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How Does the Healthcare System Work in Portugal?

Overview of healthcare in Portugal

The national health system in Portugal is impressive, particularly when compared to the healthcare systems of other European countries.

Healthcare in Portugal is provided primarily through the Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS), which translates as the National Health Service. It provides a wide range of healthcare services, such as general practice consultations and treatments, hospitalization, specialist care, and emergency services.

Doctor, patient and medical equipments

The Public Healthcare System in Portugal

Portugal is a great place to consider healthcare needs, as the public healthcare system in the country has been ranked one of the best in Europe. It aims to achieve the highest standards and ensure healthcare excellence. Portugal's healthcare employs a comprehensive healthcare strategy, ensuring free access for citizens to all areas of care, from general practice and family medicine to specialist care and emergency services.

Healthcare initiatives have been developed to elevate healthcare for Portuguese citizens, such as new health centers with advanced technology, increased vaccination campaigns, and disease prevention programs. No matter where you are in Portugal, there’s a facility nearby where you can get quality healthcare services delivered expertly with the latest practices.

The Private Healthcare System in Portugal

Private Health Insurance

Around 15% of the total population has private health insurance in Portugal. Private medical insurance can help ex-pats in Portugal receive treatment quicker and with more personalized care, although it is not required if you are an ex-pat.

The cost to purchase private health insurance in Portugal is typically between 50-100 euros per month, depending on the type of coverage and company chosen. Generally speaking, private insurance policies work by either having the insurer pay upfront directly or requiring patients to pay upfront and then claim back from their insurer to cover medical costs.

Understanding all the details associated with your private health insurance plan is important prior to making any agreement as it can save time and money when needed.

This may be a good solution for people investing in the Golden Visa program.

Doctor holding stethoscope

Cost Comparison Between Private Insurance and Public Healthcare Systems in Portugal

Is Healthcare Free in Portugal?

For ex-pats moving to Portugal, healthcare is an important topic. Ex-pats have the option of utilizing either the public Portuguese health system or private health services.

The costs of the Portuguese healthcare system are covered by the Portuguese national healthcare service. The public healthcare services provided include general practice consultations and treatments, hospitalization, and specialist care - it works like public health insurance. However, there are some healthcare services that the SNS does not provide for free.

The healthcare services that the SNS does not provide for free include certain specialist healthcare, medical treatments and surgeries, prescription medications, and healthcare abroad. Specialty healthcare services such as psychiatric care, rehabilitation services, and home healthcare are not covered by the SNS. Medical treatments such as fertility treatment and cosmetic surgery are also not covered.


Tips for navigating the Portuguese Healthcare System as an International Patient

Navigating Portuguese healthcare as an international patient can be a daunting prospect, but understanding the healthcare system in Portugal and familiarizing yourself with its inner workings can help to make the process easier.

Registering to access public healthcare in Portugal is easy and straightforward. To register, you will need to present your Portuguese Citizen's Card or residence permit. If you are a citizen of another European Union country, then you will need to prove your right to healthcare by showing your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

Private health insurance providers offer more comprehensive healthcare coverage than public Portugal's healthcare system. Depending on your health insurance plan, you may have access to specialty healthcare services such as psychiatric care, rehabilitation services, and home healthcare that are not available through the Portuguese public healthcare system. Additionally, health insurance private plans may cover medical treatments such as fertility treatment and cosmetic surgery.

To register for health private services in Portugal, you first need to research the healthcare providers, find one that fits your needs and call them to get started. Be sure to look at what services they provide and how much it costs before signing up!

Doctor typing on computer

Portugal's Health System: Sector by Sector

Children's Healthcare in Portugal

The healthcare system in Portugal is good for children. The healthcare that is available for free includes seeing a doctor or nurse, getting medicines and treatments, or staying in the hospital if needed. Some healthcare services are not free, like seeing a specialist doctor or getting medical treatments like surgery. Children's healthcare is important in Portugal and the government tries to make sure kids get quality care.

