Planning to spend the next few years sunning yourself on the golden Algarve coast? Or perhaps you're looking forward to a new chapter of your life in Lisbon, surrounded by buzzing nightlife and compelling culture? Either way, expats making the move to Portugal are well and truly in for a treat. 

But before you consider packing your bags, it's important to look into the healthcare options available. Is Portuguese healthcare similar to UK healthcare? Will it end up draining your bank account? What exactly does it cover? Luckily for you, we have all the answers waiting for you further down the page.

If you've already decided that private health insurance is right for you, we recommend Cigna. Helping more than 95 million customers all over the world, Cigna has the experience and expertise to get you just the right cover.

Start building a customised plan with a free quote to protect your most important assets – you and your family.

Portuguese healthcare: key stats

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    Average life expectancy
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    % of Portuguese with private medical cover
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    World ranking of healthcare system

How does Portugal's healthcare system work?

You'll be pleased to hear that Portugal's healthcare system shares a lot of similarities with the NHS in the UK .

Portugal offers free and subsidised healthcare for all its nationals and residents. It covers:

  • Visits to your doctor
  • In-patient care
  • Out-patient care
  • Accidents and emergencies
  • Regular consultations and treatments
  • Maternity treatments, but not pre-natal classes
  • Some dental care
  • Optical care

If you contribute towards public healthcare and have been in your job for at least six months, you can also access sick pay for a maximum of 1,095 days.

You'll receive between 55% and 75% of your salary, depending on whether you have dependents, whether you receive benefits, and your wage level.

 

There are three parts to the healthcare system in Portugal:

  • The National Health Service (NHS) , also known as Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS). This covers all of mainland Portugal , with the regions of Azores and Madeira covered by their own healthcare services
  • Social health insurance schemes (health subsystems). These occupation-based schemes are usually used in the public sector, such as the police and the military, as well as in certain professions such as banking
  • Voluntary private health insurance. With private medical cover, you can expect to be covered for GP appointments, maternity services, hospital and specialist care, and in some (rare) cases, dental care. Private insurers include Allianz, Cigna, and Pacific Prime

 

You can purchase medication from pharmacies, in much the same way as in the UK. Many medicines are available over the counter, while others require a prescription.

You'll need to pay, though the government subsidises all medications, up to 90% in some cases.

In emergencies, call 112 for an ambulance. You may have to cover part of the costs, as it won't always be part of your insurance policy, but it shouldn't be a significant amount.

 

Is healthcare free in Portugal?

The Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS) is available to Portuguese residents only, and is entirely free for children under 18 and people over 65. For the rest of the population, however, the service is vastly subsidized, meaning it's incredibly affordable.

Those on Portugal's Serviço Nacional de Saúde will have to pay a small fee when arranging GP appointments, specialists, hospital treatment, and prescriptions – unless they are from a vulnerable or low-earning group. 

Though some dental care is free, most visits to the dentist also incur a small fee.

view of the sea at the Algarve

A panoramic view of the crystal clear waters in the Algarve, in the south of Portugal. 

Quality of healthcare in Portugal

Portugal prides itself on having one of the world’s best healthcare systems, with roughly 85% of Portuguese citizens stating they’re satisfied. This state system is commended for its affordable price, catering to all families across the country, while also maintaining a decent quality of service. 

There is, however, a shortage of physicians, which has led to longer waiting lists for surgeries, and put a slight strain on the system as a whole. Check out the average waiting times below:

TreatmentAverage waiting time in Portugal (days)Average waiting time in the UK (days)
Cataract surgery11965
Hip replacement12692
Knee replacement20498
Hysterectomy7754
Prostatectomy 8135
Coronary bypass5 55

Data from OECD

 

How good is healthcare in Portugal vs the world?

Despite the long waiting times, Portugal is held in high regard worldwide. The Euro Health Consumer Index ranked the Portuguese healthcare as the 13th best in Europe in 2018, up from 20th place in 2015. The country ranks higher than the UK, Spain, Italy, and Ireland scoring highest in terms of patient rights and information, accessibility, and overall health outcomes.

Portugal spends a relatively generous 9.6% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on healthcare, according to Statista – about the same as the UK's 10%.

