Centro de Saúde Healthcare in Portugal

“Ooh I couldn’t live abroad – what about healthcare?!” We have heard that said to us so many times before, and people often quote the need for having private healthcare as a pre-requisite for being able to live here in Portugal – which we have never had.

We’re just regular people on the normal state healthcare system here as residents .. although I have never actually had to use my ‘Documento de Identificação do Utente do SNS’ before .. until yesterday!

After a late night walk with our little dog on Sunday night, and having a shocking experience with two feral cats attacking us – my leg certainly came off worse with a series of nasty scratches and bites, and it was obvious that at the very least I knew that I would need a tetanus shot.

So I went off to our local Centro de Saúde in Lagoa at lunchtime on Monday with no idea how the system worked, but I was armed with a google translation of ‘I’ve been bitten by a wild cat” ( ‘mordido por um gato selvagem’ – seemed to work fine in case you ever need it!) and I had a great leg to prove it!

The man at the counter was very helpful – and marched me off to the ubiquitous ticket machine and handed me a ticket .. and told me to go and sit in the waiting room and wait for my number to be called … 45 minutes later I was called back to the same man at the same counter .. who checked my Utente number on the computer; I duly paid him 4.50€ and was given a printed sheet of paper with an appointment to come back at 5.30pm the same day.

(I know what you are thinking .. this is the Portuguese system at its finest .. why couldn’t I just go up to the man at the counter when I arrived, pay my money and get an appointment .. why did I have to sit for 45 minutes waiting with everyone else in turn to do exactly the same thing …. but hey this is the way it is, you just have to accept some things are done ‘a certain way’ !)

So I returned at 5.30pm and took another seat in the same waiting room expecting to make myself comfortable again … and my name was called literally 1 minute later and I was straight in to see a very charming and lovely female doctor. Within 10 minutes I had had a tetanus injection, and I left armed with a prescription for antibiotics and advice on keeping my wounds clean .. all for the original 4.50€ I had paid earlier. I was genuinely amazed that I did not have to pay extra for the tetanus shot.

And for the record – Betadine is brilliant stuff! It’s Povidone-iodine (PVP-I), also known as iodopovidone, and it is an antiseptic you can buy over the counter at the chemists … and the iodine in it also stains your skin a fabulous shade of brown; which even a local fisherman in the village recognised when I walked past him as he gave me a big thumbs-up and shouted “Oh Betadine – muito bom!”

They do a red bottle too – ‘Espuma’ which is great for cleaning wounds!

Off to the chemists and the second shock of the day was the price of my prescription for antibiotics – they cost me the grand total of 3.57€  which is quite frankly amazing. Friends on Facebook couldn’t believe either the low cost of all this, or the fact that I got an appointment to see a doctor the same afternoon – perhaps the UK system could learn a few tricks from Portugal.

Unlike in the UK, the Portuguese Health System isn’t completely free – even for Portuguese citizens. Nominal charges are payable by everyone, for tests, GP visits and other procedures; although if my experience yesterday is any indication of the pricing structure, it is by no means out of the range of the vast majority of the population.

For those of you that are interested in finding out more information – historically the fact that you were a foreigner (EU and non-EU) with residency or a residence permit or a work visa was sufficient for you to register and gain your SNS Health Care user card/number; although in practice we have heard lots of stories of people needing to produce their Social Security registration details before gaining an SNS number now …

The confusion seems to arise from the fact that if you are of legal retirement age and from the UK, 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 now if you have a job in Portugal or become self-employed (and therefore begin to contribute to Portugal’s social security system). That seems to be the ‘official line’ now although it does seem to vary depending upon which health centre you register with, and where you are from.

I have to say overall I was very impressed with the simple set up and how efficiently and kindly I was dealt with by everyone at the health centre.

Somehow paying our taxes and being legal isn’t such a bad thing after all!


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22 Responses to Centro de Saúde Healthcare in Portugal

  1. Catherine Lagasse says:

    Glad you came off lightly. My experience in Lagos is not that successful. For regular appointments, you have to present yourself at 08.00h sharp. Out of the 5 times I went 3 times I was sent away: no doctor today. Nobody speaks a word of English, let alone French. And even prepared in writing, the motto seems to be GO AWAY. I am dubious about the fact that a medical doctor (when I got a chance to see one) does not speak a word of English, which is THE langue of science after all! This being said, in my home country, Belgium, I doubt if my local doctor would be happy to speak English. Enough moaning, this is a beautiful country and the big Europe still needs to be built.

  2. samiveloso says:

    That was quite an attack Alyson. I hope you’re recovering well.
    The Portuguese public health care system is not so bad, and it’s very cheap too.

  3. Maria says:

    Yes, those are the prices. The antibiotics are generic for sure.

  4. Mary Caroline Brock says:

    Good blog – I’ve had to use the Albufeira Centro do Saudade quite a few times – yes, the system seems strange but it works. I have also had a life saving operation in Faro Hospital and I’m still here nearly six years later! Do not be put off by the elderly and somewhat foreboding buildings – the care is excellent.

  5. beyondlisbon says:

    I always find it interesting to read/hear a foreigner’s POV about something like the Portuguese healthcare system. Sadly, the ways the Centros de Saúde function depend so much on the people working there… Betadine is wonderful and horrendous at the same time (hate the smell) and just as a pointless trivia of the day I’d like to add that they also have a vaginal wash (!) and a mouth wash 😂

  6. Briege Mc Court says:

    I get impeccable service every time that I do go to Centro da Saude de Albufeira….it has always been like so…..wonderful +efficient

  7. Mary Caroline Brock says:

    Well now, since my previous comment – yesterday I went to the Health centre in Guia where I am registered. My elderly cat went ballistic at the vets the day before and bit me – one puncture wound. It was inflamed and swollen – the receptionist had to check with the Dr whether she would see me without an appt. – she agreed she would. Obviously I was at the back of the queue but I got seen, antibiotics prescribed and also a series of tetanus jabs. By the time I had waited for the nurse to do the jab and then gone to the chemist – it had taken me 2 hours. I don’t think that at this time of the year the private clinic would have been any quicker and I would have gone to the chemist in a tourist area which is very busy. Certainly the private route would have cost me far more than €4.50 plus the antibiotics ……….. Probably with very little time saving.

    • so glad you were seen so quickly .. you didn’t have to copy me you know to test the system out in the Guia area for us … hope you heal quickly – I can recommend a bag of frozen peas for your tetanus arm and Beatdine for the bite x

  8. Sonia BRUCE says:

    thanks for the post ! and best wishes for your healing! my first experience at Centro de Saúde de Portimão has been very similar and positive too 🙂

  9. quintarocha says:

    best wishes for your healing ! my first and only experience at Centro de Saúde de Portimão has been similar and very positive too…. Many Thanks to Portugal and Portuguese people 🙂

  10. Yvonne Marchent-Tuffs says:

    I went there the other day and was asked to pay over €30 instead of €4.50. Has any one else experienced this? I left and went to the chemist.

  11. Mikeywaz says:

    I’ve happily stumbled upon your blog and am enjoying following your experiences. (My husband and I are moving to Portimao from US in November.) This post is especially enlightening as health insurance is always a concern. I look forward to reading more of your adventures!

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