Dental Healthcare in Portugal

Dental care in Portugal is not provided by the SNS, the public health system in Portugal. Instead, dental healthcare is provided through private healthcare providers and dentists. Portugal's private health insurance providers typically offer a wide range of dental care services in addition to general dentistry, such as checkups and cleanings, many providers and dentists also offer specialty services such as prosthodontics, endodontics (root canals), periodontics (gum treatment), orthodontics, and more.

Dentist analyzing radiography

Mental Health Services in Portugal

Public mental healthcare in Portugal includes mental healthcare services and allows every citizen and legal resident to access public mental health teams. The SNS provides a wide range of mental health services, including diagnosis and treatment for mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and other mood disorders.

In order to receive mental care from the SNS, patients must be referred by their primary healthcare doctor or a specialist healthcare provider. Patients can also be referred by the social security system or health service of the municipality they are living in. Once referred patients are assessed by a healthcare professional and then prescribed either medication or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) depending on their individual needs. Individuals with severe mental health struggles may qualify for supported housing programs that provide long-term support in the form of housing assistance and case management services.

In addition to SNS-provided psychiatric care services, there are also private psychiatry practices that provide more comprehensive treatments than those available from the public Portuguese healthcare services.

In terms of cost, private insurance is usually required to access certain mental health treatments, making them more expensive than the public healthcare system. However, there may be additional benefits associated with having private health insurance that make it worth considering – including shorter wait times for appointments.

Woman's Healthcare in Portugal

Public healthcare in Portugal is an important source of healthcare services for women.

They are entitled to free screenings for breast and cervical cancer, along with screenings for other gender-specific diseases such as ovarian cancer. In addition, women can access specialized healthcare services such as infertility treatments, genetic counseling, and ultrasound scans at no extra cost.

The SNS also provides public maternity care, which includes prenatal and postnatal care during pregnancy as well as birthing services for mothers giving birth in Portugal. For expectant mothers planning to give birth at home rather than at a hospital, the SNS offers midwife-assisted births which provide personalized support throughout labor and delivery.

Overall, public healthcare in Portugal provides a range of essential healthcare services that can help improve the lives of women in Portugal – from preventive healthcare screening to mental health treatments – all free of charge or at a low cost.

Mom holding baby's hand

Where to Access Healthcare in Portugal

Hospitals in Portugal

Public hospitals in Portugal provide a variety of healthcare services, ranging from preventive healthcare screenings to specialized treatments. They are typically divided into two different types: general (which provides all-around healthcare) and specialist (which offers healthcare for specific areas such as mental health, cancer care, maternity and childcare services).

In terms of services offered, hospital care in Portugal provides a range of preventative and curative healthcare options. These include blood tests, vaccinations, medical imaging procedures, specialist consultations, complex procedures such as organ transplants, and more - all in public hospitals.

If you hold a private healthcare card, you can have access from primary medical care to universal health coverage in your supplier's private institutions or private hospitals.

Nurse at the hospital

Health Centers in Portugal

A public health center in Portugal is a healthcare facility that provides primary healthcare services to the public. A local health center, also known as Centro de Saúde, is run by healthcare professionals and often offers a range of services such as general healthcare consultations, physical examinations, preventative healthcare screenings, vaccinations, and laboratory tests.

Each family registered in a health center should have a family doctor - including legal residents and their dependent family members. All health centers have a family doctor to support local patients.

Patient taking vaccine

Pharmacies in Portugal

Pharmacies in Portugal are an important part of the national healthcare system and provide a range of essential healthcare services, such as dispensing prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs, as well as offering advice on healthcare-related topics. Pharmacies may also offer healthcare products such as vitamins and supplements, medical equipment, or home healthcare supplies.


Overall, Portugal's healthcare system provides access to quality healthcare services for anyone living in the country. With its wide range of services available – both general and specialized – it’s an excellent choice for those looking for affordable healthcare options without compromising on quality.