In common with the UK, there are some doctor’s surgeries and hospitals that are world-leading and state-of-the-art. Also, in common with the UK, there are some that are struggling under local demand and are subject to anecdotal horror stories.
Portugal’s health service is a reasonable equivalent to the NHS, with the key difference the fact that it isn’t completely free – even for Portuguese citizens. Nominal charges are payable by everyone, for tests, GP visits and other interactions with the service.
The first thing you need to know is that your European Health Insurance card (EHIC) is intended for tourists to use for emergency health assistance when on holiday away from their home country - you cannot use it to register at a doctor’s surgery or for medical care once you move to Portugal.
The second thing you need to know is that you don’t automatically qualify for Portuguese healthcare because you are an EU citizen. Portugal pulled out of this reciprocal arrangement some years ago. If you are of legal retirement age, you can get an S1 form from the UK that does entitle you to register with the Portuguese system. If, however, you have retired early or are of working age, you will generally only be able to get cover if you have a job in Portugal or become self-employed (and therefore begin to contribute to Portugal’s social security system).
There is a lot of misinformation about healthcare in Portugal because historically many UK expats have been able to register without meeting these requirements. However, in recent times the system has been tightened up and many of these people are now being told they don’t qualify, as they cannot provide a Portuguese social security number.
If they don’t qualify for state cover, or wish to complement this, many expats choose to take out private medical insurance. There are a number of options here, with the choice of a Portuguese insurer or an international company to gain Europe-wide or global cover.
The cost of cover can vary vastly and your age will play a huge part in the cost difference. Gaining cover for pre-existing conditions can be complex, so it’s wise to enlist the help of an insurance broker who can help to explain, in detail, the difference between the policies.
If you already have a health insurance policy, it is a good idea to check it to see if it covers you for treatment abroad. Some policies may only cover you back home, whilst others may cover you for reasonable healthcare costs abroad. Make sure you read, and analyse, the fine print to see what is covered. It may be the case that your current policy covers you for basic treatment, and you can rest safe in the knowledge that you are covered in the run up to taking out a new policy.
Private healthcare policies may well be more affordable that you realise, and finding out the cost now could help you budget for your new life in Portugal. Put your mind at rest and click here to get a free, no-obligation quote from leading healthcare provider BUPA today.
Once you begin working in Portugal, it is worth checking with the new employer whether or not they provide any kind of health benefits. If they do, make sure you find out if there is a period of time that has to pass by before they kick in – e.g. you may not be eligible for benefits until your probationary period is over. If this is the case, you will need to take out insurance to cover you in the interim period.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning the existence of plenty of private clinics all over Portugal that typically charge around €40 (approx. £32) for an appointment with a GP. Many people pay to make use of these facilities to avoid waiting in state doctor’s surgeries, and this is an option for those without any other form of cover.