Health Insurance and the Healthcare System of Portugal Explained

This practical guide on healthcare for non-residents and residents in Portugal shows you how you can find doctors in the public and private sectors. To access free public services, you must first register with a family doctor—or be put on a waiting list. Taking out private health insurance is affordable and significantly cuts down on waiting times for appointments and elective procedures.

The healthcare system and health insurance in Portugal is one of the many benefits citizens and legal residents can enjoy. This section provides a complete overview of the healthcare system, whether that is public or private medical care.

You can take out private health insurance in Portugal if you wish to, especially when considering the long waiting times in the public healthcare system for elective procedures and appointments.

We explain how you can find a doctor in Portugal, whether that is a family doctor, specialist, or dentist. Do not expect to choose your own public physician—these are always assigned to you. For private healthcare, on the other hand, there is no shortage of options.

Giving birth in Portugal should be cost-free if you are a resident. You are entitled to medical care in all stages of your pregnancy. We also cover how your child can obtain citizenship or permanent residency when they are born in Portugal.



How Healthcare Works in Portugal

Portugal’s healthcare system is excellent, whether you rely on the public or private sector. Portugal’s indications of good healthcare include high vaccination rates and high life expectancy. In this section, we cover some facts about healthcare in Portugal, costs you can expect, as well as pros and cons of the public healthcare system.

Facts about Healthcare in Portugal

  • Portugal has both public and private medical healthcare. Hospitals, medical centers, and other institutions are usually either public or private—not both.
  • Life expectancy in Portugal is around 81 years (higher than the EU average).
  • The Portuguese government spends less on public healthcare than other European countries, and out-of-pocket expenses have been increasing.
  • Smoking, drinking, and obesity are the biggest causes of health issues in Portugal.
  • Cardiovascular diseases and cancer are the most worrisome health concerns in the country.

Portugal’s Healthcare System Explained

How does healthcare work in Portugal? Portugal has a mixed healthcare system, with both public and private services. Public healthcare is managed by Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS), the Portuguese national healthcare system.

To enjoy your right to state medical services, you must first be registered with your local council (junta de freguesia). Here you must request proof of address, which you will need for your registration with the local healthcare center, centro de saúde. Bring your residence card (título de residência) and your work visa, as well.

After registering with the health center, you will be given your healthcare number, Número de Utente. You will need to show this number whenever accessing public healthcare services.

Does Portugal Have Free Public Healthcare?

Yes, Portugal does have state-provided healthcare, which is free for all citizens and legal residents in Portugal. Even though medical care is mainly free, you may have to pay some fees when visiting emergency rooms, your family doctor, or requesting ambulance services. These will typically range from 5 to 20 EUR (6—22 USD).

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. Each municipality is also covered by local health centers, which provide primary medical care.

Getting Doctors and Medicine

When you register with your local health center, centro de saúde, you are appointed a family doctor, if the center has capacity to assign you one (otherwise, you are put on the waiting list for one). In busier centers, you will have to see whichever doctor is available. In general, you can rely on your family doctor to be your first point of contact with the public healthcare system such as when you need referrals for specialists or other special exams.

If you need medication, you can get it at a pharmacy or farmácia. These are available throughout the country. Some medication may only be purchased with a prescription from a doctor. These can be state-subsidized, which means you would only pay a percentage of the full cost.

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. You would also be asked to pay for a percentage of diagnostics exams.

Type of appointmentEURUSD
General Practitioner4.504.90
House visit99.80
Infirmary or other complementary services (hospitals)4.504.90
Infirmary or other complementary services (local health centers)3.503.80

As for some costs with complementary diagnostics and exams, you would need to pay a percentage attributed by the SNS, which is different for each procedure. The maximum amount you would need to pay for an exam is 40 EUR (44 USD). You can deduct these expenses when filing your taxes, which can never exceed 1,000 EUR (1,100 USD).

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.

Do You Need Health Insurance in Portugal?

The short answer is, it depends. You can perfectly rely on public healthcare to cover most of your medical needs and you can fully rely on emergency care in life-threatening circumstances. However, for some nonurgent procedures, your medical needs might not be met as quickly as you may want.

Wait times are a serious concern in Portugal. For this reason, Portuguese citizens and residents tend to take out private medical insurance in Portugal to complement national health services and to cut down on wait times for elective conditions and procedures.

Types of Private Health Insurance Plans

Private insurers can offer a range of insurance plans, from the most basic coverage to all-encompassing. In general, you should opt for an insurance plan that best fits your medical needs.

Hospitalization and surgery are the basic features of private health insurance coverage in Portugal. You can add some extras depending on your specific medical needs including:

  • Ambulatory services: doctor’s appointments, appointments with specialists, exams and tests, even physical therapy.
  • Childbirth
  • Dentistry

Some health plans may even include ophthalmology, prosthetics, and other special medical needs and treatments. You can add several people to the same insurance plan, meaning your entire family could be covered by the same insurer.

What Does Private Insurance Cover?

Most insurance plans offer a fixed amount to spend on medical treatment (e.g., 5,000 EUR (5,500 USD) for childbirth). If you surpass that amount, you may be asked to co-pay your expenses.

