Is Medical Care Free in Portugal? All You Need to Know

Many people dream of retiring and spending their golden years in a beautiful and affordable country like Portugal. But one of the most common questions that come up when considering relocation to another country is the state of healthcare. In this article, we’ll answer the question that many people ask: is medical care free in Portugal?

As we age, we realize that healthcare costs can be overwhelming, especially when one is on a fixed income. Portugal is among the European countries that offer universal healthcare, and the good news is that medical care is typically free or less expensive than some other EU countries. Portugal’s national health service (Serviço Nacional de Saúde) is available to everyone, including immigrants and those without insurance, with some exceptions, of course.

Portugal is known to have one of the best healthcare systems in Europe, with many hospitals, clinics, and facilities that provide high-quality services. But even with the excellent healthcare system in place, there are still some things that expats need to know before seeking medical care in Portugal. In this article, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of medical care in Portugal and highlight everything you need to know to stay healthy and protected while living in this beautiful country.

Portuguese Healthcare System

The Portuguese Healthcare System is a public health system managed by the Portuguese Ministry of Health. The system provides universal healthcare coverage to all Portuguese citizens, permanent residents, and tourists who become ill or injured while in Portugal, regardless of their financial situation or nationality.

  • The system is funded through taxes, social security contributions, and user fees.
  • Patients have the option to choose between public and private hospitals and clinics.
  • Access to primary healthcare is provided through local health centers, where patients are assigned to primary care doctors.

In general, Portuguese healthcare is of a high standard, with well-trained medical professionals, modern facilities, and advanced technology. The healthcare system is constantly evolving, with ongoing improvements and innovations.

However, while the healthcare system is largely free, patients may have to pay for certain services or medications. For example, some prescription medications are only partially covered by the system, and patients may have to pay out of pocket for the difference.

Here is a breakdown of some of the costs that patients may incur:

Service Cost
Primary healthcare (consultation with a primary care doctor) Free
Specialist consultation (with a specialist doctor) €7.5 – €20 (depending on the hospital or clinic)
X-rays, ultrasounds, and other diagnostics Free
Hospital stay Free
Prescription medication Partially covered (patients may have to pay a percentage of the cost)

Overall, the Portuguese Healthcare System provides high-quality care to its citizens and residents. While some costs may apply, patients can rest assured that they will receive medical attention regardless of their ability to pay.

Public vs Private Healthcare in Portugal

Portugal has a two-tier healthcare system, with both public and private healthcare options available. The public healthcare system is available to all residents and is funded by taxes, while private healthcare requires payment from the patient or their insurance provider.

  • Public Healthcare: The public healthcare system in Portugal is highly regarded and provides a wide range of services to its residents. All legal residents have access to public healthcare, regardless of their nationality or economic status. Services are provided by the National Health Service (SNS) and range from primary care to hospital treatment and surgery. The cost of treatment is usually less expensive in public healthcare, and some services are free of charge.
  • Private Healthcare: Private healthcare in Portugal is available through private clinics and hospitals. Patients can choose to have private health insurance or pay out of pocket for services. The cost of private healthcare can be higher than public healthcare, but the wait times are usually shorter, and patients have access to a wider range of services, including more specialized care and treatments.

While the public healthcare system in Portugal is well-respected, some patients might opt for private healthcare for faster and more specialized treatment. However, for those who prefer a more affordable and comprehensive healthcare system, the public healthcare system could be the best option.

In terms of healthcare expenses, Portugal has a co-payment system where patients are required to pay a portion of the cost of their healthcare. However, those eligible for the SNS who cannot afford the co-payment can apply for an exemption.

Public Healthcare Private Healthcare
Available to all residents Requires payment from patient or insurance
Provides a wide range of services Access to more specialized care and treatments
Usually less expensive Can be more expensive
Shorter wait times Longer wait times

Overall, both public and private healthcare systems in Portugal offer quality care to their patients. Which system one chooses is dependent on individual preferences, financial situation, and healthcare needs.

Services Covered by Portugal’s National Health Service

Portugal’s National Health Service (Sistema Nacional de Saúde) is a publicly funded healthcare system that provides medical care to all residents and citizens of Portugal, as well as temporary residents who hold an EU Health Card or equivalent. The services provided by the National Health Service are comprehensive and cover a wide range of medical care needs.

Services Covered

  • Primary healthcare services, such as consultations with general practitioners and nurses, preventive medicine, and health promotion activities.
  • Diagnostic services, such as laboratory testing, ultrasound, x-rays, and other imaging studies.
  • Specialist medical care, including consultations with medical specialists and hospital care.

Additional Services

In addition to the core services covered by the National Health Service, there are various other services that are available to Portuguese residents:

  • Dental care is available at public health centers and is free for children and young people up to the age of 18.
  • Emergency medical care is available 24/7 at hospitals and health centers throughout Portugal.
  • Prescription drugs are available at public pharmacies and are subsidized by the government, with different levels of co-payment depending on the drug and the patient’s income.
  • Psychological and psychiatric services are available at public health centers and hospitals.

