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Health insurance in Portugal for foreign expats

With friendly locals, picturesque landscapes and a low cost of living, Portugal is an incredibly popular destination for expats. And what makes it even better is that its high-quality, universal healthcare system is available to legal residents, so if you move there and become part of Portugal’s thriving expat community, you should be eligible. It’s easy to access and designed to be as fair and efficient as possible.

So, whether you’re retiring to Portugal’s famous Algarve, or starting a new job in the vibrant capital city of Lisbon, you’ll be in safe hands. We’ve put together a simple guide to help you understand the system and what you’ll need to do to access it when you move.  


The Portuguese healthcare system is considered to be one of the best in Europe. With a life expectancy of around 82.65 years in 2023¹, the country takes pride in caring for its citizens and residents. Portugal offers excellent standards of both public and private healthcare, with a commitment to making it accessible and affordable for all. 

Portugal’s public healthcare is equipped with a good standard of services and facilities, though in some areas it can become overburdened and busy. It’s possible to experience particularly long waiting times for elective procedures and non-emergency appointments. The best quality care and facilities tend to be found in more urban areas, but this really depends on where you are. Likewise, it might be slightly easier to find a doctor, nurse or pharmacist that speaks your native language in the city than in more rural areas, but not always.

Portugal’s public healthcare system is the Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS), or National Health Service. The SNS is managed by the Portuguese Ministry of Health (Ministério de Saúde), but it’s delivered by five regional health administrations: Alentejo, Algarve, Lisbon and Tagus Valley, North and Central. The SNS only covers mainland Portugal. Madeira and the Azores have separate healthcare systems.

The SNS is funded through taxes and social security contributions, as well as some small co-payments for certain services (see below). It’s a universal healthcare system that’s designed to provide all legal residents of Portugal free access to essential medical services. As an expat, you could be eligible to access the SNS depending on your residency status and nationality. 

The SNS covers a wide range of primary and secondary healthcare services, including doctor appointments, hospital stays, specialist care, community healthcare and maternity care. 

Children under the age of 18, and adults over the age of 65 get completely free healthcare in Portugal. For all other residents, the system is mostly free of charge, though some small co-payment fees have been introduced for certain non-essential services, treatments, prescriptions, and specialists.

Portugal’s private healthcare system co-exists comfortably alongside the SNS (Servico Nacional de Saúde). Some doctors work across both sectors but, as a rule, healthcare facilities and hospitals are generally either private or public, rather than offering both options. 

Private healthcare naturally costs more than the public system, but it’s a popular option for many expats. This is partly because, while it can take a while to register onto the public system, the private sector is easily accessible to all via private healthcare cover. In some cases, depending on the service you receive, you may have to pay for private treatment up front and then apply for a reimbursement via your healthcare plan.

Private healthcare in Portugal is comparatively cheap when compared to many other countries. And, whereas the public system can be stretched, you’ll often find shorter waiting times and less crowded facilities in private clinics and hospitals. 

Private healthcare mostly plays a supporting role in addition to national healthcare, but those who cannot enroll with the SNS use private insurance as their main provider

Portugal’s public healthcare system is available to all legal residents, as well as some short-term visitors depending on your nationality. 

Expat residents: 

Free public healthcare is available for all legal residents of Portugal, including expats. You’ll need to apply as a resident and enrol onto the Portuguese social security system if you’re employed or self-employed. Once you’re a resident, with all the necessary certification, you’ll be able to register at your local health centre. You’ll receive a healthcare card with your personal health number (número de utente de saúde), which you’ll need to show any time you make use of the public healthcare system. 

EU and EEA citizens: 

If you’re an EU citizen, with a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), you’ll be able to access Portugal’s public healthcare system and receive free healthcare for up to 90 days. After that, you’ll either need to register as a legal resident to keep using the SNS, or you’ll need private healthcare cover.

This also applies to citizens of Switzerland. And if you’re from a country within the European Economic Area (EEA), you may also be able to take advantage of the public healthcare system in Portugal for up to 90 days. 

UK citizens

If you’re a UK citizen, you may be aware that (after leaving the EU) the EHIC was replaced by the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). This can be used in Portugal in much the same way as EU citizens can use the EHIC (see above).

Non-EU citizens:

If you’re not an EU, EEA or UK citizen with a GHIC, you won’t be able to access public healthcare in Portugal as a short-term visitor. You’ll only be able to use the SNS if you’re an expat resident, employed within the country and paying social security (see relevant section above). If you’re visiting the country for a short period of time, or you’re working there temporarily and not a resident, you’ll need a private healthcare plan to cover the cost of any medical treatment or services you might require in Portugal.

If you’re eligible to access public healthcare, there are a number of steps to take. You’ll need a Portuguese tax identification number and social security number (número de contribuinte) if you’re employed or self-employed. You’ll be able to get these from your employer or from a local tax office. You’ll also need to register as a resident with your local council (junta de freguesia) where you’ll get a residency certificate.

To register for the public healthcare system, you’ll need to bring these details to your local healthcare centre (centro de saúde). Once registered, you’ll receive a Portuguese healthcare number (número de utente). This number allows you to access the public system and will be taken any time you make use of any public healthcare services.

It’s important to note that, for most residence visas, you’ll likely need to show proof that you have private healthcare cover. This is to ensure you’re covered for any medical costs you might incur during the time that you’re waiting organising your residency status and healthcare registration.


You should be able to book appointments online using the SNS (Servico Nacional de Saúde) portal. If you’re unable to book online for any reason, you can call or visit your health centre to make an appointment. Some health centres also have designated days that doctors accept ‘walk-ins’ without needing an appointment.

