Healthcare In Portugal

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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The Portuguese Way Of Life

What To Expect

Perhaps you are thinking of moving to Portugal to live and work, or to enjoy your retirement in the sunshine. Whilst an unquestioning observance of social and religious customs plays an important role in daily life, the Portuguese know how to let their hair down.

Evening meals start and end earlier than in neighbouring Spain, but it is not unusual to eat as late as 10pm. While the afternoon nap (sesta) is less entrenched in daily routine than it is in Spain, it is practised in pockets of the country nearer to the Spanish border.

In truth, the Portuguese are a hardworking people and are likely to be contemptuous of the notion of an afternoon ‘nap’. And, while Portugal is blessed with a warm and sunny climate, it avoids the debilitating temperatures found in much of Spain in summer by virtue of being cooled by west coast Atlantic breezes.

Festa, on the other hand, is a different matter. Every town and village in the country has an annual festival when, in true Iberian fashion, everything shuts down except bars and restaurants. From February’s Carnival through to October there is a huge celebration marking every holiday and saint’s day. They can be elaborate affairs or simple ones, but you can always expect music, food, drink and dancing until the early hours. Attending local festivals provides a unique insight into local culture and is a great way to meet new people and immerse yourself in the Portuguese way of life.

The major international festivals tend to take place in Portugal’s major cities, notably the Festas de Lisboa – a series of events in the country’s capital which peak on St Anthony’s Day, 12-13 June, and St John’s Day in Porto on 23-24 June. The latter has been observed for over six centuries and has acquired a reputation as one of the liveliest festivals in Europe.

Although spectacular white beaches, fabulous food, superb local wine, great golf courses, extensive watersports and a delightful climate all play their part in life in Portugal, there is one additional diversion which should not be dismissed.  Football plays a huge part in the nation’s life and new residents might be expected to show a passing interest in the national game.

Portugal has a reputation for producing great footballers (Eusebio, Luis Figo, Ronaldo), if not a similarly creditable record in winning international trophies. That all changed in July 2016 when the national team became European champions by beating France in the final of Euro 2016. The country’s three biggest football clubs, Porto, Benfica, and Sporting Lisbon, have also enjoyed international success.

In golf, the country has some of the finest and most lavishly appointed courses in the world. See the information panel, ‘Seven Great Golf Courses In Portugal’.

In the world of surfing, Portugal boasts some of the most formidable waves in the sport, infamously the 100-foot monster at Praia do Norte, outside the fishing village of Nazare, north of Lisbon.

If there is one universal musical landmark that Portugal can truly claim as its own it is the distinctive sound of Fado, the mournful lament that speaks of life, struggle and passion which is heard in live performance venues throughout the country. Originating in the 1820s, every song tells a story about the harsh realities of everyday life, often with a sense of resignation about loss and longing.

Another distinctively Portuguese gift to the world is its extensive culinary influence. Not only are Portuguese missionaries said to have introduced tempura to Japan in the 16th century, but the British staple of fried fish (peixe frito) came from Portugal a century later. If that weren’t surprising enough, Indian food would be a lot blander if the chilli pepper hadn’t been introduced by Portuguese traders to India around the same time. It is no secret that Piri Piri sauce is a Portuguese invention.

Just as unmistakeably representative of the country’s cultural identity are the ubiquitous glazed tiles, azulejos, which decorate facades in every city and town. It is rare to come across a church, palace, or grand house that does not feature these distinctively patterned ceramics.

In a wider context, Portugal has a rich history in music and the arts, seen in the Celtic-influenced folklore of the north and in the Moorish architecture and musical legacy of the south. Either of the country’s major cities, Lisbon and Porto, will satisfy any yearning for a regular cultural fix.

Porto is one of the oldest cities in Europe and has world famous performance venues,including the Coliseu do Porto and the São João National Theatre. In 2001 the city was chosen European Culture Capital.

As would be expected of a capital city, Lisbon has the majority of the country’s museums and galleries. Unquestionably, the greatest of the city’s museums is the Gulbenkian, a private and permanent collection of exhibits that span over 4,000 years from antiquity to the 19th century.

