Access to the Portuguese health system is based on residence. If you are formally resident in Portugal (having registered with your nearest Town Hall or the Immigration authorities and obtained a residence certificate), you are entitled to register with your local health centre and receive state healthcare.
Most doctors in Portugal are fluent in English. Indeed, a growing number of doctors in the country are English, especially in areas with a high number of expats such as the Algarve, where they are likely to be working in the private healthcare sector.
Although both public and private options are widely available, the latter is growing in popularity within the expat community. This isn’t because public health care is necessarily a bad choice, but like the UK’s own NHS the speed of consultation, treatment and follow-up care can sometimes be found wanting.
On the plus side, state-provided healthcare in Portugal is available to EU expats on exactly the same basis as it is to Portuguese citizens – although it might not include all the treatment and medication that you would expect to get free of charge from the NHS, for instance, and you might have to make a patient contribution to the cost of your care.
The Portuguese Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS) is the equivalent of the NHS, providing hospital and local health centre services. It can sometimes be exasperating, sometimes excellent. Expats with residency in Portugal must obtain a SNS user card in order to take advantage of the free public healthcare system. This can be done at a local health centre with a passport and residency card.
Long waiting lists and cancelled appointments are the exception rather than the rule in private health clinics and hospitals, and doctors and clinicians are generally able to allocate more time to patients. The private medical care industry is growing rapidly in Portugal, commensurate with the growth of the expat community. The Quinta do Lago and Vale do Lobo golf resorts in the Algarve each have British-owned and run medical centres in their estates.
If you’re visiting Portugal you should get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving the UK. The EHIC isn’t a substitute for medical and travel insurance, but it entitles you to state provided medical treatment that may become necessary during your trip. Any treatment provided is on the same terms as Portuguese nationals.
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