Healthcare in Portugal



If you had to single out a country to spend your waning years, many would say without batting an eyelash that it has to be Portugal. It is indeed a wonderful place to retire; imagine waking up to the sound of the waves and the endless breeze of the ocean.

The fact is, Portugal has the lowest heart disease and cancer incidence in the world, largely attributed to the Portuguese diet, generous with the use of garlic, olive oil, and red wine. The Portuguese are among the world's healthiest people, and they have the highest life expectancy in the European Union. Portugal is close to being hailed as a health utopia, but not yet, as health reforms have just started.

Health reforms

Healthcare costs per head in Portugal are lower than the EU average. The country spends a relatively small percentage of its GDP on health, but it has made significant improvements in recent years.

The two fundamental aims of Portugal's health reforms are to deliver a better quality healthcare service for all eligible residents in Portugal without burdening the taxpayers or the government with extra cost, and to lower the growth of the annual rate of public spending in the healthcare sector.

The quality of healthcare and healthcare facilities in Portugal is good, but with a lower standard in more remote areas. In tourist-packed regions, hospitals are staffed with English speakers and foreign doctors and patients can expect excellent service.

Portugal's public health system provides free or low cost healthcare for those who contribute to the Portuguese social security system (segurança social) and their dependent families and retirees (including those from other EU countries). Subsidized prescriptions for members aged over 65 are provided. There are charges from 40-100% for non-essential medicines. In addition, services including optician and dental treatments are made available.

If you contribute to the Portuguese social security system, you and your dependent family are entitled to free or subsidized medical and dental treatment. Benefits include general and specialist care, hospitalization, laboratory services, discounted drugs and medicines, basic dental care, maternity care, appliances, and transportation.

Once you become a resident in Portugal, you will need to apply for a medical card that will enable you to seek medical assistance from a GP. You can apply for a medical card from the local health center.

Those who do not qualify for healthcare under the public health system must purchase private health insurance since healthcare is also a requirement to obtain a residence card. Frequent visitors to Portugal should have travel health insurance if they aren't covered by a reciprocal arrangement.  


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Health Centers

In key areas, state health centers (Centros de saúde) are in operation from 8am to 8pm, handling minor health problems and quick emergency treatments.

Rest assured that there are 24-hour emergency hospitals and private clinics in major towns.

Qualified pharmacists offer free advice in pharmacies in Portugal for minor ailments. Patients can get many medicines over the counter that can take away the hassle of waiting for a doctor's appointment in some cases.

Both health centers and pharmacies have long opening hours. Usually, a duty pharmacy (farmácia de serviço) is open outside of usual business hours; a list of duty pharmacies is posted in pharmacy windows and announced in the local newspaper. Expats can call 118 to determine the local duty pharmacy.

For emergencies, dial 112 for an ambulance.


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