The health system in Portugal

June 3, 2024

The Portuguese healthcare system offers universal coverage to its citizens and permanent residents, guaranteeing affordable access to essential medical care. This hybrid system is based on a strong public pillar, the Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS), complemented by a dynamic private sector. Here is some relevant information about Portugal's healthcare systems.

  • A public system accessible to all: the SNS
  • The tax-funded SNS is the foundation of the Portuguese healthcare system. It offers a wide range of free or reduced-cost medical services, including
  • Primary health care: general consultations, preventive medicine, vaccinations, etc., provided by local health centres (‘centros de saúde’).
  • Hospital care: Access to public hospitals for specialist treatment, surgery and emergency care.
  • Mental health: care for mental disorders and addictions in specialised centres.

Membership of the SNS is compulsory for all legal residents of Portugal. The registration procedure is simple and generally requires the presentation of a social security number and proof of residence. For more details, visit

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A complementary private sector

The Portuguese healthcare system also boasts a rapidly expanding private sector. This sector offers an alternative to patients looking for shorter waiting times, a wider choice of doctors and establishments, or additional cover for services not covered by the NHS.

Private health insurance is available to individuals and companies. They offer a variety of insurance contracts, with levels of cover and premiums that vary according to each individual's needs and budget.

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Functioning and challenges of the Portuguese healthcare system

The Portuguese healthcare system is managed by the Ministry of Health, which oversees national policies and the allocation of resources. The administration of the NHS is decentralised, with five regional health administrations responsible for managing care at local level.

Despite its strengths, the Portuguese healthcare system is not without its challenges. Shortages of medical staff, waiting lists for certain specialist treatments and an ageing population are just some of the issues facing the system.

In conclusion, the Portuguese healthcare system offers universal medical cover that is accessible to all. The SNS is the public pillar of the system, offering a wide range of free or reduced-cost care. A dynamic private sector complements the NHS, offering additional options to patients.