Health Care in Portugal

Health Care in Portugal
Since 2002 the Portuguese health care system has been undergoing a major and long awaited reform. Just like the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, Portugal’s free health service was suffering from under investment, over subscription and was buckling under the weight of ineffectiveness.


Thanks to the sweeping changes being made under the reform, the two fundamental aims of the reform are gradually being met and health care in Portugal is improving greatly.

The two fundamental aims of the reform are to deliver a better quality health care service for all eligible residents in Portugal but at no extra cost to the tax payer or Government, and over the medium term to lower the annual growth rate of public spending in the health care sector.

If you’re planning to visit Portugal and you come from any other European Union member country you are entitled to free health care under the EU reciprocal health agreements.

UK residents are required to take an E111 form from the UK (available from all main post offices) and submit this if health care is required during their stay in the country.

The E111 form and other EU equivalents are only valid for a set period. If you intend to remain in Portugal past this date or you are considering moving to Portugal to live full time or you come from a non-EU country then your rights change.

Basically any resident of Portugal is entitled to free basic health care under the Portuguese Public Health System - this includes free essential medicines, free GP appointments etc.

If you work in Portugal and therefore pay into the social security system in the country you automatically become entitled to free hospital treatment etc.

Just like in the UK non-essential medicines are not free. In Portugal you pay between 40 and 100% of the cost of the medicine. But unlike in the UK you can get far more medicines off prescription which takes away the hassle of having to wait for a doctor’s appointment if you already know what your illness is.

Pharmacies in Portugal are manned by a dispensing chemist and so you can always get qualified advice. Pharmacies are open for fairly long hours as are health centres and there is always at least one chemist that is open out of hours for emergency prescriptions.

Once you become resident in Portugal you will need to apply for your medical card which will enable you to seek medical assistance from a GP and to attend your local health centre.

To get the card you will need to have your resident permit and also your social security card - which you get when you register as resident in the country. You can then apply for your medical card from your local health centre. In an emergency in Portugal you dial 112 for an ambulance.

If you’re moving to Portugal and considering getting private medical insurance there are many benefits to following this path. For a start you will likely be covered if and when you go ‘back home’ for visits etc., and many private health care schemes cover you if you visit other countries abroad as well.

Furthermore you will likely have faster access to specialists in Portugal and also access to private hospitals and medical facilities as well.