Did you know that the Portuguese national health system is considered one of the best in the world?
When we think of Portugal, images such as golden beaches, green hillsides and warm sunshine are usually the first that come to mind... But it's not only the landscape, nature and climate that allow us to have a healthier life in Portugal! The Portuguese national healthcare system also plays a very important role in the well-being of all the lucky ones who live in Portugal.
So that you too can benefit from a healthier life in Portugal, discover what healthcare services are available and how you can have access to some of the best medical care available in both Europe and the World.
Healthcare system in Portugal
Healthcare services in Portugal are available through three overlapping systems:
1. National Healthcare System
(NHS, or in Portuguese “SNS - Serviço Nacional de Saúde”): The SNS is tax-funded, with most essential medical services available free of charge, while non-essential services and treatments are available for a small co-payment. All residents in Portugal are covered, regardless of their socioeconomic status, employment or nationality. How much you pay will depend on what you’re being treated for and how you have access to the healthcare system. Examples of co-payments: 5 euros for a doctor’s appointment at your local health centre; 15 euros for an emergency consultation at your local hospital. Specific population groups and medical conditions are exempt from these co-payments (for example, if you’re pregnant, a child under 12 or unemployed).
2. Special health insurance schemes:
Special programmes are available for very specific professional areas and sectors. The so-called ‘health subsystems’ can be either public (e.g. for civil servants) or private (e.g. banking sector).
3. Private medical services:
Private healthcare and Private Voluntary Health Insurance (VHI) is optional in Portugal, and can be provided through individual, family or employee plans. In some cases, having private healthcare can speed up access to hospital treatments or medical consultations. It also increases the choice of providers, especially in the case of services that are normally not covered by the SNS. 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.
Quality of healthcare in Portugal
Regardless of the system you prefer to use, Portugal offers excellent healthcare, with a very diverse range of medical providers and services that place the country among the world's best rankings. Portugal’s healthcare system is considered the 9th best in Europe and 12th in the world (World Health Organization).
Primary care in Portugal is available through public and private providers, including primary care units called “Centros de Saúde” (local health care centres) that are part of the SNS.
Secondary and tertiary care is mainly provided in hospitals, although some primary care centres employ specialists who provide specialist ambulatory (or out-patient) services. SNS doctors act as gatekeepers and refer patients for specialist care.
Recent reforms aim to enhance the efficiency and transparency of the Portuguese NHS, by providing such services as:
SNS24 telephone assistance: The free SNS24 telephone service is available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, with doctors, nurses, pharmacists, as well as an administrative staff that will help you with non-emergent health-related issues. All you have to do is dial 808 24 24 24. And yes, they speak English!
SNS Mobile Apps: The SNS also offers several mobile apps that allow faster and more transparent access to valuable health information and services. The app STAYAWAY COVID is one of the most recent, notifying residents in Portugal if they were in close contact with someone who has COVID-19. Other examples include the “MySNS Tempos” app, which shares the average waiting time in public hospitals, or the "MySNS Carteira” that allows you to schedule medical appointments, access your medical history, medication and other services directly on your mobile phone.
Healthcare for expats in Portugal
Healthcare in Portugal for EU citizens
European Union (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. After 90 days, you will need to be registered as an official legal resident 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.
Healthcare in Portugal for UK citizens
At the moment, UK nationals can have access to the Portuguese healthcare system by:
Registering to use the Portuguese national health service as a resident;
Using a UK-issued European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for temporary stays;
Registering a UK-issued S1. If you receive a UK State Pension or certain other benefits, the S1 form entitles you to access to state healthcare on the same basis as a Portuguese citizen.
If you’re living in Portugal before the end of 2020, your rights to access healthcare in Portugal will stay the same regardless of Brexit, for as long as you remain legally resident. You’ll also have the right to apply for a UK S1 if you start to receive a UK State Pension.
Healthcare in Portugal for US citizens and other non-EU nationals
US citizens and other non-EU nationals generally are not entitled to Portuguese public healthcare unless employed in Portugal and paying social security.
If this is your case, you will have to register as a legal resident of Portugal before being eligible to use the public healthcare system.
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Registering for healthcare in Portugal
To access Portugal’s state healthcare system on the same basis as a Portuguese citizen, all you need is to be registered as an official legal resident in Portugal.
You can register for healthcare at your local health centre (Centro de Saúde), with the following documents:
Tax identification number (NIF) - you can get this from your local tax office (Finanças);
Social security number (NISS) if you’re employed or self-employed - you can get this from your employer, or request it from the tax office if you’re self-employed.
After registering at your local healthcare centre you will receive your personal health number (Número de Utente de Saúde), which will allow you to benefit from any medical service provided by the Portuguese national healthcare system.
If you are not entitled to state healthcare, applying for international health insurance before relocating to Portugal is always an option to avoid the higher healthcare costs associated with private healthcare.
If you need more information on healthcare in Portugal, the Portuguese Ministry of Health (Ministério da Saúde) provides lots of information online that is available in English, as well as support services that will help you make the best decisions to ensure access to excellent healthcare while enjoying Portugal to its fullest.
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