Applying for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is an important step for anyone planning to visit Portugal (including Madeira).
EHIC holders are entitled to free or reduced cost medical treatment across all countries that form part of the European Economic Area.
This means that travellers can avoid the need to pay expensive medical bills if they become ill or are involved in an accident while travelling in Portugal.
How EHIC works in Portugal
Portugal’s healthcare system is broadly similar to the NHS in the UK, but EHIC holders may not get access to all of the care and treatment they would expect in their home nation. In some cases, it may be necessary to make a patient contribution in order to access healthcare in Portugal.
The Portuguese Serviço Nacional de Saúde is the national health service in Portugal, with local health centre services and hospitals all run by the organisation.
EHIC holders ought to be treated in exactly the same manner that a local citizen would if they were involved in an accident or fell ill while travelling in the nation.
Tourists visiting Portugal who hold an EHIC will get access to any treatment required to allow a tourist to continue a stay in the country until their return.
Pre-existing medical conditions will also be covered by an EHIC, as will routine maternity. However, women who travel to Portugal in order to give birth to their babies will not be able to access free or reduced cost treatment during their stay.
The number to call in cases of medical emergency is 112 in Portugal, the same number as it is across the whole of Europe.
Cost of healthcare in Portugal
Healthcare in Portugal is typically free of charge for holders of the EHIC, but patient contributions may sometimes need to be made in order to access treatment and care.
How a person accesses health services in Portugal is likely to have an impact on whether or not they will be expected to make a contribution. For example, it is free to access healthcare via an appointment made with a GP, but a consultation at a hospital’s accident and emergency department may require a fee to be paid. Co-payment is also often required for X-rays, scans and other tests.
No private healthcare is covered by the EHIC, so finding public healthcare is a must. This can be difficult in rural areas of the country and in the islands, where there may be no public healthcare facilities for many miles. House calls are not usually made by doctors in Portugal.
Many health centres (known as centro de saúde) in Portugal provide both public and private healthcare, so care must be taken to ensure public healthcare is offered, as no refunds will be possible for private healthcare, even for EHIC holders.
As a general rule, if a traveller is required to pay up front for medical care and treatment in Portugal, this means that it is a private facility rather than public healthcare services.
Repatriation is not covered by the EHIC and can be very costly, which is why travel insurance should be purchased alongside the EHIC in order to provide full protection before travelling to Portugal.
Dentists and prescriptions
Dentists in Portugal provide state healthcare without a charge to EHIC holders, although in some cases dental care that is state-funded is not always available.
Prescription medicines in Portugal tend to be subsidised between 15% and 90%, with the level of contribution needed dependent on the use of the medication. EHIC cards will have to be shown by travellers at pharmacies – which can be identified by a green cross – to access subsidised medicines.
Visitors who have pre-existing medical conditions can take their medicines with them, but they should be taken in clearly labelled containers and it is also recommended to carry a note from a GP – translated in Portuguese – to say what they’re for.