Health Care in Portugal

by Jose Marc Castro on August 10, 2009

healthcareAUSTRALIAOne European country that most people think of as a wonderful place to retire is Portugal. The country is actually a great place to stay. But before you finally decide on finally living into another country, there are some things that have to be attended to, and one very important thing is the health care in Portugal.

Portugal, officially called the Portuguese Republic is one country located in Southwestern Europe, particularly on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal, being in the westernmost part of the mainland Europe, is bordered by the Spain on its east and north, and the Atlantic Ocean on its west. Madeira and Azores, both Atlantic archipelagos, are also parts of Portugal.

Knowing more about the healthcare system in Portugal

The health care system ins Portugal has come a very long way after the government reforms way back 2002 wherein the system have been made more efficient and effective compared in previous years. The Portuguese health care system is basically available to all the eligible populace in Portugal and efficiently works in the same manner as it does to other European Union states. The current system in Portugal has three coexisting systems namely the National Health Service, the health sub-systems which is a specialized social health insurance scheme and the voluntary private health insurance.

As for the short-term visitors, those European Union national are given healthcare thru the European Union reciprocal health agreements. However, you are required to accomplish the E111 form from your local post office from your place of origin and then submit it to a hospital or clinic in Portugal in cases where medical attention is needed.

For those who are planning to permanently move to Portugal and live as European Union residents, there is the free basic health care within the health system of Portugal including free appointments on doctors, as well as free medicines. Additionally, those retired European Union Nationals who have plans of permanently living in Portugal needs to have the form E121. European Union citizens who are to retire before he qualifies for state pensions can still avail of free health covers for to years if he has obtained the form E106. If in case this temporary cover expires before one finally reached the retirement age, there are two possible options. One is to make a voluntary social security contribution, and the other one apply for a private health insurance. Furthermore, all the non European Union nationals should apply for their personal insurance to be able to obtain medical treatment in Portugal.

If you are working in Portugal and you are paying for the social security system, you are automatically entitled for free treatments across Portugal’s medical spectrum. However, you should remember that those non-essential medicines are not given for free. You will be paying from forty to about a hundred percent of the cost. Since most of the pharmacies in Portugal are managed by qualified chemists, a lot of medicines can easily be obtained over the counter without any prescriptions from the doctor. This somehow makes your life easier unlike other systems where the prescription of the doctor is mandatory. This was echoed by an expat in Portugal Expat Forum last June 22, 2009:

I don’t know about Portugal in particular, but within the EU the “normal” process for retirees entering from outside the EU is that you must show evidence of private health insurance in order to qualify for a long-stay visa in the first place.

If you’re coming to Portugal to work, you are enrolled in the national insurance system (not just health care, but retirement and other benefits) through your employment. But it’s the participation in the full social insurance system that entitles you to benefits, not simply residence in the country. The EU countries have some way of transferring balances for those who have paid in one country, but who are taking retirement in another EU country.

Being residents in Portugal, you are eligible for medical cards that provide free medical assistance from your very own doctor at your local health center. In order to obtain the card, you are required to present your residency permit, along with your social security card to your local health center.

Moving to Portugal

When you plan on moving to Portugal to work, live, or retire for quite some time, it is important that you are familiar with the health care available within the country. Depending on where you come from, you may find the health care quality of Portugal below the standards you are used to have, most especially if you are from the United States and Northern Europe. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that Portugal’s health care is bad because certainly it’s not. Portugal’s health care is relatively good, especially with the many improvements observed in recent years.

Additionally, you do not have to worry especially if you have problems speaking the local language. Most of the Portuguese doctors can speak English well, and there are also foreign doctors present, especially in those popular tourist destinations. But you should be aware that seldom do you see English-speaking doctors in rural areas, and not to mention that finding hospitals in these locations is not that easy.

Still, you will find both private and public health care hospitals in Portugal. For the more rural areas, finding private heath care facilities is very rare.

Portugal is one country that does not have its own public health care system providing health care to people that have contributed to the Portuguese social security at no fees per service. The families of those people who have contributions to the Portuguese social security, along with the retirees, are eligible for health care services that are free of charge. People who are over sixty-five years old are also provided with subsidized prescriptions. If you are not qualified to avail for a public health system, you can always apply for private health insurance. If you will only be visiting in Portugal for a holiday, have the holiday health insurance. Take note also that British Hospitals are also present in Porto and Lisbon.