Portugal’s National Health Service: A Closer Look

Portugal’s National Health Service is overseen by the Ministry of Health and is financed primarily through general taxation. The service is free at the point of use for most medical care, though there may be some co-payments or user fees for certain services, such as specialist consultations or emergency care.

Service Cost
Consultations with a general practitioner Free
X-rays Free
Hospital care Free
Prescription drugs Co-payment depending on drug and income
Specialist consultations Co-payment depending on income

If you’re a resident or citizen of Portugal, you have access to quality medical care at no or little cost through the National Health Service. This comprehensive system covers a range of services from basic primary care to specialized hospital treatment, making it a reliable resource for maintaining your health and wellbeing.

Copayment and Fees for Medical Care in Portugal

In Portugal, there is a universal healthcare system known as the National Health Service (SNS), which provides free or low-cost medical care to all citizens, residents, and even tourists in some cases. However, there are certain costs that patients may still have to bear when seeking medical treatment, such as copayments and fees.

  • Copayments: These are small fees that patients are required to pay for certain medical services, such as visiting a general practitioner, specialist, or emergency department. The amount of the copayment varies depending on the service and the patient’s income, but it usually ranges from 3.5€ to 18€. However, some patients are exempt from copayments, such as children under 18, pregnant women, and patients with chronic diseases.
  • Fees: In addition to copayments, patients may have to pay fees for certain medical procedures, such as laboratory tests, imaging studies, surgeries, and hospital stays. The fees also differ by service and patient’s income, but they are generally lower than in many other countries. For example, an MRI scan may cost around 100€ for a non-emergency case, whereas in the US it can cost thousands of dollars.
  • Private healthcare: Patients who want faster or more personalized medical care may choose to go to private healthcare providers, which charge higher fees than the SNS. However, even private healthcare providers are subject to some government regulations, such as mandatory health insurance for employees and accreditation for facilities. Some private healthcare providers also have agreements with the SNS to provide certain services at a lower cost or for free to patients who cannot access them through the SNS.


In summary, medical care in Portugal is not entirely free, but it is relatively affordable and accessible to most people thanks to the SNS. Copayments and fees are a way to finance the healthcare system and deter unnecessary or abusive use of services, but they should not be a barrier to essential medical care. Patients who are eligible for exemptions or subsidies should take advantage of them, and those who can afford it may consider private healthcare as an alternative or complement to the SNS.

Medical service Copayment Fee
General practitioner 3.5€-8€ N/A
Specialist 5€-15€ N/A
Emergency department 18€ N/A
Laboratory test N/A 2€-30€
Imaging study N/A 20€-100€
Surgery N/A 200€-2000€+
Hospital stay N/A 15€-75€/day


Health Insurance in Portugal

Healthcare in Portugal is a mixed public-private system, which means that there are both public and private providers available to choose from. The country has a national health service, known as the Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS), which is funded through general taxation. The SNS provides free or low-cost healthcare, including medical consultations, hospitalization, and prescription drugs.

However, the SNS does not cover everything. Some healthcare services, such as dental care, eye care, and physiotherapy, are only partially covered or not covered at all. That’s why many residents and tourists in Portugal choose to take out private health insurance to supplement the public coverage.

  • Public Health Insurance – The national health service in Portugal is available to all legal residents, even those who are not Portuguese citizens. It covers most medical services, including consultations with a doctor, hospitalization, surgery, and emergency care. However, some services require a co-payment, such as specialist consultations and diagnostic tests. The waiting lists for non-urgent services can be long, so many residents opt for private health insurance.
  • Private Health Insurance – Private health insurance in Portugal is available through numerous companies, and it can cover a range of services, including those not covered by the public system. Private healthcare providers in Portugal offer a high level of service and short waiting times, but they can be costly. The price of health insurance depends on various factors, such as age, health status, and the level of coverage required.
  • European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) – Visitors to Portugal from the EU/EEA and Switzerland can use the EHIC to receive medical treatment if they fall ill or have an accident during their stay. The EHIC covers medically necessary treatment, including emergency care and chronic illnesses. However, it does not cover private hospital treatment or repatriation costs.

It’s important to note that private health insurance is not a requirement in Portugal, but it can provide peace of mind and faster access to services. Before purchasing private health insurance, it’s essential to research the options available and compare the prices and benefits. It’s also recommended to read the policy’s terms and conditions carefully.

Public Health Insurance Private Health Insurance
Covers most medical services Covers a range of services, including those not covered by the public system
Waiting lists for non-urgent services can be long Short waiting times
Low to no cost Can be costly, depending on the level of coverage required

In conclusion, healthcare in Portugal is a mix of public and private services, with the national health service providing free or low-cost medical treatment. Private health insurance is also available and can provide faster access to services and cover services not included in the public system. Visitors from the EU/EEA and Switzerland can use the EHIC to receive necessary medical treatment, but it does not cover private healthcare or repatriation costs.

Medical Tourism in Portugal

Portugal is regarded as an affordable medical tourism destination, offering high-quality healthcare at competitive prices. The country has an efficient healthcare system with both public and private healthcare institutions. The Portuguese healthcare system is one of the best in Europe and strives to provide universal care for everyone, regardless of their nationality or residency status.

