Healthcare in Portugal
Understanding the fundamentals
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Public healthcare in Portugal
Portugal has an extensive tax-funded public healthcare system, run by the Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS). Under the SNS, most essential medical services are available free of charge, while non-essential services and treatments require 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. Thereafter they 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. UK citizens can make use of their Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which replaced the EHIC for UK citizens post-Brexit.
Non-EU citizens will have more difficulty accessing public healthcare in Portugal, as they can only utilise the public health system once they’re employed in the country and paying social security. On receipt of their social security card, however, expats will be able to register at their local health centre (centros de saude) where they will receive a healthcare card, which they will need in order to make use of the public healthcare system.
The quality and number of public healthcare facilities in Portugal tend to be far greater in urban areas. Expats living in rural Portugal will not only have fewer options but are also more 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, causing long waiting times. As a result, those who can afford health insurance often prefer to use private healthcare.
Private healthcare in Portugal
The private healthcare system in Portugal offers a high level of care, with many of the comforts that expats would expect.
While private healthcare is a pricier 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 to Portugal in order to avoid the exorbitant costs associated with private healthcare.
Non-EU nationals are advised to take out private health insurance before arriving in Portugal to cover any necessary medical treatments while settling in.
Pharmacies and medication in Portugal
Expats should not have any trouble locating or using pharmacies in Portugal. Most pharmacies in Portugal’s major cities are run by qualified pharmacists, most of whom speak at least basic English. Pharmacies in rural areas are less likely to have English-speaking staff, but expats can still expect excellent service. A list of 24-hour pharmacies can be found on the SNS website.
While most prescribed medication will be free of charge or heavily subsidised, expats should be aware that non-essential medication may be costly.
Expats may 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 in Portugal
Emergency medical services in Portugal are generally efficient with quick response times. 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 operated by well-trained professionals.
Expats living in Portugal can use the general EU emergency number, 112. Operators on this line can usually speak English. It is also recommended that expats take note of the contact details for their nearest local embassy or consulate in case of an emergency.