Living In Portugal

One of the many benefits when you decide to live overseas, in a country that provides a public health system is that you are able to have access to health care and medical services just by paying contributions weekly. But if you are moving to Portugal and you are not a citizen from the European Union, then you do not have admission to the public health system of Portugal not unless you are employed and paying for the social security thru automatic deductions from your monthly paychecks. If you do so, then you and your family are entitled for the public health system of Portugal. Otherwise, you can always have the private health insurance companies to deal with your health care concerns.

Living in Portugal and using their health care system was shared in Portugal Expat Forum last January 3, 2009:

We have been living in central Portugal for the last 18 months, without health insurance – just using the local health centre. We registered with the health centre on arrival, and were assigned a doctor. I have had to use the service a few times for myself, husband and children, paying about €2.50 for a consultation – the same amount for an x-ray and ultrasound scan. But when I needed an MRI scan – advised by the doctor – I had to pay the €350 myself.

The main problem I have encountered is a degree of racism in our local health centre, where the director expressly forbids his administrative staff to speak English – the policy being that we are all in Portugal, so we should speak Portuguese. Fair enough, one might say, except when I am facing a health crisis for myself or my child my linguistic capabilities seem to evaporate, and if somebody else’s English is better than my Portuguese, it would seem only logical to speak the most easily understood language.

The doctors themselves seem efficient, but as always, information is very difficult to come by. I have heard a rumour that soon everybody will need private health insurance, and that even emergency treatment will be charged for – I have no idea of the truth in this, and cannot verify or refute it.

In general, living in Portugal is really not that bad. Once you have grasped the real idea on how their health care system works, for sure you will not have a hard time adjusting when you are already in the European country.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

annie mac June 29, 2010 at 1:31 pm

anyone know of hospice or palliative care services in madeira


Rico February 13, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Maybe the "racist " doctor or his family had a problem in the UK, and I can imagine how he could have been rudely and scornfully told to speak in English! It happens all the time!
The Portuguese are the LEAST racist of all europeans that is if you can call them racist at all. Ask me I am asian.


Rogerio January 13, 2013 at 7:00 pm

I beg to differ. There are racists in any countries, and although my grandparents where born in Portugal and then moved to Brazil where most of my family is now located, 10 years ago I stayed in Portugal for a month, mainly in the Lisbon area, and although the majority of the Portuguese people were nice and friendly, there was always the odd instace where me and my wife found ourselves been treated in a racist way. However, as I've said before, it tends to be the minority, it does exist and for one to try to explain it by using other countries' behaviour towards immigrants is naive to say the least.


Nuno October 28, 2011 at 12:30 pm

That's true! In Portugal, people have no dificult to speak in english (comparing with other European contries). I believe that it was an especific case and you should ask for the complait's book (that has instructions in english too).


edd January 31, 2012 at 3:05 pm

I agree totally with Rico the Portuguese are very welcoming on the whole. I live in Portugal and have never been made feel like an outsider even when speaking in English. I am now getting better at Portuguese. I can say I love these people from the bottom of my heart.


waunderlust March 12, 2012 at 8:12 pm

we are thinking of coming to Portugal but I am a cancer patient in need of many different doctors and medications. I know the medications I need, two are controlled. How difficult is it iot get pain management in portugal? And medicatons if we had a second home there. We are from US.


Frank May 15, 2012 at 12:40 am

One point I disagree in this article is the mention of quality of healthcare is better in the United States. I truly, whole-heartedly disagree with that statement because if a big portion of the U.S. population can't afford healthcare, how can it be better? A healthcare system is considered good if the majority of the population of a country has access to healthcare; not only for those who can afford it.


Dawn June 21, 2012 at 9:42 am

Thanks for this information. Can anyone advise further? I am weighing up whether to go ahead with a planned holiday to Portugal at the end of July as there is a slight risk I may have another acute pancreatitis attack which would necessitate morphine a.s.a.p. Can anyone tell me whether I can expect English to be understood if we need to ring for an ambulance? Also, does anyone know if the Castro Daire area about 20 miles north of Viseu, and Casal do Celão near Caldas da Rainha are likely to have English speaking doctors at the local hospitals? Thanks for any advice.


