The Portuguese healthcare system
The healthcare system in Portugal consists of three coexisting systems:
- The National Health Service (NHS, or Servico Nacional de Saude, SNS)
- Special social health insurance schemes (health subsystems) that are occupation-based schemes used in the public sector and in certain professions such as police, military, and banking
- Voluntary private health insurance
The Portuguese Ministry of Health (Ministério de Saúde) is in charge of managing the SNS. It is free and available to all citizens as well as both temporary and permanent residents in Portugal. However, charges have been introduced for many services in recent years.
If you are a citizen of a European Union country, your ID from that country is honored in Portugal as well, entitling you to the same medical care available to Portuguese residents. You must have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to receive care, though. This card can be applied for through your home country health service for those who are residents of an EU country.
What Does Public Healthcare Cover?
Public healthcare in Portugal covers all medical procedures with the exception of dental care and cosmetic surgery. This includes preventive care, diagnosis and treatment of both emergency and nonurgent conditions. You will find a number of public hospitals in the country throughout the country.
Healthcare Costs in Portugal
Even though the Portuguese public healthcare system is mostly free, you may still be asked to pay in some instances when requesting medical care. You would need to pay for doctor’s appointments at primary medical centers or centros de saúde, hospitals, and for medical emergencies.
|Type of appointment||EUR||USD|
|Infirmary or other complementary services (hospitals)||4.50||4.90|
|Infirmary or other complementary services (local health centers)||3.50||3.80|
What are the Pros and Cons of the Portuguese Healthcare System?
- It is mostly free. Expenses with public medical care are usually within 5 to 20 EUR (6–22 USD), so you should not be burdened with heavy costs with state healthcare.
- The Portuguese medical staff is highly qualified and public hospitals in bigger cities are well-equipped with state-of-the-art resources and medical equipment.
- There are long waiting lists for elective procedures in the public sector.
- Emergency rooms tend to be packed and it might take a few hours to be seen by a doctor.
- Portugal has a shortage of nurses compared to doctors which is particularly felt in cases of national strikes.
An Overview of Private Health Insurance
If the cons of public healthcare are too much of a downside for you, you might want to learn how health insurance works in case you decide to take out private insurance.
Similar to elsewhere, private healthcare in Portugal is more expensive, although not as expensive as in some countries. This could cost between 20 and 50 EUR (22–55 USD) a month, depending on your age and the extent of your coverage. This means you can pay anywhere between 400 EUR (440 USD) a year for a basic plan and 1,000 EUR (1,100 USD) yearly for a more well-rounded coverage.
Waiting lists for private services are typically shorter; there is a wider availability of services and there is also more chance of being seen by English-speaking staff. Private health insurance for expats is common in Portugal. In fact, it’s growing in popularity among the local Portuguese population, too; between 10–20% of locals use private health services in Portugal. Some services, such as dental and eye care services, have limited coverage through the SNS. As a result, some residents have little option but to seek out private providers. The costs for private GP services, specialists, and hospitals can be covered by taking out private medical insurance in Portugal.