On top of this, the World Health Organisation (WHO) ranks Portuguese healthcare as the 12th best in the world. Pretty impressive, if you ask us! 

view of Lisbon at sunset

The city of Lisbon glowing on a summer evening, with a sunset-washed sky

Healthcare in Portugal for non-citizens

Portugal’s healthcare system is also available to non-citizens – all you have to do is register as a resident in the country, and you’re good to go!

To get started registering for the SNS healthcare system, you’ll need to contact the Portuguese Social Security Department (Seguranca Social) to get your social security number. If you’re moving to Portugal for work, your employer should do this for you. Self-employed people, on the other hand, will need to arrange this themselves.

Once your social security arrangements are in place, you can register at your local Portuguese health centre. Just remember to take along the following items:

  • Social security card
  • Passport or national ID card
  • Portuguese residence permit

Once you’ve registered for public healthcare in Portugal, you will receive your ‘cartao do utente’ (healthcare card), which proves your eligibility for access to Portuguese healthcare services. 

The National Health Service (SNS) was created in 1979 by António Duarte Arnaut.

Healthcare for British citizens in Portugal

Portugal is a popular destination for British expats – which may explain why it’s so easy for us to jump on their healthcare once we move over. Overall, there are around 20,000 British citizens living in Portugal, with the number gradually increasing after the announcement of Brexit in 2016.

There are three main ways Brits can gain access to Portuguese healthcare:

  • Registering to use the Portuguese national health service as a resident
  • Using a UK-issued European Health Insurance Card for temporary stays
  • Registering a UK-issued S1

If you're a resident, you can register with the health system, no matter if you're employed, self-employed, or unemployed.

The S1 form entitles you to access state healthcare on the same basis as a Portuguese citizen – but only people who receive a UK State Pension or certain other benefits are eligible for this.

State healthcare isn't totally free. Costs are covered by the state, but patients must pay out-of-pocket fees, known as taxas moderadoras.

Do I need private healthcare in Portugal?

If you don’t qualify for the state healthcare system in Portugal, you’ll need to get private health insurance. Regardless of eligibility, you may want to take out a private plan simply to avoid the long waiting lists often seen in the state system. 

But before you jump at the chance, remember that age is a limiting factor with some private health insurance. If you are older than 55, some companies won’t accept you into their plan, and at 65, the choices can become very restricted.

To help you figure out what you’re eligible for, we’ve partnered with Cigna for private medical insurance in Portugal. With four levels of annual cover to choose from and extra modules for more flexibility, Cigna will sort you out with a plan that suits your needs.

Start building a customised plan with a free quote to protect you and your family.

 

Benefits of private healthcare in Portugal

Private healthcare can offer a few extra things that Portugal's state healthcare can’t, including:

  • On-demand access to a network of private hospitals (in addition to public ones)
  • Shorter waiting times
  • Access to better facilities
  • Fewer language barriers
  • Cover for ongoing expenses, such as GP appointments and prescriptions

For British expats, often the winning feature of private healthcare in Portugal is that it removes most issues with the language barrier. If you’re moving to a more built-up, urban area of Portugal, you’ll find that most doctors will speak English, but if not, private healthcare might be your best bet to ensure you and your doctor can communicate effectively. 

“The private options are much more focused on customer care, and making an effort to address language/cultural differences. This, in turn, impacts the quality of care provided, the adherence to treatment recommendations/instructions, as well as the patient satisfaction factor.” Eve Jokel, International Patient Services Director for Luz Saúde, a private hospital group, said.

How much is private health insurance in Portugal?

Although Portugal’s healthcare system covers most medical bills, you’ll still need to pay a fee to visit your GP and for any prescriptions. So, for expats with ongoing health issues, private health insurance is a great way to make sure you can cover these costs. 

Depending on your age and health condition, private insurance can cost between €20 and €50 a month – or €400 a year for a basic plan and €1,000 for more well-rounded annual coverage.

To give you a little insight into the costs this insurance can cover, check out the table below:

ExpensePortugal PublicPortugal Private
Doctor’s visitFree or €5 (£4.46)€50 (£44.59)
Dental cleaningFree€25 (£22.30)
Hip replacementMinimal Co-pay€4,000 - €20,000
(£1,783 - £17,830)
MammogramMinimal Co-pay€75 (£66.86)

Data from International Living

Start building a customised plan with Cigna today to get a better idea of how much private medical cover will cost you in Portugal.