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Guide to Healthcare in Portugal

8 Expats Talk about Healthcare and Health Insurance in Portugal

By Betsy Burlingame

Last updated on Mar 03, 2021

Summary: Expats living in Portugal talk about healthcare, proximity to hospitals and specialists, quality of medical care in Portugal, availability of prescription medicines and more.

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Expats in Portugal offer insight into the quality of healthcare in Portugal, proximity to hospitals, cost of health insurance and more.

What are medical services in Portugal like?

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

"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," commented an expat living in Cascais, Portugal.

"Very easy access and very good. Rated 11 by WHO forchealthcare. I have never had to wait too long to see a doctor or have a procedure done," said another expat in Tavira .

"There is a CUF private hospital in Cascais. So far, the care is excellent and the prices are a fraction of what they would be in the US," remarked another in Cascais.

"When you renew your resident visa the first time, you are required to have private health insurance. The medical standards in Portugal are very high, much higher than many other countries. For example, you are much better off with healthcare of any kind in Portugal than in the US. I would say than any conditions are better handled in Portugal than in most other countries," commented an expat living in Porto, Portugal.

"Speak to locals (especially other expats for have been around for at least a few years) to recommend health care providers, especially specialists," said another expat in 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," remarked another expat in Lisbon.

"Choose a healthcare insurance company that has a strong network in your area; some are focused on the Southern region, some across the middle and so on. Look into brokers for lower rates rather than buy the coverage directly from the insurance company or from your bank," explained one expat in Lisbon.

"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," said another expat in Cascais.

What do you think about the cost of medical care in Portugal?

"Again, everything in regards to healthcare is much cheaper in Portugal. Yes, we have private health insurance, it is required when you renew your resident visa. Full medical and dental health insurance for my husband and I is a little over 100 Euros/month! Yes, it is accepted at all the hospitals near us. Millennium Bank offers Medis health insurance. It was recommended to us by another expat," commented an expat living in Porto, 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)," said another expat in Porto.

"The cost of a private plan is half or less than charged in the US. Health insurance can be purchased through banks or a few organizations, such as the Automobile Club of Portugal or 'afpop'. These offer even better group rates than the bank rates," remarked another expat in Lisbon.

"We are required to have a private policy that meets the Schengen Community requirements (go to their website). The highest quality of coverage won't cost more than 3,000 euros a person/year (2017) and most retirees are paying only 2,000 euros annually. This includes dental and eye care, surgeries, private hospital room, unlimited doctor visits and tests," explained one expat in Lisbon.

What are emergency services like?

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

"Emergency services are excellent. There are numerous hospitals, public and private in the area. The quality of care is excellent. We are within 5-10 minutes drive from the hospital. We go to Clinica Lusiadas Gaia. Care and service are excellent. It is a private hospital. To call for an ambulance in an emergency dial 112," commented an expat living in Porto, Portugal.

"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," said 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," remarked another expat in Lisbon.

"Close to CufCascais hospital and the Cascais Public Hospital. Emergency services from low-cost ambulances to quick hospital admissions are accessible and good. Care at the private hospital is a private room with a care giver assigned to you. While we Americans will have to purchase private insurance we also have access to the Country's lower priced prescriptions and public clinics for minor cuts, exams, immunizations," explained one expat in Lisbon.

"I don't know because we just moved here. Nearest hospital is Faro which is about 40 km," said another expat in Algarve.

"ClinicaCUF is a company of health care providers, with clinics in each major town between Lisbon and Cascais, and beyond....one is never more than a couple of kilometers from a clinic if living in a major city. Hospital care at the Cascais Hospital is world-class. Both ClinicaCUF and Cascais Hospital accept private and state-insured patients. ," remarked another expat in Cascais.

Are their specialists in the area or do you need to travel to see a specialist?

"Porto or Lisbon for specialist care, depending on what kind of care you are after. Both cities offer world class healthcare of any kind. We have a friend with cancer, he goes to Lisbon. (He also lives closer to Lisbon.) No, I would not return to my home country for medical care. It is substandard in comparison and outrageously expensive," commented an expat living in Porto, Portugal.

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

"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," remarked another expat in Lisbon.

"Specialists in every field are no more than 30 mins away. Serious health issues are handled at our private hospital, 10 mins away. Care is quickly provided and done well. Tests are given immediately and results available the next day," explained one expat in Lisbon.

Are most prescription medications available in Portugal?

"Yes. You go to the local Farmacia, (Pharmacy.) they are everywhere. You need a prescription for prescription medications the same as you do in the US. Most meds are a fraction of the cost in Portugal compared to the cost in the US. The difference is stunning. Even over the counter meds are much cheaper. Half or sometimes much less. The staff at the farmacias are very friendly and knowledgeable," commented an expat living in Porto, 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 in Porto.

"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.

"Every pharmacy is able to handle your US prescriptions if you bring a request from your US doctor. Pharmacies are usually within 10 mins of most cities and towns and one is always open within 30 mins. Many medications, such as antihistamines and cold, pain and heartburn are available over the pharmacy counter compared to the US. Prices for hypertension meds in the US might cost $300 a month that are $13 for two months here," explained one expat in Lisbon.

"You can usually get them over the counter, some are very expensive but if you get the right prescription with number of EHIC on it it will cost 1/4 of the total amount (in my case-Xarelto)," said another expat in Algarve.

"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," remarked another expat in Cascais.

Do expats and global nomads in Portugal have access to public healthcare? What is it like?

"Yes, and yes. It is not difficult, and there is no cost to enroll in the public healthcare system. I am not positive about whether or not pre-existing conditions are covered. I want to say that they are. Yes, there are public hospitals. The quality of care in the public system is very good. The only downside is that waiting times are long," commented an expat living in Porto, Portugal.

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Get a quote for expat health insurance in Portugal from our partner, GeoBlue.
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Get a quote for expat health insurance in Portugal from our partner, GeoBlue.
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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Some of Betsy's more popular articles include 6 Best Places to Live in Costa Rica, 12 Things to Know Before Moving to The Dominican Republic and 7 Tips for Obtaining Residence in Italy. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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GeoBlue International Health InsuranceExpatriate Health Insurance

Get a quote for expat health insurance in Portugal from our partner, GeoBlue.
Get a Quote

Get a quote for expat health insurance in Portugal from our partner, GeoBlue.
Get a Quote Call  

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Expats living in Portugal discuss health insurance options for expats in Portugal, the health letter needed for a residency application, pre-existing conditions, the cost of health insurance in Portugal and more.

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Answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about healthcare and health insurance for expats in Portugal.

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Read recent healthcare reports submitted for: Cascais, Algarve and Lisbon.

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Help others moving to Portugal by answering a set of questions about health insurance, public healthcare in Portugal, prescription medicine, quality of medical care and emergency services.

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Being pregnant and giving birth abroad can be a bit unnerving. If you've had a baby abroad, please take a few minutes to answer a few questions about your experiences. Your insight will help to prepare other expat parents-to-be -- and hopefully calm their nerves.

Read Reports from Other Parents about their Childbirth experiences abroad.

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