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Healthcare System in Portugal: A Key Benefit for Expats and Foreigners

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Published on 27 June, 2023 • Last updated on 02 February, 2024

By Portugal Homes

Healthcare System in Portugal: A Key Benefit for Expats and Foreigners
One of the main advantages of living in Portugal is its exceptional healthcare system. Offering attainable and high-quality care, the country ensures that both citizens and foreign residents have access to the finest healthcare services. This comprehensive guide is designed for expats and foreigners, providing essential information about the Portuguese healthcare system: how it works, who can benefit from it, and what you need to know before moving to Portugal.

Portugal Healthcare System

Portugal's healthcare system is one of the best in Europe, being ranked 17th by Euro Health Consumer Index 2018. Its benefits extend to expats who have established Residency, making Portugal an attractive destination. In Portugal, you can enrol in the National Healthcare System (SNS) and obtain primary care from family doctors, and specialised and urgent care from hospitals.

Private medical insurance plans are available at extremely affordable rates, and there are plenty of healthcare providers, private hospitals, and clinics that accept such plans. The Portuguese public healthcare system is universal for citizens, and private plans have an average cost of €30 to €60 per month (for an adult man around 40 years old*. The access to pharmaceutical services, deduction of medical expenses in the yearly tax declaration, the ease of access to the systems, affordable medications, and the variety of options for private healthcare and insurance must also be highlighted.
*The prices may vary according to the chosen plan and the age of the beneficiary.

Does Portugal have good medical care?

Through the years healthcare in Portugal has undergone significant transformations. It was only during the 1970s that the country implemented measures that led to the establishment of a national healthcare system, guaranteeing universal access to healthcare services. Since then, the government has invested in healthcare infrastructure and services, resulting in a well-developed system known for its efficiency and effectiveness that we benefit from, nowadays. 

Portugal's healthcare system stands out as one of the country's prime advantages for foreigners and expats considering a move to this beautiful nation. With its universal coverage and emphasis on accessible, high-quality medical care, the healthcare system in Portugal offers peace of mind and reassurance to those seeking wellness services and programs. In 2020, life expectancy in Portugal was six months higher than the EU average, according to European Commission

Promoting a Healthier Lifestyle in Portugal is one of the main objectives. The Portuguese healthcare system places a strong emphasis on preventive care, aiming to promote healthier lifestyles and reduce the burden of preventable diseases. Therefore, expats can benefit from vaccination Programs, health education campaigns and screening programs – such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases, enabling early detection and intervention.

Does Portugal Have Good Hospitals & Doctors? 

The country is home to reputable hospitals and highly skilled doctors, ensuring quality healthcare services for residents and expats alike, and therefore excellent medical care with a well-developed health management system. Also, Portugal has a well-developed network of hospitals, both public and private, that provide specialized medical services. 

Expats can benefit from the following features of the hospital network: a wide range of specialized medical services, including cardiology, oncology, orthopaedics, neurology, and more. These services are delivered by multidisciplinary teams of highly skilled healthcare professionals; advanced medical technology and state-of-the-art facilities, enabling accurate diagnoses, innovative treatments, and better patient outcomes; comprehensive treatment plans and efficient management of complex medical conditions. 

Family doctors are a popular choice in Portugal. These general partitioners (GP) undergo an additional four-year internship supervised by experienced specialists. These doctors provide comprehensive care throughout a patient's life. Their expertise and continuity of care make them a valuable resource within the healthcare system. 

Portugal has also a prosperous private sector which offers additional options for those seeking personalized care and a higher degree of convenience. Private healthcare facilities and services in Portugal are known for their quality and accessibility.

In general, Portugal displays a healthcare system which provides a range of choices to cater to diverse needs and preferences for people looking to move into a new country, remote workers, and retired people but not only. In conclusion, foreigners and expats can choose between public or private sectors, being assured that both options cater to quality medical care, good hospitals and excellent doctors

What are the Healthcare Costs in Portugal? 

Portugal offers accessible options when it comes to healthcare costs. With a public universal system, residents and citizens can access it at minimum-to-free costs, depending on a variety of factors, as the system is supported through taxes. Private healthcare options are also available for those seeking additional benefits such as faster appointments, and non-medical treatments through paid consultations, considering many doctors work in both private and public clinics. Private plans have an average cost of €30 to €60, depending on the specific circumstances. A family with children can expect to pay slightly more, of up to €150. In addition, most primary care providers and specialists are proficient in English, facilitating communication for expats and foreigners.

Essentially, the public Portuguese healthcare system operates on a co-payment system. By becoming residents, expats can expect to pay a minimal portion of the treatment cost or the prescribed medication, but subsidies and exemptions can also be applied, depending on the situation at hand.

What's the Difference Between Public and Private Healthcare Systems? 

