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A Guide to Healthcare in Portugal for Expats

A Guide to Healthcare in Portugal for Expats

When you move to a new country, figuring out healthcare can feel like a huge hurdle – and Portugal is no exception! Whether you’re considering relocating here or you’ve already taken the leap, at some point you’re going to have to dive into the wonderful world of the Portuguese health system. 

woman walking in lisbon

Luckily, this country makes it relatively easy for expats to get health coverage. Here’s a detailed guide to the different types of Portuguese healthcare and how to access each one, plus some recommendations based on my own experience as a U.S. expat in Portugal.

Can foreigners get healthcare in Portugal?

The short answer is yes, absolutely. If you’re an expat living in Portugal, you have the same healthcare options as any Portuguese citizen. 

 

Keep in mind that the best options are only available to legal Portuguese residents, so the first and most important step is to get your residence card, tax ID (NIF), and social security number. That said, all of this can take a while to sort out. So if you’re already in Portugal but not an official resident yet, what should you do?

Option 1 – International healthcare

I moved to Portugal in January 2020, right before the biggest public health crisis in recent memory took over the world. You can probably imagine why I was a little bit freaked out about not having healthcare yet. On top of that, my residency process was delayed, so I wasn’t able to get either public coverage or private insurance right away. 

 

If you’re in this situation, don’t worry. First of all, in case of emergency you can always go to a private clinic or hospital in Portugal. Without insurance, it’ll be relatively expensive – but you’ll never be turned away or denied treatment (speaking from personal experience). 

 

If you want to be covered in the meantime, you can sign up for an international healthcare plan. In the first few months of the pandemic, I got a plan through Cigna that allowed me to cancel at any time with no penalties. It was definitely more expensive and less convenient than Portuguese healthcare, but it gave me peace of mind while I figured everything out.

Option 2 – Public healthcare in Portugal

As soon as you’re officially a legal resident of Portugal, you can join the public health system. Expats in Portugal are entitled to exactly the same public health benefits as Portuguese citizens.

In fact, during the pandemic the country even announced that anyone with a pending residency process would be temporarily treated as a resident, to make sure that no one went without care during the crisis.

Once you have your Portuguese health number – called an SNS number or número de utente – you can go to any public hospital or clinic to be treated. This includes general medicine and various specialties, as well as public health programs like vaccinations.

For many people, this is more than enough when it comes to health coverage. And the best part, of course, is that it’s totally free. For most essential medical appointments and procedures, you won’t have to pay a single euro.

Option 3 – Private healthcare in Portugal

Many expats – and Portuguese citizens – opt for private health insurance in addition to public coverage. One reason is that it’s often easier to get an appointment or schedule exams directly with a private provider than it is to go through the public system. 

On top of that, private health insurance in Portugal is relatively affordable. Some of the best insurance providers offer plans for less than €10 per month. Of course, more extensive coverage comes at a higher price – but even the most comprehensive plans can be pretty inexpensive.

If you choose to get private health insurance, you’ll still have coverage through the public system as well. I recommend this option for anyone who really wants to cover all their bases when it comes to healthcare.

Is the healthcare system good in Portugal?

Portugal’s public health system is very advanced and reasonably efficient. It’s overseen by the Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS), or National Health Service. The main issues you might run into with the SNS are generally due to availability. Since so many people rely on it for healthcare – and it tends to be understaffed – you might have to wait a long time to see a doctor or schedule a procedure.

The private health system is also exceptional. Almost every time I’ve asked someone for a recommendation about anything health-related, they’ve mentioned CUF – a network of private hospitals that has pretty much everything you could ever need. Most other private hospitals throughout the country are fantastic as well.


If you’d rather go to a smaller private clinic, there are plenty of good options. In Lisbon – home to the biggest expat community in Portugal – I can personally recommend Alegria Medical Centre. Located right in the city center, it offers several specialties with doctors who are fluent in English, among several other languages.

How to get healthcare in Portugal as an expat

It’s super easy to get healthcare in Portugal, as long as you’ve got your residency, taxes and social security in order. Here are the steps you need to take in order to access the public system and/or sign up for private insurance. 

