Registering for State Healthcare in Portugal: A Step-by-Step Guide

The points below lay out how it should happen

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Registering for state healthcare in Portugal is not an exact science - this is due to the fact that local officials often differ significantly in how they interpret the rules; it’s hard to produce a definitive guide.
 
The points below lay out how it should happen, but it would serve you well to keep in mind that individual experiences can and do often vary!
 
1. Determine whether or not you qualify
In theory, access to Portuguese state healthcare is based on residency, so if you’ve become resident in Portugal, you shouldn’t have any problems. 
 
Sadly, this isn’t always how it works out. In some areas, local surgeries will want proof that you’re contributing to the system. If you are self-employed or working, this part is easy – as it is if you are of official retirement age and can obtain an S1 form from the UK before you leave. On this basis, the people most likely to experience issues are early-retirees and those who are moving to Portugal but not working.
 
2. Gather your paperwork!
The main things you will usually need to sign up with the medical system are: your passport, proof of residency (usually an EU registration certificate), and a social security number or S1 form.
 
The social security number is the most likely sticking point. If you register as self-employed or get a job in Portugal, you will automatically have one. However, if you don’t fit into one of these categories, you will have to see how you get on at the local Seguranca Social office.
 
3. Visit your local Centro do Saude
Armed with the paperwork listed above (and for good measure, any other Portuguese paperwork you have in your possession), you should visit the local surgery and ask to sign up.
 
It will smooth the path if you do this in Portuguese, or at least attempt to.
 
4. Try to get a family doctor
The Portuguese health service is overstretched, just like the NHS. As such, many people get registered at the local surgery without being assigned a family doctor. 
 
If this happens to you, it’s customary to approach a doctor and ask if he or she is willing to take you on as a patient. This is a good time to approach your network of local friends to see if anyone can introduce you. Having a family doctor usually makes getting appointments quicker and easier.
 
5. Get used to the appointment system
The real proof of how things are going to work out is when you actually need to see a doctor. If you have an assigned family doctor and an organised surgery, this can prove easy. On the flipside, a busy surgery and no assigned doctor can mean arriving at 8AM, taking a ticket (supermarket deli counter style) and waiting all day with the possibility of being sent on your way if time runs out.
 
How things work at your particular surgery will probably dictate whether you stick with the Portuguese state system - or do as many locals do and “pay as you go” for a private GP!

Further reading for Living In Portugal

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Finding work in Portugal

There are a number of ways that UK expats can fund their lifestyle in Portugal.
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Social life in Portugal

The best way to get settled in Portugal is to find out as much as you can about your new community.
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Heathcare

One of the first things you need to do once you arrive in Portugal is find out where your nearest hospital is.
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Education in Portugal

Are you emigrating to Portugal with school-age children?
 

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