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Health Insurance in Portugal: Explained

For some, the decision to relocate to a new country often hinges on the quality and accessibility of its healthcare. Portugal, with its sun-kissed beaches, historic cities, and vibrant culture, has been an attractive destination for many. However, beyond its scenic beauty, Portugal also has a strong healthcare system that seamlessly integrates state-funded services with private healthcare options.

Hence, if you’re contemplating a move to this Iberian gem, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the inner workings of its health system. To guide you through the process, we’ve created the following article that will walk you through the nuances of Portugal’s healthcare. So, join us to learn everything you need to know about health insurance in Portugal.

Frederik Pohl
Frederik Pohl, CEO
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Health Insurance in Portugal Explained

Portugal’s commitment to the well-being of its residents is evident in its comprehensive healthcare system. It seamlessly combines the might of the Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS), a state-funded initiative, with the efficiency of the private healthcare sector. The outcome? Portugal’s healthcare system is a harmonious blend of public commitment and private initiative, ensuring that every individual’s health needs are met with precision and care.

National Health Service (SNS)

The Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS) forms the backbone of healthcare in Portugal, ensuring accessible and quality medical care for all residents. With its origins in the ethos of universal healthcare, the SNS is dedicated to providing a wide array of medical services without the obstacle of prohibitive costs.

Structure of the SNS

  • Primary Care: Local health centers and family doctors.
  • Specialized Care: Hospital services and specialized consultations.
  • Continued Care: Long-term and palliative care.
Eligibility & Access:

To utilize the benefits of the SNS, the first step is to become a registered resident of Portugal. Once legal residency is confirmed, you’ll need to register at the nearest health center to acquire a health card (Cartão de Utente).

Non-Residents: Tourists and short-term visitors can access emergency services but will usually be billed for the care provided.


The SNS is predominantly taxpayer-funded, with a budget allocated by the Portuguese government. Some services are free, while others require a nominal user fee known as a “taxa moderadora.”

Scope of Services
  • Primary Care: Routine check-ups, vaccinations, and general consultations.
  • Specialized Treatments: Surgical procedures, specialist consultations, and chronic disease management.
  • Preventive Services: Screening programs and educational initiatives to promote healthy living.
Emergency Services

Emergency care is accessible to everyone, but the level of subsidization depends on residency status and SNS registration. Accredited hospitals are equipped with emergency departments to handle various cases, from minor injuries to critical conditions.

Additional Support Services

Mental Health: Counseling and psychiatric services are available.
Maternal and Child Care: Programs designed for prenatal and postnatal care, as well as pediatric services.

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Private Health Insurance

While the SNS offers a broad spectrum of health needs, there are those who desire more personalized care, expedited treatments, or specialized attention. For them, Portugal’s private healthcare sector is ready to serve.

Types of Private Health Insurance Plans in Portugal
  • Comprehensive Plans: These cover a wide range of medical services, from doctor consultations to surgeries and hospital stays.
  • Hospital-only Plans: These are designed to cover the costs of hospitalization and major surgeries.
  • International Health Insurance: This option is beneficial for those who travel frequently, providing coverage both in Portugal and internationally.

Health Insurance Providers in Portugal

Some of the popular private health insurance providers in Portugal include Médis, Multicare, and Allianz. Each offers a range of plans that vary in cost and coverage.


Private health insurance often covers services and treatments that the SNS does not cover in full. This can include a broader range of elective treatments, comprehensive dental care, and specialized wellness programs.


The cost of private health insurance in Portugal can vary widely depending on the provider and plan, ranging from €20 to €100 per month for basic plans and much more for comprehensive or specialized coverage.

Eligibility & Access

The beauty of the private sector is its accessibility. Anyone can opt for services here. By enrolling in a private health insurance plan, you can significantly bring down your medical expenses, ensuring high-quality care without a hefty price tag.


It’s essential to read the fine print, as many plans have exclusions, such as pre-existing conditions, and may require a waiting period before you can claim benefits.

Who Should Consider Private Insurance?

Individuals who prefer quick access to specialists, those who travel frequently, or those who desire elective or specialized treatments that are not fully covered by the SNS may find private health insurance to be a suitable option.

Frederik Pohl
Frederik Pohl, CEO

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Health Subsystems in Portugal

In Portugal, health subsystems serve as specialized healthcare systems tailored to meet the unique needs of specific sectors of society. These subsystems bridge the gap between the universal SNS and private insurance options by offering a blend of services suited to particular professional groups.

Types of Health Subsystems

  • ADSE: Specifically for public administration workers, including civil servants.
  • SAD: Available to members of the military and law enforcement agencies.
  • Subsistema de Saúde dos Bancários: Catering to professionals in the banking sector.
Eligibility & Access

Each subsystem has its own eligibility criteria, often linked to one’s profession or affiliation. For example, a public servant may be eligible for ADSE, while a member of the military will have access to SAD. To gain access, one usually needs to be a registered member of the respective profession’s association or governing body.