You’ll be assigned a doctor when you register with your local health centre. When you book an appointment, you’ll need to make an appointment to see your doctor. In some areas, doctors can become extremely busy and may not have capacity to take on new patients. If that’s the case you’ll be put on a waiting list and, in the meantime, you’ll be seen by whoever is available.


The emergency services in Portugal are generally very efficient and pride themselves on quick response times. In rural areas, the local hospital may have its own ambulance service. If you live in such an area, it might be worth noting down the hospital’s dedicated emergency number if it has one. Otherwise, the phone number for the emergency services in Portugal is 112. This is the standard European emergency number. 

Dental care

The SNS only includes free dental care for residents that are deemed to be vulnerable and unable to pay. This includes children, the elderly and disabled residents. Otherwise, you’ll likely find that the SNS doesn’t cover your dental care for most of your regular dental care. That’s why an increasing number of Portuguese residents and expats look to private healthcare cover that includes dental care.

Pharmacies and medicine

You’ll find pharmacies (farmácia) in Portuguese town centres and shopping malls. They’re run by qualified pharmacists who can assist with some medical queries. The general opening hours for most pharmacies are from 9am to 7pm on weekdays, (closed for two-hours between 1pm and 3pm) and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays. Each area will also have duty pharmacies (farmacio de servico) that stay open 24/7 for emergency situations. Details of where they can be found will be available in any pharmacy, as well as on the SNS website.

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Long-term cover

There’s a lot to consider when moving to Portugal. But with our annual healthcare plan, you’ll have one less thing to worry about. We’ll help you settle into your new life with the peace of mind that comes from knowing you’ve always got somewhere to turn for help.

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Virtual Doctor service from AXA. See a real doctor, from anywhere in the world.

With the Virtual Doctor service, you can have a medical consultation with a real doctor wherever you are in the world – from the comfort of your home, hotel or office. Better still, there are doctors on call and available 24/7.


Portugal is a unique and rewarding place to visit or call home. We want to make sure you enjoy every minute of it, with comprehensive healthcare cover that’ll give you access to one of the best healthcare systems in the world.

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Virtual Doctor

Our Virtual Doctor service lets you speak to a real doctor from anywhere in the world2 in a number of languages. Ideal if your Portuguese is a little rusty.

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We think compensation should be simple. Provided we have all the right information, over 80% of all eligible claims are paid within 48 hours.3

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Emergency cover

From overnight hospital stays to ambulance transport, our comprehensive plans offer emergency cover as standard. And with optional extras like dental care and out-patient services, you can choose a package that suits you.

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Evacuation and repatriation

Whether you’re enjoying the sunshine along the coast or immersing yourself in one of Portugal’s historic cities, you don’t want to have to worry about what might happen in an emergency. Our team can arrange for your evacuation and repatriation if things don’t quite go to plan.

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Mind Health service

With great weather, excellent food and an affordable cost-of-living, Portugal may sound like paradise. But it always takes time to settle in, so our Mind Health service is here to connect you to qualified psychologists for support when you need it.4 

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Second Medical Opinion

If you feel unsure about a diagnosis or treatment plan, want a better understanding of local healthcare practices, need details explained to you in another language, or you’d like to make sure you’ve explored every option – our Second Medical Opinion service can help bring you peace of mind.5

Who we help

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Whether you’re relocating for a work assignment, or starting a new life in the sun, we offer comprehensive cover, as well as optional benefits that can meet your needs.

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Portugal’s excellent standard of healthcare, warm climate and affordable cost-of-living make it a very popular destination for retirees. Check out our international health insurance plans which include cover for prescription, annual health checks and pallative care. 

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Portugal is an ideal place for a family to start a new chapter. The last thing you want is to let a health worry interfere with your experience. Discover our long and short-term international health plans, which will provide you with options to cover you and your family’s general health as well as emergencies.

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All information in this article was correct at the time of publishing

Local insights have been provided by Oban International’s LIME (Local In-Market Expert) network’ -  


2 The Virtual Doctor service is part of our Virtual Care from AXA service. Appointments are subject to availability. You do not need to pay or claim for a consultation but you will be charged for the cost of the initial phone call when using the call back service. You won’t be charged if you request a call back using the app or online portal. Telephone appointments are available 24/7/365 and call-backs are typically within 24 hours. Video appointments in English, Spanish and Mandarin are available between 08.00 and 00.00 UK time, Monday to Friday. Video appointments in German are available between 08:00 -20:00 CET, Monday to Friday

3 80.6% of eligible claims submitted online between July 2022 and June 2023 were paid within two days.

Mind Health psychologist appointments are available in English and Spanish between Monday and Friday, 09.00 - 17.30 (UK time). If you are calling from the UAE, appointments are available between Saturday to Thursday, 09.00 – 20.00, and Friday 09.00 – 16.00 (UAE time). The service, provided in partnership with Teladoc Health, provides access to six sessions with a psychologist, per mind health concern, per policy year. The Mind Health service is part of our Virtual Care from AXA service.

5 Our Second Medical Opinion service is here for you anytime you’re unsure over a diagnosis or recommended course of treatment. It’s part of our Virtual Care offering, along with the Virtual Doctor and Mind Health services, so you might have already seen it on your plan or on the Virtual Care from AXA <app> or <portal>. Provided in partnership with Teladoc Health, the service unlocks access to a network of over 50,000 world-leading specialists and connects you to a doctor who will review your case alongside an expert. They’ll work with you to help you understand your diagnosis, make sure you know your options and support you throughout any treatment, wherever you are in the world.