It is important to clarify Portugal’s National Healthcare System (Sistema Nacional de Saúde, or SNS) is universal, funded through general taxation, and accessible to every resident and citizen, including expats who have settled in Portugal. A co-payment might be necessary when purchasing prescribed medication or undergoing a standard treatment, but these costs are very affordable when compared with the US and the UK.

The Portuguese Healthcare System acts through three main channels: local health centres (the equivalent of a primary care provider’s office in the US or a general practice in the UK), public hospitals, and partnerships with private institutions.

Health Centres are the primary healthcare hubs, where routine check-ups, diagnosis and treatment of common illnesses are performed, as well as nursing services, including vaccinations, wound care, health education, general therapy and psychology, and support for chronic disease management, among others.

Public hospitals in Portugal provide high-quality care with experienced healthcare professionals and modern facilities, targeting different areas of the medical field: cardiology, pulmonology, general surgery, family medicine, among countless others.

Partnerships with private healthcare institutions are also common, especially if a treatment or surgery cannot be performed at a public hospital, patients are often referred to a private one, at no extra cost.

Due to its affordability, it is an excellent idea to consider private insurance as a backup plan, especially when considering the competitive rates offered in Portugal. Private medical insurance enables access to private healthcare infrastructures, such as hospitals and clinics at a lower cost, and often offer flexible payment plans.

How Can Foreigners Benefit from Portuguese Healthcare? 

One of the advantages of the Portuguese healthcare system is its accessibility. Expats and foreigners who become legal residents of Portugal are entitled to the same healthcare benefits as Portuguese citizens. 

To access healthcare services, individuals must register with their local health centre and obtain a National Health Service (NHS) user number, which grants them access to a wide range of medical services. 

The National Health Service Card serves as proof of identity for individuals accessing healthcare services within the Portuguese National Health Service (NHS). This card is essential for receiving healthcare treatment, obtaining prescribed medications, and requesting necessary diagnostic and therapeutic procedures.

All foreigners having residency authorisation can obtain the NHS card. And for the process to be initiated, they must show in the health services of their area of residence, bringing documentation proving their residence authorisation in the national territory, according to the situation. 

How Does Healthcare and the High-Quality of Life in Portugal Stand Out from Other Countries? 

Moving to a new country involves considering numerous factors, and one crucial aspect is the healthcare system. When it comes to healthcare in Portugal, expats and foreign residents can rest assured knowing that the country offers a reliable healthcare system that provides accessible, high-quality medical care.  

Moreover, Portugal’s lifestyle quality is one of the main reasons why its average life expectancy is improving by each year. “An international study, released by the British journal The Lancet, reveals that health has improved worldwide since 2000, namely in infant and neonatal mortality and access to health care, among other indicators. Portugal is among the 22 best countries in the world in terms of the health of its inhabitants.”, stated SNS

Retiring in Portugal: Which are the Healthcare Benefits? 

Portugal makes the top of the list of “The World’s Best Places to Retire in 2023”. As revealed by researchers, what makes Portugal one of the most popular retirement destinations on the planet is the low crime rates, locals being kind and genuine, there is a short bridge regarding the language – as English is taught in schools – residents have access to both the public and private healthcare systems, the climate is enjoyable, expats blend is easily, and it is a great country to discover. 

With its sunny beaches, coastal lines, cosmopolitan lifestyle but also calm and relaxing atmosphere, historic heritage, delicious cuisine and other extraordinary characteristics, Portugal is a mirror of a high-quality lifestyle either for living with your family or for retiring, always with the certainty that you are backed up by an uncommon healthcare system that will attend to all your needs 24/7.

Healthcare and the Portuguese Residency by Investment Programmes

In recent years, Portugal has truly opened itself to the world, introducing significant amendments to its Foreigners Law, revolutionising the country’s immigration landscape. Most recently, the Portuguese government disbanded SEF (Immigration and Borders Control) and reshaped its administrative duties to AIMA (Agency for Integration, Migration and Asylum), which reflects the country’s commitment to fostering a welcoming environment and attracting qualified immigration that adds to the nation’s diversity and cultural fabric.

All the changes in the law have established an easier path for expats to interact with public administrations, facilitating their integration into Portuguese society. The focus is on providing support, resources, and guidance to expats to help them adapt to their new situation and access the necessary services and opportunities, including the country’s healthcare system.
Portuguese Residency by Investment programmes such as the D2 Visa and the Golden Visa are perfect examples of this. Among many benefits, the programmes enable foreign investors to directly become residents and access the healthcare system through an investment in the country’s economy, letting them become key players in the national economic scenario.

The Portugal D2 Visa offers the fastest path to Portuguese Residency, achievable in 3 months, and to the country's healthcare system, which is renowned for its universal coverage and advanced medical technologies, accessible to those who choose to make Portugal their home.


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