Private: Healthcare in Portugal

Understanding Healthcare in Portugal: A Guide for Expatriates

When moving to a new country, one of the most important aspects to consider is access to healthcare. As an expatriate in Portugal, it is essential to understand the healthcare system and how to access health services. In this article, we will provide an overview of the Portuguese healthcare system and guide expatriates on how to navigate it.

The Portuguese Healthcare System: An Overview

Portugal has a universal healthcare system known as the Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS), which provides healthcare services to all residents, including expatriates. The SNS is funded through general taxation and contributions from employees and employers.

The Portuguese healthcare system is known for its high-quality care and accessibility. It offers a wide range of services, including primary care, hospital care, emergency services, and specialized treatments. The system is governed by the Ministry of Health and regulated by the Portuguese Health Regulatory Authority.

Primary Healthcare in Portugal

Primary healthcare in Portugal is provided by general practitioners (GPs) known as Médico de Família. These GPs act as the first point of contact for patients and are responsible for preventive care, diagnosis, and treatment of common illnesses. They also refer patients to specialists or hospitals when necessary.

As an expatriate, you can register with a GP by presenting your residency permit or European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). It is advisable to register with a GP as soon as possible to ensure access to primary healthcare services.

Hospitals and Specialized Care

Portugal has a network of public and private hospitals that provide specialized care and treatment. Public hospitals are part of the SNS and offer services at subsidized rates. Private hospitals, on the other hand, provide services at higher costs but often offer shorter waiting times and more personalized care.

Expatriates can access hospital care by obtaining a referral from their GP or by visiting the emergency department in case of urgent medical needs. It is important to note that emergency services are available 24/7 in all public hospitals.

For specialized treatments or consultations with specialists, a referral from a GP is usually required. However, some private hospitals may allow direct access to specialists without a referral.

Health Insurance for Expatriates in Portugal

While the Portuguese healthcare system provides comprehensive coverage, many expatriates choose to have private health insurance to supplement their healthcare needs. Private health insurance offers additional benefits such as access to private hospitals, shorter waiting times, and coverage for services not covered by the SNS.

When selecting health insurance, it is important to consider factors such as coverage limits, premiums, and the extent of coverage for pre-existing conditions. It is advisable to compare different insurance providers and their offerings to find the most suitable plan for your needs.

Accessing Healthcare as an Expatriate

As an expatriate in Portugal, there are a few key steps to follow in order to access healthcare services:

1. Register with the Portuguese National Health Service (SNS)

Upon arrival in Portugal, it is important to register with the SNS. This can be done by visiting your local health center or SNS office. You will need to provide your residency permit or EHIC, proof of address, and any other required documentation.

2. Choose a General Practitioner (GP)

After registering with the SNS, you can choose a GP who will be your primary healthcare provider. The GP will be responsible for your overall healthcare and can refer you to specialists or hospitals when needed.

3. Obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

If you are an EU citizen, it is advisable to obtain an EHIC before moving to Portugal. The EHIC allows you to access necessary healthcare services during temporary stays in other EU countries. It is important to note that the EHIC does not replace the need for private health insurance.

4. Consider Private Health Insurance

While not mandatory, private health insurance can provide additional peace of mind and access to a wider range of healthcare services. Research different insurance providers and choose a plan that suits your needs and budget.

5. Familiarize Yourself with Emergency Services

In case of emergencies, it is important to know the contact information for emergency services in Portugal. The emergency number is 112, and it can be dialed for immediate assistance.


Accessing healthcare in Portugal as an expatriate is a straightforward process. The Portuguese healthcare system provides comprehensive coverage, and expatriates can easily register with the SNS and choose a GP for primary healthcare needs. Private health insurance is also available for those who wish to supplement their healthcare coverage. By following the steps outlined in this article, expatriates can ensure they have access to quality healthcare services during their stay in Portugal.