No whistlestop tour of Portugal’s cultural tradition would be complete without reference to the importance of the Portuguese people’s ongoing love affair with coffee. On Lisbon’s leafy Avenida da Liberdade it is impossible to progress more than a hundred metres without passing a coffee hut or café selling a cup of bica for not much more than one euro. The Portuguese coffee culture brings people together, and the tradition of taking a coffee break mid-morning and/or after lunch is firmly entrenched in the national psyche.

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Buying Property In Portugal

Portuguese estate agents must be licensed and qualified, so ask to see their INCI certificate and AMI licence. With typical agent fees of more than 5%, private sales are common – look out for boards saying vende-se or para venda.

Among Portugal’s largest online property portals are Although the agent is paid out of the sales price, the buyer should budget for an average of 10% extra in fees and taxes.

Portuguese euro mortgages are available both to buy and to renovate a property. The maximum loan-to-value is 80% and rental income generally cannot be included in your calculations. You will need to pay an arrangement fee of 1.5–2% of the loan value, and pay for life assurance cover.

Your first step when looking seriously at buying should be to engage a lawyer – advogado – who is independent of the agent or developer. Being able to communicate with them, of course, is vital and there are English-speaking lawyers available in popular areas and cities.

When you find a property it is quite common to be asked for a modest (less than €3,000) deposit to take it off the market. It should be clearly stated to be refundable under certain conditions, such as a legal issue that cannot be resolved, or a survey – inspecao – that turns up something nasty. It should also be kept in a separate escrow-style account.

Avoid agreeing to under-declare the purchase price to avoid tax: it is quite a common practice but is illegal and could cost you extra in capital gains when you sell, unless you continue the deceit.

You will need to obtain a tax card and identity number (Cartão de Contribuinte) and NIF – a simple process of attending the local tax office with your passport and the small fee and filling in a few forms. Often the estate agent will be only too keen to help you with this.

Over the next few days your lawyer should be making the basic legal checks of the Land Registry to check the title is clean, checking basic features of the property such as boundaries, that there are no debts on the property or unresolved planning issues, that it has a habitation licence, and that your own plans for the property such as new buildings, extensions, use for rural tourism perhaps, are likely to be allowed.

Only when these are done should you sign the promissory contract – Contrato de Promessa de Compra e Venda (CPCV). This is signed at the office of the local notary, a government official whose job is to officially witness a legal document. They will not give advice and cannot replace the security of using your own lawyer. If attending in person is difficult at this stage or completion, you can appoint power of attorney to a representative.

The CPCV contract states details about buyer and seller, the property including fixtures, fittings and completion date for new homes. It is legally binding and backed with a 10% deposit that you pay at this stage. From now, if you pull out you lose all the money you have paid so far. If the seller pulls out he or she must pay you double the deposit.

It is back to the notary’s office to complete the process by signing the public deeds, the Escritura de Compra e Venda. It is sensible, and some notaries insist on it, to have a translator with you. At this point the notary will witness your payment of the balance as well as all taxes and his own fees. Your lawyer should then send the deeds to the land registry, your ownership will be officially recorded and new deeds issued.

At or before completion you will pay taxes and fees, the biggest of which is property transfer tax (IMT). There is nothing to pay on the first €92,400 but thereafter it is 2% rising to 8%. Stamp duty is 0.8% of the purchase price. The notary charges around 1% of the purchase price, the survey if you have one is another 1-2%, your lawyer also 1-2% and the land registry 0.5%. Those fees are subject to VAT (IVA) of 21%. You will also pay the IMI in advance, which is a kind of council tax.

Please note, tax rates and average professional fees are subject to change.

By Christopher Nye

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Portugal’s Seven Provinces

Which One Will Suit You?

Portugal is divided into seven provinces or regions with the enchanting city of Porto and a craggy landscape of montanhas e serras in the frequently chilly north, and the balmy coastline of the Algarve in the south.
Whilst the Algarve is possibly the best known region in Portugal, there is much else to explore and to consider when deciding where to live.

