Expats looking to move to Portugal might find that the country’s healthcare system poses some significant challenges.
Both public and private healthcare options are available in Portugal. Private healthcare in Portugal is steadily gaining popularity among expats and many now take out private health insurance. The public healthcare system, on the other hand, continues to frustrate and disappoint locals and expats alike.
Those moving to Portugal will find it reassuring that virtually every doctor is conversant in English in major cities. This is true of both public and private healthcare facilities in Portugal. Whether other employees in the health sector, such as nurses and technicians, speak English will depend on the location of the facilities. Areas with a larger expat population, such as Lisbon and the Algarve, will naturally have more bilingual employees. Expats living in rural parts of Portugal shouldn't rely on healthcare professionals to speak English, and should ensure they can speak an adequate amount of Portuguese in order to communicate at the local hospital or clinic.
Health insurance in Portugal
Access to public healthcare in Portugal is free for children under 18 and people over 65. All other legal residents can access public healthcare at low rates.
EU citizens can use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access state healthcare here during a short-term visit. UK citizens can make use of their Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which replaced the EHIC for UK citizens post-Brexit.
Both EU and non-EU expats with residency in Portugal must obtain a National Health Service user card in order to take advantage of the free public healthcare system. This can be done at a local health centre with a passport and residency card. Non-EU expats will also need to provide a social security card.
Public healthcare in Portugal
Basic services can be found in rural areas but travel to a larger city will be necessary for specialised care. Public hospitals and clinics in Portugal are frequently understaffed and overcrowded.
The shortage of physicians has caused long waiting lists for non-life-threatening surgeries and a strain on the system as a whole, which often forces Portuguese nationals and expats alike to use emergency-room services in place of a general practitioner. At the public level, technology is often lacking and it can be difficult to arrange an appointment with a specialist.
Private healthcare in Portugal
The benefits of private healthcare in Portugal include shorter queues, less crowded waiting rooms, more creature comforts and modern equipment. Doctors at private establishments in Portugal are generally also more attentive, as they have more time and resources than public-sector staff.
Private healthcare in Portugal is expensive, especially for those who don't have health insurance. However, private healthcare is the best option for those who can afford a good health insurance policy. Some larger corporations and government bodies offer private health insurance to their employees, but this is not the norm, nor is it required by law. Expats should therefore be prepared to pay for their own healthcare expenses while living in Portugal.
Pharmacies and medicines in Portugal
Pharmacies in Portugal are widely available and easily accessible. They can be found in most town centres and shopping malls.
Since many medications are subsidised, medication can be obtained at low cost with the proper prescription from a general practitioner or specialist. The cost rises significantly without a prescription, even for the most common medications.
During a consultation, if a doctor offers a prescription for a medication that doesn’t require one, it is wise to accept it, even for common cough medicines or anti-inflammatories. Having these prescriptions saves money when it comes to purchasing medication at the pharmacy.
Emergency services in Portugal
Emergency services in Portugal can be reached by dialling 112. Paramedics who respond to emergencies are adequately trained, generally proficient and considerate.
In serious emergencies, it's not unusual for patients to be quickly transferred from a less equipped hospital to a more specialised care unit in the closest large city.