Chris short September 12, 2012 at 7:07 am

Can you buy Medicines over the counter in chemists without SIP Card or persription? Im due to come for a month 2 northern Portugal and if i bring all my medicines with me i'll have no room for clothes lol I am an amputee whole leg and take a gr8 deal of pain releif and also go through npadding/ dressings like an A n E ,,, If someone could steer me right i'd b very greatfull,, Thank you


David F. September 30, 2012 at 6:03 am

Get an EHIC card and you will be treated on the same basis as a Portuguese resident. Consultation will cost €5 and you will have to pay towards the costs of medication. You may be able to claim some of the costs on return to the UK.
OR You can buy your dressings at a pharmacy. They will be pleased to order them if they are special. Pain relief medication is different – depends on what you take. Legally farmacias are not allowed to sell prescription only items. You can always pay for a consultation at a local private clinic (costs €40 – €50) and a doctor will give you a prescription and you will have to pay the full price for the medication.


Victor Paul Scerri December 30, 2012 at 11:37 am

I am English contemplating moving from my retirement home in Spain to the Potugal Island Madeire. My mother suffered with alzheimer disease and wondered; what if…? Who will look after me…?


Paul January 4, 2013 at 1:56 pm

I'am going to Portugal and will be living from my capital and capital gain. I don't have the intention to work there.
Can I go to a health care and what will it cost for me? Here in Belgium it is very expensive when you don't work (more than 2500 euro/person per year) , because you don't contribute to the system anymore.
Thank you for any information!


Nancy January 11, 2013 at 4:37 pm

This isn't completely true.. their health care is horrible. I lived there for a while and my parents and sister live their now. my mother has been on a waiting list to get her galbladder out for two years. it got to the point that i forced her to come to the states and have it removed here. my sister was pregnant and the baby had a deformaty and had no brain and she was in the hospital for two weeks on pitocin to induce labor…and after many arguments she had with the doctors they finaly gave her a csection. Although i love the country and I would love to live there I wouldn't because of the healthcare system.


Terri September 18, 2016 at 3:06 am

Very very true healthcare care is aweful


rod June 1, 2015 at 4:17 am

I have been trying for frustrating weeks with no success to find reasonably priced health insurance to comply with the Portuguese requirement for a policy that covers a retiree in Portugal in order to qualify for a simple long stay visa as a retired US citizen, I have full coverage in the US where I could return in case of need, but the Potuguese authorities do not accept that as valid health insurance for the purpose, thus making the obtention of the desired visa to live and spend my income in Portugal considerably more difficult.

I am an 80 y.o. healthy retired single male professional with a modest but sufficient US government pension wanting to retire to the Algarve, where I used to work at one time some years ago.
Would greatly appreciate any assistance you can give in this regard. ROD


David September 28, 2015 at 8:10 pm

Hi all,
Some very interesting comments here, but I haven’t seen anything that addresses my own particular circumstances. I and my wife are UK Citizens who have been living and working in the USA for the past 8 years and thus paying US Social security, not UK.

For health reasons (I have leukemia) we would like to move to the Azores (which I know have their own SRS rather than SNS Health system), but are concerned that we wouldn’t be covered by the Portuguese Health Service because we can’t show consistent UK social security payments. Will we have to obtain private health insurance, or can we somehow ‘transfer’ our US SS contributions to qualify for public healthcare?

I’d really appreciate any advice.


Margaret Cabral November 30, 2015 at 7:30 am

hi all
you will have to go back to usa or buy private health insurance or pay for your care
in usa you got to pay so Portugal should be cheaper even if you got to pay


Jack February 3, 2017 at 3:28 pm

As an American let me tell you that the cost of medical care in Portugal is certainly much less expensive than in the U.S. I have a private insurance policy, but as the costs for doctor visits and routine treatments are so inexpensive, I very often do not bother to request a claim form and submit them to my insurance company unless it reaches the point somewhere in the year where I have exceeded the deductible amount of the policy.


Walter June 18, 2017 at 1:43 pm

Hello Jack,

What private health insurance do you have from the USA? My partner and I re thinking of moving to Portugal. Lisbon or Porto.


[email protected]


manuel moleirinho June 29, 2017 at 12:16 pm

Hi, All
My name is Manuel Ermida Moleirinho I am Portuguese original left the my Beautiful Country at age of 14 years of age I live now in Australia I wish I could help your guys regarding the health care in Portugal,but as can you appreciate I don’t know the system any better than you.

My point is to find out exactly contact the health care department in Portugal and hear the facts strait from the horses mouth to avoid too many opinions and confusion.
This is way I operate in Australia.
I hope this is some information.
Have a nice day.


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