Within these contrasting landscapes are central Portugal, which includes the ancient university city of Coimbra, and south of it, the adjacent region of Lisbon in the industrial hinterland. Further south and above the Algarve is Alentejo, the country’s most agricultural area – a sleepy landscape of cork groves, vineyards and pine forests with crumbling farmhouses that have yet to be discovered by adventurous retirees.

In addition to mainland Portugal, the country also includes two autonomous island territories in the Atlantic Ocean, the archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores – vestiges of a sprawling global empire which once embraced nearly half of the new world including Brazil, large parts of Africa, mainland China, India and Indochina. Madeira is more likely to be of interest to retirees than the remote and wind-scoured Azores.

Of the country’s regions the Algarve is still by some distance the most popular choice for Britons. But it isn’t the only choice. If you are drawn to living in a major city, then the country’s stylish capital Lisbon and its historic northern neighbour Porto are among the most eligible candidates in Europe.

Lisbon is one of the great European capital cities, a place of tangible history where trams rattle through cobblestone streets past richly decorated buildings showcasing a living museum of architectural styles from the Moors to Art Nouveau, much of it influenced by centuries of global trading and colonisation. Often described as the ‘city of light’, Lisbon has a surprise around every corner: a hilly landscape of honeycombed alleys and paths one way, sweeping miradors over land and sea the other, and everywhere you look a palette of brilliantly coloured buildings.

Lisbon’s coast also offers some exquisite retirement spots in Cascais and Estoril, once home to aristocrats and WW2 double agents, but now elegant sanctuaries for those seeking a quiet life with sea views.

Porto, the country’s second city and UNESCO world heritage site, is, like Lisbon, a seductive synthesis of historic and contemporary attractions. The capital of the ‘Norte’ region, it is a thriving commercial and cultural hub with much to offer art lovers – and foodies, indeed, with seafood a particular speciality of Porto and its neighbouring coastal resorts.

So to the Algarve, whose weather, scenery and lifestyle offer something for everyone but are particularly loved by northern European expats. It was described by a US newspaper as ‘the best place in the world to live or retire that nobody’s talking about’.

The article highlighted Silves and Lagoa, west of the Algarve’s capital Faro, as ‘particularly appealing’, but don’t ignore the gateway to the region itself, Faro, which, like most airport towns, is often overlooked by holidaymakers and home-buyers in a rush to the main resort areas.

It shouldn’t be. If you get past the shabby outskirts, Faro is as authentic as southern Portugal gets, with a well-preserved medieval quarter, a maze of narrow car-free lanes and alleys, lush parks and elegant plazas. It is also on the doorstep of protected natural parkland, easily accessible beaches and some of the most exclusive golf courses in the world. The lawns of the nearby exclusive Quinta do Lago golf resort border some of the most expensive real estate in Europe.

With a large student community at the University of the Algarve, there is a metropolitan buzz about Faro which is not found elsewhere in the region – with the possible exception of Albufeira, the main resort town of the Algarve and a magnet for tourists and revellers. In the opposite direction, towards the Spanish border, it contrasts with the elegant old town of Tavira, an increasingly popular choice for expats drawn by its classical architecture, including a famous seven-arch Roman bridge, and access to a beautiful island beach on the Ilha de Tavira.

The central Algarve between Faro and Sagres is the unquestioned centre of the Portuguese tourist industry, but the beaches are so plentiful that there is little difficulty in avoiding the crowds. Within a short drive of the homogeneous cluster of villas and gaudy bars along the coast, visitors will stumble across enchanting hill towns and the 300km Via Algarviana pilgrimage route, traversing the breadth of the region.

The western Algarve is another story – one more about nature and less about development – although its rugged nature and exposure to Atlantic winds may not be to every expat’s taste.

How important is the weather? Be aware of very different climates in the country’s regions. Porto is on the same latitude as New York, which is likely to mean colder winters and hot summers. The Algarve has more consistent conditions year round and is warmer and drier than in other areas.

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