When considering relocating or even spending extended periods in Portugal, healthcare is an important consideration. The World Health Report for 2021 by the World Health Organisation awarded the Portuguese healthcare system number 12 in its ranking.
How does healthcare work in Portugal? Health services here are organised by the tax-funded public health service, known as the Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS). Under the SNS, most essential medical services are free, while non-essential services and treatments are available for a small payment. Qualification to use this system will depend on residency status and nationality.
EU citizens with a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or equivalent will be able to use the Portuguese public healthcare system free of charge for up to 90 days and thereafter will need to be registered as residents to continue using the system. Citizens of some European Economic Area (EEA) countries will also be able to take advantage of this reciprocal healthcare agreement.
With regards to UK citizens, the UK and the EU agreed as part of the Brexit deal announced at the end of last year, that EHIC cards can still be used until their expiry dates. After that, the government will issue a new Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) which will replace the EHIC.
In addition to the SNS public health service, there are, of course, many excellent private health care institutions and professionals who offer a high level of care.
To make overseas patients feel more comfortable, hospitals are implementing personalised patient care and monitoring services, with English as the language of communication. There is also an Integrated Medical Emergency System, which guarantees the fast and accurate provision of healthcare to accident victims or anyone suffering a sudden illness.
If you need to use the SNS public health service, medical assistance can be obtained at the local health centre ‘Centro de Saúde’, located in most built-up areas. The EHIC card and passport or identification document will be required to access free or low-cost healthcare.
Most pharmacies ‘farmácias’ in major cities are run by qualified chemists who speak English. Pharmacies in rural areas are less likely to have English-speaking staff, but you can still expect excellent service.
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Picture Hannah Wood