How to get public healthcare in Portugal

To join the public health system, the first thing you need to do is get your SNS number, or número de utente (user number). Find the public health center for the district you live in, and go there with your residence permit and tax ID number (NIF). They’ll issue you a nine-digit number that allows you to access public healthcare in Portugal.

It’s worth noting that I was able to get my SNS number even before I had my residence card, and I did it online. I sent an email to [email protected] and attached the following documents:

    • Passport: a scanned copy of my passport ID page
    • NIF: the document I received when I got my Portuguese tax ID number
    • NISS: the document I received when I signed up for social security 
    • Proof of residence: the rental contract for my apartment
    • Proof of residency process: a screenshot showing that I had applied for residency online and was waiting for my appointment with SEF (Portugal’s immigration agency)

If you need an SNS number and don’t have your residence permit yet, I would suggest sending an email to the address above and asking if they can assign you one.

If you need an SNS number and don’t have your residence permit yet, I would suggest sending an email to the address above and asking if they can assign you one.

How to get private health insurance in Portugal

It’s slightly more complicated to sign up for private health insurance than it is to get your SNS number, but as long as you’re willing to do a bit of research and fill out some paperwork, you’ll be covered in no time. 

Here’s what you need to do: 

  1. Choose a provider. Look up the top private insurance companies in Portugal, compare plans, and decide how much you want to pay and what you want your plan to include.
  2. Request more information. You may be able to fill out a form online, or you can call the company directly in order to set up your plan. Most providers will offer an option to talk to an English-speaking representative on the phone. 
  3. Review and sign the paperwork. Always read through everything carefully to make sure you know exactly what you’re signing up for! The fine print is important here, and you should ask as many questions as necessary. 
  4. Set up direct debit. This way the insurance fee will be deducted directly from your account each month so that you don’t have to keep track of payments. (This is optional, of course, but highly recommended.)
  5. Wait a few months. Most Portuguese health insurance providers have a waiting period (período de carência), so you won’t be able to take full advantage of your insurance right away. But if you need to go to the doctor during that period, you may be able to pay up front and then submit a claim to be partially reimbursed later. Check with your provider to confirm their policy on this.

The best healthcare companies to choose from

If you ask anyone in Portugal to recommend a private health insurance company, you’ll invariably hear the same names: Médis and Allianz.

I can personally vouch for Médis, but this is also the only one I’ve tried – so I’m a bit biased. Médis is accepted by pretty much every private clinic and hospital in Portugal. It’s also one of the most affordable options, with plans as low as €9 per month.

Médis allows you to choose from a few different tiers; I picked an intermediate option, so I have slightly more than basic coverage but still at an affordable price. I also like the fact that Médis partners with ActivoBank. If you have an account with them (which I also recommend), then you can sign up for insurance directly through the bank.

bridge in porto

Allianz is another great option for private healthcare in Portugal for expats. This company also offers car insurance, home insurance and several other services. Like Médis, its health insurance plans are separated into tiers: Basic, Mais (“More”), Extra and Total.

Both of these providers also offer another great benefit: 24/7 access to doctors online or by phone. With Médis, you can set up an appointment through the app or website, and a doctor will call you right away. This is a super convenient feature if you have an urgent medical question or need to refill a prescription.

Prices can vary among providers and plans, but to give you a general idea, I pay around €40 a month for health insurance. When I go to a private clinic for an appointment with a specialist, I only have to pay €17 out of pocket. For me, this is totally worth it – especially because I know that if anything serious were to happen, I’d be covered.

Healthcare in Portugal for expats – The bottom line

Healthcare is never a super fun subject to deal with, but luckily for us, Portugal makes it relatively easy to access the public health system and/or sign up for private insurance. 

As an expat, you can rest assured that you’ll have access to world-class healthcare at affordable prices, or even for free. This is just one of the many reasons this country is such a fantastic – and increasingly popular – place to live!

If you’re looking to move to Portugal (or Europe in general) check out the ultimate guide on the 17 easiest countries in Europe to move to (based on viable visa options). You’ll find over 50 visa options—and their requirements—including digital nomad visas, work visas, non-lucrative visas, student visas, investment visas and more so that you can move abroad! Make your dream of living in Europe long-term a reality! Grab your copy of I’m Outta Here! An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe today!

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