  • One of the biggest attractions of medical tourism in Portugal is the affordable prices for medical services. These prices are significantly lower than those of other countries, particularly in the UK, the US, and other countries
  • Moreover, Portugal boasts some of the finest medical professionals in Europe, and the country has a reputation for medical excellence
  • Portugal offers a broad spectrum of medical services, including dental treatments, cosmetic surgery, plastic surgery, orthopedics, and fertility treatments, making it a well-rounded medical tourism destination.

The Portuguese Government seems to be aware of the opportunities present within medical tourism and has taken steps to promote the sector. The Portuguese Tourism Board has increased its promotion of the country as a medical tourism destination, with several medical associations working with them to advance the sector.

Below is a summary table of some of the popular medical treatments available for medical tourists in Portugal, together with the estimated cost of each procedure:

Medical Treatment Estimated Cost (in euros)
Dental implants €800 – €2000
Breast reduction surgery €4,000 – €6,000
Hip replacement surgery €12,000 – €15,000
In vitro fertilization (IVF) €3,500 – €4,500
Weight-loss surgery €8,000 – €16,000

Overall, medical tourism in Portugal is a wise choice for people who are in need of medical services at competitive prices without compromising the quality of the treatments. The country’s healthcare providers are state-of-the-art, and the services come with minimal waiting times. Besides, the country has a breathtaking natural beauty, a diverse culture, and an excellent climate, making it perfect for tourists who want to combine medical treatments with leisure and relaxation.

Access to Emergency Medical Care in Portugal

Ensuring access to emergency medical care is a key aspect of healthcare in any country. In Portugal, access to emergency medical services is both reliable and free for all citizens and visitors. Here are some things you should know about emergency medical care in Portugal:

  • Emergency medical services are provided by the National Institute for Medical Emergency (INEM).
  • INEM operates a nationwide emergency medical network, with specialized medical teams, ambulances, helicopters, and other resources available 24/7.
  • INEM can be contacted by dialing 112, the European Union’s common emergency number. The service is available in Portuguese and English, and operators can also provide assistance in Spanish and French.

Emergency medical care in Portugal is always given the utmost priority. Patients are treated based on the severity of their condition, and waiting times are kept to a minimum. Based on your condition, you may be taken to the nearest hospital or to a specialized medical facility, depending on your needs and geographic location.

In addition to emergency medical services offered by INEM, there are also private medical clinics and hospitals in Portugal. These services come at a cost, which may not be covered by the Portuguese National Health Service (SNS), but may be covered by private insurance. It’s important to have travel insurance that covers medical expenses when traveling to Portugal to ensure access to emergency care and avoid costly medical bills.

If you require pharmaceutical treatment, it’s important to note that prescription drugs are only available through a licensed pharmacist. You may need a prescription from a Portuguese doctor, which can be obtained from a public or private hospital or a medical clinic. Access to prescription drugs is carefully monitored by the Portuguese government, to ensure that the drugs being distributed are both safe and effective.

Emergency Services Provided by INEM Emergency Hotline
Emergency medical response (ambulances, helicopters, medical teams) 112
Accident and trauma response 112
Marine and coastal rescue operations 112
Firefighting operations 112 (Integrated Operations Command)
Carbon monoxide poisoning response 808 243 543

Overall, access to emergency medical care in Portugal is reliable, efficient, and free of charge. The Portuguese National Health Service (SNS) ensures that all citizens and visitors have access to necessary medical treatment, including emergency care. With a well-established emergency response network and specialized medical facilities, Portugal has all the necessary resources to provide high-quality emergency medical services.

Is Medical Care Free in Portugal?

1. Is medical care completely free in Portugal?
Portugal has a National Health Service (SNS) that provides free medical care to its citizens, but some services may require a small fee or a co-payment.

2. Who is eligible for free medical care in Portugal?
All citizens and legal residents of Portugal who have a social security number or a health card are eligible for free medical care.

3. What types of medical services are covered for free in Portugal?
The SNS covers most medical services, including consultations with general practitioners and specialists, hospitalizations, diagnostic tests, and emergency care.

4. Do foreign tourists have access to free medical care in Portugal?
Foreign tourists are eligible for free emergency medical care at public hospitals, but they may be required to pay for non-urgent medical services or treatments.

5. Are prescription drugs covered by the SNS?
The SNS covers a wide range of prescription drugs, but some medications may require a co-payment.

6. What happens if I don’t have health insurance in Portugal?
If you don’t have health insurance in Portugal, you can still receive medical care at the SNS, but you may be required to pay a fee or a co-payment.

7. Can I choose my own doctor in Portugal?
Yes, you can choose your own general practitioner and specialists, as long as they are part of the SNS.

Closing Thoughts

We hope that this article has answered your questions about the availability of medical care in Portugal. While medical care is generally free for citizens and legal residents, some services may require a small fee or a co-payment. Foreign tourists can also receive emergency medical care for free, but they may need to pay for non-urgent medical services. Regardless of your situation, the SNS offers a broad range of medical services to ensure that everyone can receive the care they need. Thank you for reading, and don’t forget to visit us again for more informative articles!