In Portugal, residents and tourists alike can benefit from the Sistema Nacional de Saúde (SNS), the country’s public health care system. However, it’s important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of both the Public System and Private health insurances to make an informed decision about your options.

Accessing Public healthcare

Portugal’s SNS offers an attractive option for individuals coming from countries where such systems may be lacking. The SNS provides accessible urgent care to anyone in the country with a visa, including a tourist visa.

However, to receive comprehensive care, follow-up appointments and check-ups, it is necessary to obtain a resident permit.

Here is what you need to access the SNS:

  1. Obtain residency: this can be secured through any of the visas that permit residency, such as student visa, D7 visa, Golden visa, work visa, or entrepreneur visa;
  2. Request a Health User Number (Número de Utente): this number will act as your identification within the SNS;
  3. Request a Social Security Number (Segurança Social): to ensure coverage under the SNS;
  4. Sign up at a Health Center (Centro de Saúde): register at a nearby health center based on your place of residence;

Once you have completed these steps, you will have full access to the Public healthcare system in Portugal. The SNS covers everything from surgeries to medication, with minimal co-payment fees for certain services such as general medicine, nursing and other specialty appointments.

Advantages and disadvantages of the Public healthcare system

Like any healthcare system, Portugal’s public healthcare system has its strengths and weaknesses. Understanding these pros and cons can help you make an informed decision:


● Free to low-cost access to healthcare services;

● Government co-participation ensure affordable care;

● Availability of family doctor for personalized care;

● Provision of urgent care services;

● Comprehensive coverage for medication and follow-up treatments;

● Wide range of medical specialities available;


● Understaffed, leading to longer wait time, particularly for non-urgent issues;

● Overcrowded facilities due to high demand and lack of doctors available;

● Older infrastructure and facilities;

● Subpar overall customer service experiences;

● Lack of accountability for medical malpractice;

● Overwhelmed urgent services due to high patient load;

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Private Health Insurance as an Alternative

Private health insurance provides an alternative to the Public Health System, offering its own set of advantages and disadvantages.


● Faster response times and appointment scheduling;

● High quality infrastructure and newer medical equipment;

● Better overall customer service experience;

● Greater accountability for medical professionals;

● Wider range of choice in terms of medical specialities and facilities;


● Monthly or yearly costs associated with insurance premiums;

● Limited coverage for certain medical specialties;

● Higher co-payment fees for services;

● Complex medical issues are often redirected to the Public System;

● Varying levels of professionalism among doctors;

Compared to other countries, Private health insurance in Portugal is relatively affordable, with costs varying based on factors such as age, risk, coverage and preexisting conditions.

Understanding the Relationship between the two Systems

An interesting aspect of Portugal’s healthcare system is the dynamic between the Public and the Private systems. Even with Private insurance, complex surgeries are often referred to Public hospitals, as private facilities prefer to mitigate risks. Additionally, many doctors in Portugal work in both the private and public sectors, with the main difference being the waiting times for consultations.

One advantage of private insurance is the increased liability it brings. In situations where doctors demonstrate a lack of care or competence, obtaining liability from the Public system can be challenging. However, in the Private sector, complaints are more likely to be taken seriously.

Having private insurance can provide more flexibility, faster response times and relieve some pressure from the public system. However, for individuals over the age of 60, the public system may be more suitable. Older individuals often have a higher likelihood of risk factors, making them eligible for priority care in the public system. Private insurance for older individuals tends to be significantly more expensive.

In sum, choosing between the public health system and private insurance in Portugal required careful consideration of your needs, preferences and financial circumstances. While the SNS offers accessible and comprehensive care for free or for a low cost, it may suffer from long waiting lists, understaffing and an overall lack of Government’s investment in maintaining the SNS. On the other hand, private health insurance provides faster response times and higher-quality facilities but comes with associated costs.

Understanding the relationship between the two systems and the advantages and disadvantages they offer can help you make an informed decision that best suits your healthcare requirements.

Want to know more about the Healthcare system in Portugal? Check out Savvy Cat Realty’s newest video in which Ana Caramujo goes into more in depth information about how to navigate both while offering a practical example of her own experience with both.

Check it out here:

Savvy Cat Realty is a Relocation and Investment agency that supports expats getting settled in Portugal in a sustainable and positive way, transparency and tailored services are our motto.

Feel free to reach out to Savvy Cat Realty directly at , we’ll be happy to assist you! Also visit our website at - we share a lot of useful information about Portugal and all our services and prices are listed there.