Access to the Portuguese health system is based on residence. Everyone who’s registered as a resident can also register to access the Portuguese national health service (SNS) on the same basis as a Portuguese citizen. This is the same if you’re employed, self-employed or not working. Here we outline how expats can access healthcare in Portugal.
If you are formally resident in Portugal (having registered with your nearest Town Hall or the Immigration authorities and obtained a residence certificate), you are entitled to register with your local health centre and receive state healthcare.
If you’re employed, you will need to obtain your social security number (NISS), which you can get from your employer, or request it from the tax office if you’re self-employed.
To register for healthcare, you need to go to your local health centre (centro de saúde). You will need to take your:
- residence certificate
- tax identification number (NIF) from your local tax office (finanças)
- social security number (NISS) if you’re employed or self-employed
Once you have registered for public healthcare in Portugal you will receive your health card (cartao do utente, which can be used to show your eligibility every time you access Portuguese healthcare services.
You can also register to access the SNS online portal. This portal lets you access information and make appointments online.
You can then find your nearest hospital or clinic on the Portuguese Nation Health Service website (in Portuguese).
Non-residents and temporary visitors to Portugal will require private health insurance to cover them while in Portugal. Citizens of the EU, EEA and Switzerland can access public healthcare in Portugal through their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
Citizens from non-EU countries which have reciprocal healthcare agreements with Portugal may be able to access public healthcare in Portugal for free or at a reduced cost. Agreements are currently in place with Andorra, Brazil, Cape Verde, and Morocco. Other non-EU residents will have to purchase private health insurance to get coverage.
Applying for an S1
UK residents in Portugal may be able to get an S1 showing you are entitled to state healthcare paid for by the UK if you’re a resident in Portugal and receive a UK State Pension or an exportable benefit. You can see more information on the NHS website about eligibility – see Planning your healthcare abroad.
You may also be entitled to an S1 form if you are a frontier worker (someone who works in one state and lives in another). You will need to contact HMRC National Insurance enquiries to check your eligibility.
Healthcare costs in Portugal
Healthcare in Portugal is funded through social security contributions, general taxation and some payments required by those using the services.
Social security contributions are paid by working residents, but those not in employment, dependent family members and retirees do not have to make contributions.
All residents pay standard user fees (taxas moderadoras) for state healthcare services in Portugal. A fixed amount is payable depending on the service or treatment and how you’ve accessed the healthcare system (eg. €5 for a GP appointment, €15 to go to A&E). You will also have to pay towards the cost of any prescribed medicine.
Those who are pregnant, children under 12 and the unemployed may be exempt from paying fees for some services, prescriptions and treatments.
There is more about paying user fees on the SNS website (in Portuguese) or your GP in Portugal will be able to guide you.
Dental care is not usually covered unless you are in a vulnerable group, which includes children, elderly or disabled residents.
Accessing medical services in Portugal
You have to register for healthcare at a health centre in Portugal (see SNS website for your local health centre) and when needing treatment the process will start there. They often provide maternity and childcare services, non-life threatening emergency care as well as doctor/GP services.
Once registered at a local health centre you can access hospital services but unless it is for emergency treatment you will need to be referred by a Portuguese Doctor. You will need to have your healthcare card with you. Most of the costs of the specialist treatment will be covered by public health insurance but you will usually be required to make a small contribution to the cost. There can be a long wait to see specialists and many Portuguese residents have private health insurance to get faster treatment. Standard public health insurance may not cover some hospital costs, so you should check before being treated.
Mental healthcare in Portugal is provided through mental health teams who work in health centres and hospitals. Mental health services can be accessed through the SNS but your GP should be your first point of contact.
Emergency treatment is available to everyone including non-residents whether or not you have insurance. However, once you have been treated you need to show you are a Portugal resident or show that you have private health insurance.
The main emergency number is 112 to connect to ambulance, police, and fire services.
Pharmacies in Portugal
Pharmacies (farmacia) are available in town centres and shopping centres. Opening hours for pharmacies are generally between 9.00am to 7.00pm on weekdays (with a lunch break between 1.00pm and 3.00pm) and 9.00am to 1.00pm on Saturdays.
Duty pharmacies (farmacio de servico) stay open out-of-hours for emergencies. You can find a list of pharmacies providing 24/7 services in most pharmacies or on the SNS website. You can find details of community pharmacies.
Public health insurance in Portugal generally covers some of the costs towards prescription drugs, but are usually required to make some payment.
Alternative and complementary medicine, including chiropractors, osteopaths, naturopathy, massage and herbal medicine is generally not available through the SNS but it is commonly available in Portugal. You will have to pay for these consultations and treatments yourself unless you have a private insurance policy that covers it.
Private healthcare in Portugal
Private healthcare is available to cover the costs for private GP services, specialists, and hospitals. Private healthcare in Portugal is not as expensive as in some countries. Expats often take out private coverage as waiting lists for private services are typically shorter, there is a wider service availability and there is more chance of getting to see English-speaking staff.
Getting treatment in the UK
The NHS is a residency-based system and so UK nationals who move abroad on a permanent basis lose their entitlement to free NHS healthcare.
If you are a UK national and move to the EU, you should not expect to be able to use NHS services for free when visiting the UK unless you have an EHIC, PRC or S2 to show your healthcare costs are funded by the EU country in which you now live, or another exemption applies.
Some former UK residents do not have to pay for NHS treatment when visiting England. This includes:
- UK war pensioners
- UK government employees
- UK nationals living in the EU on or before 31 December 2020, once they have a registered, UK-issued S1