An expat guide to healthcare and health insurance in Portugal
Are you researching an expat health insurance for Portugal? It is important to learn about the local healthcare system first.
Whether you are moving to Portugal or you are already living there as an expat, read our guide on the Portuguese healthcare system and your different options of medical insurance for Portugal.
- Total Population (2016): 10.32 million people
- Gross national income per capita (PPP international $, 2013): 26.17
- Life expectancy at birth m/f (years, 2016): 78/84
- Probability of dying between 15 and 60 years m/f (per 1 000 population, 2016): 110/43
- Total expenditure on health per capita (Intl $, 2014): 2,690
- Total expenditure on health as % of GDP (2014) 9.5
Healthcare in Portugal for expats
The Portuguese health system is managed by the Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS). It was created in 1979, inspired by the British National Health Service (NHS), from which it took the name.
Unlike the British NHS, the SNS is not free: a financial contribution is required for each medical procedure. Certain categories of people are exempt from the user fee (pregnant women, children under 12, low-income people, people over 60, disabled, unemployed).
Foreign residents in Portugal have access to the SNS as long their own country of nationality also offers state healthcare to Portuguese nationals.
To benefit from the services of the SNS, one must register with the health centre (centro de saúde) nearest to their place of residence in order to obtain a health card (cartão de utente do SNS).
The SNS is well suited to accommodate English speaking patients: hospitals have personalised receptions and support services for patients where English is the basic language of communication.
What does the SNS cover?
The range of medical care covered by the SNS is very comprehensive compared to other Western countries. In addition to basic health care (general practitioners and specialists, maternity, hospital care, nursing care, prevention/diagnosis, treatment, prosthetics), the SNS also covers ophthalmology, dentistry, orthodontics and mental health. It is also possible to receive healthcare in private institutions authorised by the SNS.
The limits of the SNS
- In the SNS, you cannot choose your own doctor. Patients are assigned to a general practitioner (medico de familia) in their health centre. To see a specialist, you must be referred by your GP.
- Public hospitals lack medical staff and are often overburdened. The shortage of doctors has resulted in a lengthening of waiting lists for non-urgent operations. Basic health services are available in rural areas but for specialised healthcare you must travel to the city.
Waiting times in the public sector to get an appointment with a specialist or for a minor operation can discourage patients who turn to private healthcare.
Local private health insurance in Portugal
To avoid waiting lists, an increasing amount of the population opt for a private health insurance in Portugal in order to be covered privately.
As a foreigner, if you do not benefit from the SNS, taking out medical insurance in Portugal is mandatory in order to obtain a visa.
If you are eligible for the SNS, taking out health insurance is not mandatory but has many advantages compared to the local health system: free choice of doctor or healthcare facility, avoiding waiting lists, and having the option to seek treatment in Portugal or abroad.
When it comes to choosing a private health insurance in Portugal, you can also consider an international health insurance. An international cover is often more suited to the expatriate lifestyle than a local health insurance. It is also important to note that local private health insurance companies in Portugal only insure up to 55 years of age, while international policies provide cover for older ages.
International health insurance for expats in Portugal
An international health insurance for Portugal is often a better option for expats than a local health plan. It allows you to be treated in the hospital and with the doctor of your choice, not only in Portugal but also abroad (within the zone of cover of your insurance policy).
Moreover, if after Portugal you settle in another country, your expatriate health insurance may be able follow you.
It is important to note that an international health insurance will not exempt you from subscribing to the SNS if it is obligatory for you. The private insurance policy will simply cover you on top of the SNS.
Please note that expat health insurance plans are more expensive than local insurance plans. For people over 60 years, private health insurance becomes extremely expensive and international insurers don’t accept new clients over 70 years old (for some insurers, the age limit for the application is 65 years old).
What is the best health insurance for expats in Portugal
The best health insurance in Portugal for one expat might not be the best for you as everyone has different needs and expectations.
In order to find which one is the best health insurance in Portugal for you, it is important to consider several aspects such as your medical history, your age, your specific needs in terms of medical cover, your situation in Portugal, alongside other parameters.
How much does healthcare cost in Portugal
To give an idea of prices in the public sector, the co-payment rate/user fee for certain medical services in 2015, for Portuguese and EU nationals, were: 5€ for a consultation with a GP, 7.75€ for a consultation with a specialist, and 15.50€ for a basic emergency service (e.g. basic medical-only or very simple surgical emergencies).
In the private sector, a consultation with a GP can vary between 40€ and 70€, a consultation with a dentist between 30€ and 60€, and an ophthalmologist consultation is around 75€. An individual room in a private hospital can cost around 275€ per night. However, this does not include treatment, nursing, and physician charges. In a private hospital without health insurance, healthcare can easily amount to several thousand euros.
Such as with any type of health insurance, the price of a medical insurance for expats in Portugal varies greatly depending on the personal situation, the age, the medical history of each individual as well as other parameters.
If you would like to have an idea of the cost of private health insurance for Portugal, we can prepare for you a personalised comparison of different international health insurance plans. Contact us today for your free health insurance comparison.
Vaccinations No specified vaccination is required to enter Portugal but it is recommended to have your vaccination calendar up-to-date.
Emergency numbers 112 If you need general medical advice, you can call Saúde 24 on 808 24 24 24.
Useful links www.portaldasaude.pt
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Visitors staying for more than 6 months in the UK must pay an ‘Immigration Health Surcharge’. Since Brexit, European citizens are also included.