Healthcare in Portugal, including Madeira

Each country's health system is different. 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 NHS, 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

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 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're travelling for the express purpose of obtaining medical treatment, please read our section about seeking medical treatment in Europe.

Finding help in an emergency

During your stay in Portugal, dial 112 in an emergency. It's free to call, and 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. You may not be able to access this service using a mobile phone.

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 don't 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. Your EHIC doesn't 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.

Dentists (médicos dentistas)

State-funded dental care is available, but waiting lists are long.

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're referred to a public hospital as only these provide treatment free of charge. Ensure you show a valid EHIC, and be prepared to make a co-payment for any exams or treatment you receive.

You have the right to insist your EHIC is accepted in public healthcare facilities. You don't 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. Most pharmacies are open from Monday to Friday (9am to 1pm and 3pm to 7pm) and on weekends from 9am to 1pm. In bigger cities, you may find pharmacies open seven days a week (8am to 10pm).

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

There isn't one set prescription charge in Portugal – prescription medicines are subsidised from 15-90%, 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

Although your EHIC covers the provision of oxygen, renal dialysis and routine medical care, you'll have to arrange and pre-book medical treatment before you travel. You should always consult your GP or hospital before travelling. You should also ensure you are not booked with a private healthcare provider, as these are not covered by the EHIC.

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; however, 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 North West
  • 0808 143 9993 for East Midlands
  • 0808 143 9999 for South West

Baywater Healthcare: covers Yorkshire and Humberside, 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 will need to speak to the coordinator in your UK Dialysis Unit, who will contact the dialysis unit in Portugal nearest to where you will be staying. You can look up UK renal units on the Renal Association website.

Ensure you make arrangements according to your UK schedule. There may also be different guidance, depending on the type of dialysis you receive. Make sure you speak to your doctor before you travel. The National Kidney Federation website 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

The Portuguese health system is universal and residence-based. If you move to Portugal permanently, you'll have to register as a resident with the Portuguese authorities (i.e. town hall or immigration authorities) and obtained a residence certificate.

This applies whether or not you intend to work (workers will also need a Portuguese social security number).

You'll then be able to register with a GP at your local state-run health centre. Please note that if you are a UK state pensioner you must also obtain form S1 when registering.

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 abou 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 getting medical care as a student.

Page last reviewed: 15/03/2017
Next review due: 15/03/2020