Keep in mind that most insurers have a waiting period (usually around 90 days) until the insurance becomes active.

How to Get Health Insurance in Portugal?

Once you know which health plan is right for you, based on your medical needs and budget, you simply need to contact the local insurer. You might have to provide them with some information about your medical history. The process is done entirely via phone or email.

Remember that some job contracts may include private health insurance as part of their benefits package. Check with your employer before taking out private insurance, to avoid paying for something you may already have.

Average Cost of Health Insurance in Portugal

How much is health insurance? Private insurance in Portugal is generally quite cheap. 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.

Costs with your insurance may also depend on your preferred method of payment. You can choose to have a network of service providers to which you can go. This means whenever you need medical treatment you may only rely on hospitals, clinics, or doctors with which your insurer has an agreement. For this type of insurance, you would typically pay monthly, semesterly, or annually. Alternatively, you can choose to be reimbursed by your insurer after you have paid medical costs out of pocket. You may also have a mix of both payment services.


How to Find a Doctor or Dentist

It is a good idea to know how you can find a doctor or dentist in Portugal before you are actually in need of one.

How to Find a Family Doctor?

You are not able to choose your family doctor in Portugal. Instead, a general practitioner is assigned to you when you register with your local health center, or centro de saúde. To do so, make sure you are properly registered with your local neighborhood first, by going to the Junta de Freguesia.

Keep in mind that in bigger cities in the country, family doctors may be fully booked and thus unable to take more patients. In these cases, you will be put on a waiting list and will be treated by whichever doctor is available.

Booking an Appointment

Getting an appointment with your family doctor can be challenging. Their availability may depend on how busy your doctor or health center is. In theory, you can book an appointment with your local doctor online through SNS, but this does not always work for every health center. If you cannot book online, you should call your health center and request an appointment. If you have difficulty getting through via phone, the final option is to go in person to make your appointment.

There may be specific days of the week when doctors will accept walk-ins (without an appointment). If you do not have a family doctor (i.e., you are on the waiting list) you can still go to the centro de saúde if you need medical care, but you must go on “open days” only and wait in line to see the first available doctor.

How to Find a Specialist?

If you need to see a specialist, doing so with the public healthcare system requires visiting your family doctor first. Your doctor will then refer you to a specialist, typically at a public hospital, a process which can take months. This doctor referral usually relies on doctors’ availability, so you cannot choose which specialist you may visit.

On the other hand if you have private insurance, you have several options. You can do an online search to look for doctors based on their resume or location, ask for recommendations, or make an appointment directly with a private hospital or clinic with the next available doctor. If your insurer works with a network of medical providers, you need to look for doctors in your network to benefit from the reduced prices that come with having insurance.

How to Find a Dentist?

You can find dentists throughout the country. To find a dentist near you, you can look for dentistas or clínicas dentárias online to see what is available in your area. It is a good idea to ask locals for recommendations as their input of either positive or negative experiences may be key to choosing one practice over another.

Average Waiting Time to See a Doctor in Portugal

Most patients relying on public healthcare wait more than one year for a first consultation. For specialties like ophthalmology, waiting times average two years, surpassing the maximum time established by law. There are cases of patients who must wait more than three years for an appointment.


Giving Birth in Portugal

If you plan on giving birth in Portugal as a non-resident, you should know that only legal residents are entitled to free maternity medical care and benefits.

Having a Baby in Portugal as a Foreigner

Giving birth in Portugal as a foreigner is no different than for nationals, as long as you hold a valid residence permit. Having a baby as a permanent resident also entitles you to the same rights as citizens.

If you don’t have a residence permit, and instead only hold a registration certificate from your local council, you will be charged all expenses with maternity.

As a legal resident, you are entitled to free maternity appointments. Both mothers and fathers may be excused from work to attend these appointments.

Costs of Having a Baby in Portugal

As long as you are a legal resident in Portugal, having a baby comes with no cost. You are entitled to free appointments with an OB-GYN throughout your pregnancy. The delivery, be it C-sections or natural childbirth, is also free of charge.

Can You Give Birth in Portugal Without Health Insurance?

You can give birth in Portugal without health insurance, since all legal residents can rely on the public health system. You simply need to make sure you seek public medical services each time instead of private ones so you are not charged the prices of any appointments, exams, or the delivery.

If you choose to take out private insurance, make sure childbirth is included. Having a baby in a private hospital in Portugal should be a more comfortable experience, overall. However, private hospitals are not as equipped as public hospitals, so there are some restrictions. You cannot give birth at a private hospital if the baby is premature (before 34 weeks). If there are any complications at any stage of your pregnancy, your doctor may not allow you to give birth at a private hospital either.

Benefits of Giving Birth in Portugal

Wondering if you can give birth in Portugal for citizenship, for permanent residence or other benefits?

Your child is automatically a Portuguese citizen if either the mother or father were born in Portugal and is living in Portugal at the time of the birth. If none of the parents were born in Portugal, the child can acquire Portuguese nationality when one of them completes five years of residence, regardless of the type of residence permit, or when the child completes the first cycle of basic education in Portugal.