Portuguese healthcare

Moving abroad is always a big decision and hopefully all goes well, but what happens when you or a loved one fall ill in your new country?

Portugal is considered to have an overall healthy environment with relatively minor health risks for visitors. However, damp chilly weather is frequent throughout Portugal during the winter months, and may aggravate rheumatism, sinusitis, asthma, and bronchial and other respiratory conditions. Local meats, fish, fruits, and vegetables are safe for consumption.

The Portuguese healthcare system is unfortunately not up to the same standards of that found in Northern Europe or the USA. The healthcare system in the country has seen steady improvement over the past decades and Portugal has its own equivalent of the British National Health service which entitles anyone who has paid regular social security contributions in another EU nation prior to moving to the country to free health care.

Most Portuguese are covered by Portugal’s public health scheme, including retired EU residents (with a residence card) receiving a state pension. If you aren’t entitled to public health benefits through payment of Portuguese social security (segurança social) or receiving a state pension from another EU country, you must usually have private health insurance and must present proof of your insurance when applying for a residence card.

Citizens of EU countries and European Economic Area (EEA) countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) are able to make payments in their home country entitling them to use public health services in Portugal and other EU and EEA countries.

The Portuguese NHS

The Portuguese health service is focused more on healing rather than prevention and treats sickness rather than promoting good health. The system has begun to change this policy however, and it now provides regular health checks for the elderly and young children. A full immunisation programme is also in place for all children.

Like all other national health services, Portugal’s suffers from a lack of sufficient funding and staff shortages. It’s generally considered that the Portuguese health system is badly in need of a general over-haul (which has been promised by successive governments but has yet to materialise and it is highly unlikely it will be in the near future thanks to the ongoing Euro crisis.


Pharmacies are widely distributed throughout Portugal. They are generally open from Monday to Friday, 09:00 am to 1:00 pm, and 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm. On weekends they are open from 09:00 am to 1:00 pm. Addresses and telephone numbers of 24-hour pharmacies are listed on every pharmacy door.