Is the Public Healthcare in Portugal Good?

24 de August, 2023

Is the Public Healthcare in Portugal Good?

Is public health in Portugal good? Portugal has a high quality health system, with excellent equipment, a modern hospital network and qualified professionals.
Reading: 5 min

In this article we’re going to present 8 facts that show that public health in Portugal is of high quality and has some very positive points! The country ranks 13th in the Euro Health Consumer Index 2023, which measures the performance of health systems in 35 European countries. It has a national average of one doctor per 180 inhabitants, with Coimbra being the city with the highest ratio in the country: it has 1 doctor for every 28 inhabitants, according to the National Statistics Institute. Portugal has a high-quality healthcare system, with excellent equipment, a modern hospital network and qualified professionals. All of this is available to everyone through its public health system, with universal coverage and financed by the state.

Healthcare in the country even attracted the attention of businessman and philanthropist Bill Bates, who even made a $400,000 donation to the Gulbenkian Institute of Science research team in 2016.

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1- Public Health in Portugal is Good and Free!

Portugal has universal medical care, the SNS-Sistema Nacional de Saúde (National Health System) subsidized by the government. Through it you can get emergency care, specialty care, tests and surgeries, and even undergo complex treatments.

Since June 2022, the vast majority of public healthcare services have waived the so-called user charges in which the patient shares the cost of medical treatment with the state.

More than half the countries in the European Union have some form of co-payment system. In Portugal, user charges are almost symbolic and are currently only charged for non-referred emergencies. In addition, some citizens are exempt from these charges. This is the case for children, refugees, blood donors, pregnant women, and people in a situation of proven economic insufficiency. You can check the amounts and details of exemptions on the website of the Health Regulatory Authority.

2 – Expatriates are entitled to Public Health Care

All Portuguese nationals and residents in Portugal, including legalized foreigners, have the right to receive medical care in the public network. Those who have Portuguese citizenship and live abroad can also come to the country and receive care through the SNS, as long as they are registered with the National Health System, i.e. have a user number. For those who already have a citizen’s card, this number is available on the card itself. If you don’t have one, you can apply for one at the health center in the parish (neighborhood) where you live by presenting it:

  • Residence permit and proof of residence;
  • Tax Identification Number (NIF);

3 – All children receive medical and dental care 100% free of charge

Residents aged up to 18 years do not pay any fee to receive medical care in Portugal’s public health network. This includes oral health consultations.

4 – Medicines cost little and are subsidised by the State

In Portugal, there are subsidised medicine programmes. Many medicines are subsidised, i.e. the government pays part of the cost and the user pays the rest. The discounts depend on the class of medicine, type of illness and the profile of the user. Pensioners, for example, can get up to 95% discount on their medicines. There are also some types of illnesses for which medication can be provided free of charge, such as the insulin needed by diabetics, or treatment for disorders like Crohn’s Disease, Lupus, haemophilia, among others.

In addition, the country has private charities, such as the Associação Dignitude, which provides support to families in need of financial help to buy medicines.

5 – The Vaccination System is Well Organised and Completely Free of Charge

In Portugal the vaccines are provided free of charge by the public network. The health posts are responsible for organising the vaccination calendar, contacting the users to schedule the administration of the doses and thus avoiding forgetfulness. Everything is done in a very organized, fast and practical way.

6 – Health Insurance in Portugal is not expensive

The public health network has excellent professionals, but many people like to take out private health insurance as a complement. Sometimes care in the public network may take longer or be limited. If you want to choose a doctor of your preference or are in a hurry for appointments, you will have to complement your care through a private consultation. According to the Portuguese Insurers Association, more than 3 million Portuguese have some kind of insurance or health plan, number that has grown a lot since 2020 , with the beginning of the pandemic.

In general, health insurance in Portugal is not expensive, but they work with a co-payment scheme. That is, in addition to the monthly amount you still have to pay an amount at the time of use. In 2020, the Portuguese paid an average of 30 euros per month for individual health insurance. With insurance, a private medical consultation, which costs around 80 euros, will only cost 30 euros. It should be noted that these values are an average, and that policies have different coverage, capitals, exclusions and limits. Another option is to take out health insurance plans, which work like a discount network in a healthcare network, and which can cost from €5, depending on the services covered. However, they do not cover outpatient care or hospitalisation.

7 – Most Portuguese Doctors Speak English

Another piece of good news is that many Portuguese doctors provide consultations in other languages, such as English, French and Spanish. In the CUF network, for example, information about the languages spoken by each professional is included in the online description of each doctor. English is spoken by more than half of the Portuguese population, and Portugal is the 7th country in the world in English language proficiency, according to the EF English Proficiency Index report.

8 – Portugal had the 2nd highest COVID-19 vaccination rate in the world

The way the country has dealt with COVID says a lot about its health system.

It’s true: in 2021 95 % of the Portuguese population was already vaccinated against COVID-19. At the time, 92% had already completed the protocol, according to the website Our World in Data website from the University of Oxford. In addition, Portugal had the 5th lowest number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the European Union (updated in March 2022).

The country managed to stop the pandemic through a series of measures that went beyond the vaccination program. The state has been tough, forcing the use of protective masks and enacting severe lockdowns, especially during the winter. When new variants emerged, borders were closed. In addition, testing was strongly encouraged, with the government offering up to 6 free antigen tests a month to the population. Hundreds of testing stations were set up for this purpose. There were also thousands of adherent laboratories and pharmacies throughout the country.

Homemade antigen tests were also widely available in supermarkets for between 2 and 6 euros. No supply crises.


To sum up, Portugal has a remarkable health system which, although it doesn’t claim to be perfect, stands out admirably. It is characterized above all by its accessibility. Whether enjoying the National Health System, which offers a comprehensive range of medical services without exorbitant costs, or opting to supplement care with cost-effective private health insurance, the country offers its citizens peace of mind.

Want to live or invest in Portugal? Get in touch with our team!



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