Enrollment Process

The enrollment procedures can differ among subsystems but generally involve filing an application through your employer or directly with the subsystem. Verification of employment status and other relevant documentation may be required.

Scope of Services

Health subsystems offer a curated blend of services, borrowing elements from both the SNS and private insurance. They can provide general medical consultations similar to the SNS while also offering specialized treatments and quicker access to specialists, much like private insurance.

  • Preventive Services: Many subsystems place an emphasis on preventive care, offering periodic health checks and screenings.
  • Specialized Services: Depending on the subsystem, you may have access to specialized services like mental health support, occupational therapy, or even alternative therapies such as acupuncture.

Most subsystems are partly funded by the members and partly subsidized by the state or the specific professional body. Monthly contributions vary but are generally lower than private insurance premiums.

Benefits Over Standard Insurance

One of the advantages of belonging to a subsystem is the tailored coverage. For instance, ADSE may offer additional benefits for families, while SAD could cover treatment costs in military hospitals that are generally not available to the public.


Like any healthcare plan, subsystems come with their limitations. These could be in the form of restricted networks of healthcare providers or limited coverage for certain treatments. It’s crucial to read all the specifics before committing to a subsystem.

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Pros and Cons of Portugal’s Health Care System

Overall, Portugal’s healthcare system is renowned for its high-quality care and comprehensive services. But like any other system, it does have strengths and weaknesses. Let’s take a moment to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of utilizing Portugal’s local health insurance system.

  • High-Quality Care: Portugal’s public health system boasts an excellent standard of care. Patients can anticipate meticulous attention from professionals and state-of-the-art facilities, particularly in high-quality hospitals.
  • Comprehensive Coverage: The Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS) ensures that essential medical services are accessible to all residents, encompassing everything from primary care to specialized treatments.
  • Cost-Effective: Being primarily taxpayer-funded, services under the SNS come at minimal or no cost. This makes healthcare affordable and accessible to the majority of the population.
  • Private Healthcare Options: For those who want more than what the SNS offers, Portugal has a robust private healthcare sector. About 20% of residents opt for private insurance, which often provides added benefits and covers extra costs not included in the public system. This insurance can also offset expenses related to dental and vision care.
  • Reduced Wait Times with Private Insurance: One significant advantage of having private healthcare insurance is the reduction in waiting times, providing quicker access to treatments and consultations.
  • Choice of Professionals: Private health insurance grants patients the freedom to choose from a broader range of healthcare professionals, ensuring they get the best care according to their preferences.
  • Wait Times in Public Health System: While the SNS provides comprehensive care, one of its significant drawbacks is the waiting time. This is a recurrent grievance among many who rely solely on public health services.
  • Limited Services in Rural Areas: Residents in more remote and rural regions might find healthcare services limited. As a result, individuals might need to travel to urban centers for specialized appointments, tests, or treatments.
  • Cost of Private Insurance: Although private healthcare offers numerous benefits, it comes with a price tag. The costs can sometimes be steep, especially for premium services or facilities.


As you can see, while Portugal’s healthcare system, both public and private, offers a plethora of benefits, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons based on individual needs and circumstances. Doing so ensures that residents and expatriates alike make informed decisions about their health and well-being.

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How Foreigners Can Qualify For Health Insurance in Portugal

The truth is that healthcare in a new country can be challenging, but Portugal has made provisions to ensure that even foreigners can access quality healthcare services. Here’s how internationals can secure health coverage in Portugal:

European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

For citizens hailing from European Union countries, the European Health Insurance Card acts as a passport to healthcare in Portugal. Just keep in mind that it’s essential to apply for this free card before departing from one’s home country. With EHIC in hand, beneficiaries can access public healthcare services in Portugal, enjoying the same standards and costs as local residents.

Reciprocal Healthcare Agreements

Portugal has extended its hand in healthcare cooperation with several non-EU countries. If you’re from Andorra, Brazil, Cape Verde, or Morocco, you’re in luck. Thanks to reciprocal healthcare agreements, expats from these nations can use the public health system in Portugal, often at a fraction of the cost or even for free.

Permanent Residency in Portugal

Portugal doesn’t forget its long-term international residents. Anyone who has secured a permanent residency in Portugal automatically becomes eligible to use the country’s public healthcare system. While this doesn’t cater to short-term visitors or tourists – who are advised to have travel medical insurance when visiting – it ensures that those who’ve chosen Portugal as their long-term abode have their health needs met.

Ultimately, in the vast and varied landscape of global health insurance, the healthcare in Portugal stands out as a beacon of quality and accessibility. Whether you’re considering a brief stay or a permanent relocation, it’s not just Portugal’s locales and rich culture that will draw you in. It’s the promise of excellent healthcare. So, if prioritizing health and well-being in a new home is on your checklist, Portugal undoubtedly deserves a spot on your radar. Safe travels and good health!

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