in companies that will write me. The company is Medis (sp?) and will cost me 30 euros per month. A STEAL - compared to the $230 I'm paying in the US for a Medicare Supplement. They will write people up to 75 Ana, once written, must continue to renew. There is a 60-day waiting period, so the bank will process it 60 days before I move there," remarked another expat in Portugal.

"The cost of public medical care in Portugal is affordable once you're on the National Health System. I have not yet used the private services, so I can't compare their costs, but everyone I know who uses them (especially Americans) says the cost is relatively low. In Portugal there are small co-pays, which are cheaper than in the States (when I lived there), but I've never had to pay a co-pay in Canada (and I've lived in 5 provinces)," remarked another expat living in Porto.

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What are emergency services like in Portugal?

When we asked about emergency services, members in Portugal wrote:

"I'm closest to a day hospital, but I've never had to use emergency services (yet). So far, I've used only the local health clinic, which is in the public system. The private network is mostly the hospitals like CUF or Lusíadas," mentioned another expat in Porto.

"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," commented one expat who moved to Lisbon, Portugal.

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Will I need to travel to see a specialist?

"I'm waiting for a specialist referral for ophthalmology, but there's no indication of whether it's in Porto or further afield," added another expat.

"Some specialists practice out of only a few hospitals, so you might need to go 30 minutes to an hour from home for an eye, orthopedic or GI specialist. These specialists are highly responsive with current training and well-deserved reputations for their skills. They have modern equipment and the latest diagnostic tools," commented one expat who moved to Lisbon.

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Are common prescription medications available in Portugal?

"Prescription medicines are dispensed by the local pharmacy, as prescribed by the doctor at the local clinic near my home. The prescriptions are sent via message directly from the doctor to the pharmacy. The one time I've had to get medication, I was prescribed 3 meds for a total of less of than 7 euros, which is cheaper than it would've been in Canada," said another expat.

"Cold, allergy, stomach upset and even flu shots are available without prescription from the farmacias at half or less than the average price in the US. Other situations, from high blood pressure to diabetes to acid reflux, require prescriptions and easily filled for half the price of the US or, sometimes, drastically less. Blood pressure med in the US can cost $100 a month; here, it is about 6 euros. ," remarked another expat in Lisbon.

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What have your experiences during the pandemic with the local healthcare system been like?

When we asked expats in Portugal if common prescription medications are available in Portugal, they wrote...

"I have used emergency services at both public and private hospitals. Both received me expeditiously and treated me promptly with great care and compassion. Staff followed all necessary covid safety protocol and ensured I felt comfortable at all times," wrote an expat living in Sao Martinho do Porto.

"Dental appointments and prescription refills. I haven't seen a Dr in person during the Covid pandemic," said an expat in Ericeira.

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What advice do you have for expats having a baby in Portugal?

We asked expat moms who gave birth in Portugal about their experiences and advice they have for other moms to be. They said:

"When it comes to having a baby in Portugal, it is important to make sure you understand the local laws and regulations around having a baby in the country. Make sure you understand the local healthcare system and the best hospital to give birth in your area. You should also do some research on how to apply for maternity leave benefits, if applicable. It is also wise to contact the local government, who can help with information about having a baby locally and the procedures that you need to complete. Finally, make sure you research the costs associated with having a baby in Portugal ahead of time, so that you can plan your budget accordingly," remarked another in Portugal.

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Are healthcare services good in Portugal?

We asked people if they have access to good medical care in Portugal. They wrote:

"In Portugal, healthcare services are provided both publicly and privately. The public healthcare system is funded by the national budget and is based on the principle of universal access to healthcare for citizens and legal residents. All public healthcare services are free at the point of access and are regulated and provided by the state-run National Health Service (Serviço Nacional de Saúde). The private healthcare system includes clinics and hospitals as well as a variety of services and products related to health and well-being (such as gym and nutrition centers). Private healthcare services may require a fee and they are subject to market competition. Health insurance is available to help cover the cost of medical care and services. Both public and private healthcare centers are subject to standards and quality controls to ensure quality and safety," added another person living in Portugal.

"Yes, we have access to Portuguese National Health which is quite good depending on where you go. And we have a supplemental at 48 Euros per month which gives us choices and pays out quite a lot of the out of pocket expense. If we see doctors and dentists and opthalmologists who belong to our plan, costs and copays are controlled and quite low. The care has been excellent," explained one expat living in Cascais.

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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

Porto, Portugal

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