Everyone on Portuguese territory has the right to medical care. This is stated in the law. To get access to healthcare, you just have to apply for a personal healthcare number. As an immigrant, you can apply for this ‘número de utente de SNS’ at the health centers or citizens’ shops. SNS stands for Serviço Nacional de Saúde, the national health service.

Health insurance just after immigration

When we just arrived in Portugal and went to register ourselves at our new municipality, there was uncertainty about health insurance. Officially, with the deregistration from the Netherlands, we were no longer covered by our Dutch health insurance.
However, the (over accurate) civil servant demanded us to prove registration with a health insurer before we could be registered as a resident in Portugal. While you can only apply for a ‘número de utente’ or private health insurance if you officially live here…
It was that same chicken-or-egg issue, again…
We found a simple and effective solution: we gave a copy of our Dutch insurance cards and immediately afterward, we took private insurance. (Which, by the way, doesn’t cost us a fifth of the Dutch one).
In hindsight, we realized we had not been insured for a few weeks because of this. So actually, you should arrange that better beforehand. For example, we got permission from the Dutch car insurer to extend the insurance for a number of months, until our car had a Portuguese license plate. Something like that should have happened with our health insurance too…

Healthcare: public or private?

Healthcare in Portugal is separated between public and private care.
Public care is accessible to everyone. All you have to do is register for free. You then pay €4.50 for a consultation with your GP and €18,- per emergency at the first aid.
The quality of the care is good, but the waiting times can be long.
To give an example from yesterday’s news: over 12,000 people are currently waiting for surgery in the Azores.

With private health insurance, you have access to a network of private clinics and hospitals. Here the waiting times are shorter. Network coverage is minimal in remote areas. Via the network of our insurance, we cannot find a doctor within a radius of 20 km.
You also pay an amount per consultation, which differs per insurer/specialist.
Most private insurances work with a ‘seguro’, the insurance to cover the costs, and a ‘cartão’, which allows you access and discount for their medical network.

How to apply for a ‘número de utente’ to access public healthcare?

Coming from one of the other EU member states, it is fairly easy to apply for a número de utente. This is possible at your local healthcare center. You must bring your ID, proof of residence in Portugal and your NIF. It was done in fifteen minutes! We were immediately assigned to a family doctor.
Again, a bit more integrated 😉

PS: You often read that you get a ‘cartão de utente’ with the number on it. But most of the times you will initially receive half an A4 sheet with a stamp.

At our local health center, they hang this sheet on the bulletin board. As you can see, immigrants from outside the EU have to meet more requirements than we did. (click to enlarge)

Portuguese words about healthcare

to apply forpedir
personal healthcare numbernúmero de utente de SNS
general practitionermédico de família
healthcare centercentro de saúde
citizens’ Shoploja de cidadão
health insuranceseguro de saúde 

26 feb 2020



  1. Good morning,
    Thank you for your informative post.
    We have been told that we need to get a temporary utente number before we do our appointment at SEF for our residence card.
    Is this correct?

    1. Hello Duncan, thanks for the compliment.
      Unfortunately, I can’t answer your question, because we are EU citizens and we didn’t have to deal with the SEF. A ‘temporary’ number sounds a bit unlike the Portuguese system.
      Isn’t there an official list of the SEF, stating what you need for your residence card?

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