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Country-by-country guide

Accessing healthcare in Portugal, including Madeira

Each country's health system is different and your care in Portugal might not include all the things you would expect to get free of charge from the NHS. This means you may have to make a patient contribution to the cost of your care.

The healthcare system in Portugal is similar to the NHS in the UK. The Portuguese Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS) is the equivalent of the UK's National Health Service, providing hospital and local health centre services. You should be treated in the same way a Portuguese citizen would. However, not all visits to doctors or hospitals will be free of charge.

Healthcare for UK visitors to Portugal

Useful health phrases in Portuguese

I feel ill – Estou doente


Call an ambulance – Chame uma ambulância


Where is the nearest pharmacy? – Onde fica a farmácia mais próxima?


I would like to see a doctor – Gostaria de ver um médico


I would like to make an appointment – Gostaria de marcar uma consulta

Your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will enable you to access state-provided healthcare at a reduced cost, or sometimes for free. It will cover you for treatment that is needed to allow you to continue your stay until your planned return.

It also covers you for treatment of pre-existing medical conditions and for routine maternity care, provided the reason for your visit is not specifically to give birth.

If you are travelling for the express purpose of obtaining medical treatment, please read our section about seeking medical treatment in Europe.

Help in emergencies

During your stay in Portugal, dial 112 in an emergency. This is the EU-wide emergency number, which you should call in a medical emergency.

It is free to call and you can call from a mobile without a SIM card. The person taking your call should be able to speak to you in English.

You might want to save 112 in your phone before you travel.

If you need general medical advice in Portugal, you can call Saúde 24 (Health Line 24) on 808 24 24 24.


Health services and costs

State-provided healthcare in Portugal is generally free of charge, although there is a patient contribution, which varies depending on how you access the health service – for example, GP consultations cost less than a consultation at the accident and emergency (A&E) department of a hospital. X-rays, scans and other tests also require co-payment.

In some parts of the country, particularly in rural areas and the islands, you may have to travel some distance to find a state healthcare provider.

Doctors do not routinely make house calls. If you need a doctor in an emergency, call 112 or go to the nearest state health centre (centro de saúde) or the A&E department of the nearest state hospital.

Make sure you have a valid EHIC and ask for state-funded healthcare.

Some hospitals and health centres (centro de saúde) offer both private and state-provided healthcare, and it is up to you to inform them which service you require. They often may also have separate surgery times for private patients and those treated under the state system.

Generally, if you are asked to pay upfront, you are not being treated under the Portuguese health service and your EHIC will not be accepted.

Your EHIC does not cover private treatment. Any costs incurred for private healthcare are non-refundable.

You should be particularly careful if healthcare arrangements are made by a hotel or travel representative. They might reassure visitors that they can claim back whatever is paid out, but they are referring to private insurance and not the treatment given under the EHIC.

Always get adequate travel health insurance before you travel, and make sure you can access funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation. Repatriation for medical treatment can be very expensive and is not covered by the EHIC.

Remember to keep all receipts and any paperwork (make copies if necessary) as they might be needed by you or your insurance company to apply for any refund or reimbursement.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises "If you are referred to a medical facility for treatment, you should contact your insurance medical assistance company immediately."

Dentists (médicos dentistas)

State healthcare is provided without charge, although state-funded dental care may not be available.

Hospitals (hospitais)

Just like in the UK, in Portugal you'll need to be referred by a doctor for any hospital treatment. Make sure you are referred to a public hospital as only these provide treatment free of charge. Again, even in a public hospital ensure you have a valid EHIC and double-check you are not treated as a private patient.

You have the right to insist your EHIC is accepted in public healthcare facilities. You do not have to provide travel insurance details unless you choose to do so.

Prescriptions (prescrições médicas)

Pharmacies (farmácia), identifiable by their green cross, are available throughout Portugal. They are usually open from Monday to Friday, 9am to 1pm, and 3pm to 7pm. On weekends they are open from 9am to 1pm.

A list of pharmacies providing a 24-hour service is available from any regular pharmacy.

There is not one set prescription charge in Portugal – prescription medicines are subsidised from 15% to 90%, depending on their use and need. As a visitor, you will have to show your EHIC to benefit from these subsidies.

Bringing your medicines to Portugal

If you have a condition that requires you to bring your own medicines to Portugal, you should bring them in clearly labelled containers and have a letter from your GP stating what the medicines are and why you need them. If possible, have the letter translated into Portuguese, as this will also be useful in case you need to see a health professional during your stay.

If any of your medicines fall into the controlled drugs category, you need to comply with regulations on drugs exports in the UK. You should also contact your nearest Portuguese consulate.

Making healthcare arrangements in advance

The most common treatments or conditions that require advanced arrangements are listed below. For all other conditions or treatments, you should consult your doctor. Remember, you must present your EHIC for all treatments abroad.

Oxygen therapy

Ensure your EHIC is valid before you travel. In most cases, you will have to use the authorised oxygen company for the country you are travelling to. You will also have to make your own arrangements, including arranging for permission from your hotel to deliver and install the equipment. There may also be additional costs that the EHIC will not cover.

Your home oxygen supplier is not required to provide a service outside the UK, but most suppliers can advise you on what to do. Your oxygen treatment clinic will organise your home oxygen supply from one of these suppliers:

Air Liquide: call them on:

  • 0808 143 9991 for London
  • 0808 143 9992 for the north west
  • 0808 143 9993 for the East Midlands
  • 0808 143 9999 for the south west

Baywater Healthcare: covers Yorkshire and Humberside, the West Midlands and Wales. Call them on 0800 373 580. For more information, visit the Baywater Healthcare website.

BOC: covers the east and north east of England. Call them on 0800 136 603.

Dolby Vivisol: covers the south of England. Call them on 0500 823 773.

The British Lung Foundation (BLF) may have additional oxygen contacts for the country you are travelling to. Their website offers general advice about travelling abroad with a lung condition.

Make sure you allow plenty of time to make all your arrangements before you travel.


You need to speak to the co-ordinator in your UK Dialysis Unit, who will contact the dialysis unit in Portugal nearest to where you will be staying. The provision of dialysis will be subject to availability in Portugal.

The Renal Association lists all the renal units in the UK.

Ensure you make your arrangements according to your UK schedule. Also, there may be different guidance depending on what type of dialysis you receive. Make sure you speak to your doctor before you travel.

The National Kidney Federation offers general advice about travelling with a kidney disease, as well as specific guidance for haemodialysis patients, peritoneal dialysis patients and guidelines for transplant patients.

Other specialist treatment

If you need to receive any other specialist treatment, such as chemotherapy or other prescriptions, you should make arrangements for this in advance of your trip.

Also read our advice about travelling with other conditions:

Living in Portugal

If you move to Portugal long-term or plan to work in the country, you'll have to make sure to register with the Portuguese authorities. Once you are registered to work in Portugal and make National Insurance contributions, you'll be entitled to state-run healthcare on the same basis as a Portuguese national.

Working in Portugal

If you are a worker posted by a UK company to Portugal, you may be entitled to health cover funded by the UK in the country you are posted to. Contact HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for more details:

National Insurance Contributions and Employer Office
HM Revenue and Customs
United Kingdom

  • Telephone: 0300 200 3506
  • Outside UK: +44 191 203 7010
  • Opening times: 8.30am to 5pm, Monday to Friday - closed weekends and bank holidays 

For more information see the Moving abroad section.


If you are living in Portugal and you receive an exportable UK Pension, contribution-based Employment Support Allowance or another exportable benefit, you may be entitled to state healthcare paid for by the UK. You will need to apply for a certificate of entitlement known as an S1 form.

For exportable UK pensions and contribution-based Employment Support Allowance, you can apply for your form via the International Pension Centre in the Department for Work and Pensions on 0191 218 7777.

You may need to liaise with a different team, depending on the exportable benefit. Further information is available under Claiming benefits if you live, move or travel abroad on the GOV.UK website. Please note that different exportable benefits can have different rules in terms of healthcare cover.

Once issued, register the S1 form with the relevant authority in Portugal. Often you need to do this before you can register for healthcare or obtain a medical card.

Once you have registered your S1 in Portugal, you will be entitled to apply for and use a UK-issued EHIC to access state-funded necessary medical treatment when you visit other EEA countries. 

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) provides useful information for Britons living in Portugal.

Prescriptions for residents

Portugal uses a co-payment system where patients are required to pay a percentage of the cost of their prescription medication.

Studying in Portugal

If you are moving to Portugal to study or are currently studying in Portugal as part of a UK-recognised course, you may be entitled to healthcare paid for by the UK government.

Also read our advice on studying abroad and student health.

Page last reviewed: 02/09/2016

Next review due: 02/09/2019

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