Since we moved to Lisbon, Portugal, we were always trying to avoid seeing doctors or any public service here due to the complicacy and the language barrier. However, sometimes things just didn’t happen as planned. You may wake up and freak out with one painful ear in the morning like me. Well, I hope you never do.
Last October back in 2018, there was a morning. I woke up with a really painful ear on the left side. In the beginning, I thought it might just be caused by improper sleeping position and ignored it. And was naive to expect it would be fine in a day. But the earache just became more and more severe. On the second night, I couldn’t even sleep because of the pain. Therefore on the third morning, I had to search for a doctor. Without private insurance, I may need to pay at a relatively higher price for consultation fees in private hospitals or private clinics here. So my husband and I went to the nearby health centre to check for luck. Just for your reference, if the first health centre you go to is not the right one for you to register, it is ok, they will give you a list of health centers responsible for your location. Then choose the one that is convenient and go there.
Before figuring out all these, all seemed to be very very complicated to us and no clear information online. We didn’t know how to see a general practitioner/specialist/dentist here. And always got annoyed when most of the receptionists cannot speak English. Sometimes in this country, you may feel helpless when you don’t speak the language.
After trying out all kinds of experience, we would like to share our experience to all of you who are expats in Lisbon. Hope this article might help you.
In order to be convenient using all kinds of services in Portugal, the first thing you need to do once arriving here is to get your NIF number (the fiscal number as your tax code). With this NIF number, you can open a bank account, buy private insurance and register in public health center as well as get Servico Nacional de Saude (SNS) number (the number of your health card). This SNS number is very useful in both public or private hospital. With the SNS number on the prescription paper, you can get discounts on most medicine that is covered by the national health system.
Try the Public Healthcare
Health Center is called “Centro de Saúde”in Portuguese here.
Step 1: Register yourself in the local health center near your residential area:
- Residence Permit/ Residence Card/ EU certificate
- Address proof (rental contract)
- NIF (Tax Number)
- Social security number (Optional, really not necessary)
- Mobile phone number
Online there are many articles saying that you must need to have social security number to register in the local health center. Well, it is not entirely true. They will ask you for it, but if you don’t have, it is not a problem. They will still register you in. Meanwhile, many other posts might also tell you that you will be assigned with a family doctor once you have registered in the local health center here, however, it is not. Basically due to the limited resources, the health center will not assign any family doctor to you, and you just need to see any doctor available if urgent.
We went to the health center called “Centro de Saúde da Lapa”. And they are very efficient. If you are going here, then our experience might give you some good tips.
- Go there in the early morning, the security guy (luckily he can speak English) will tell you to come back before 12:00 p.m. and wait there during 12:00 – 14:00 to get your ticket number. They will give you tickets a bit earlier than 14:00 and have only 10 tickets per day from Monday to Friday.
- Once you get the ticket number, then soon you will be called to register through their reception counter. Just be noted that the receptionists don’t speak English. You can ask the security guy to help if he is available.
- Normally, if you prepare all documents right, there would be any problem.
- After successful registration in the health center, you will receive a paper with all your information and SNS number there. This paper will use as your health card every time you need to make an appointment for consultation in health centers.
Step 2: Make An Appointment For Consultation (“Marcar uma consulta”)
Right after registering in the health center, you are eligible to make an appointment to see a general practitioner there.
Make an appointment to see a GP:
- Walk in to queue to make an appointment via receptionists in health center
- Phone call if you can speak Portuguese
In the Centro de Saúde da Lapa, normally you can see the doctor on the next day. Or if you go there really early in the morning, then you might be able to see the doctor on the same day. Except the receptionists don’t speak English, the security guy called Pedro and all the doctors and nurses there can speak English.
Consultation fees for a general practitioner / GP in health center: €4.5.
GP will have a basic diagnosis and checkup. If there is any other checkup needed, the GP will give you prescriptions on clinic analysis, ultrasound scan and so on. Normally the health centre offers the very basic clinical analysis such as blood test. But for ultrasound or radiology or others, you might need to go to a private clinic or hospital where you can do it. In this case, it is better to have private health insurance so you can save some money. Go to make an appointment for the examinations, then bring back the reports to GP.
GP will give a specialist referral if necessary. It takes several weeks to months for an appointment of a specialist depending on the urgency of your situation. For example, Richole went to ask for a referral to an Orthopedist in public hospital to check up on her right knee. And the appointment was 8 months later since it was not urgent.
Better Go with Private Hospitals/Clinics:
With Portugal public healthcare system, it is quite enough if you have just small issues or you are not in an urgency to see a specialist. When it comes to see specialists or better service, we also have to look into private hospitals or clinics for other special cases.
If you have purchased private insurance covering here, then it is easy. For us, we use Médis as our private insurance. We paid around €115 for two per month including dental care. Generally, we just check out the network covered by Médis. Then find a hospital or clinic nearby, then call them or email them or walk in to make an appointment for a consultation or exam. CUF is pretty simple and fast to make an appointment through their website and app. And most doctors speak English. For other hospitals near you, the appointment might take about 1 – 4 weeks. It is better to find a place you feel comfortable with and do those regular yearly checkup. For us, we chose the hospital in Chiado since we live nearby. Everything here starts in a hard way. Once you get through it, it becomes easy.
To book an appointment, you just need your name and contacts. With the doctor’s prescription, you can purchase the medicine in the pharmacy anywhere. In case you need some checkup, for example, a blood test (also called analysis clinica) or ultrasound, you can book in any hospital or clinic within Médis network. Luckily most doctors in Lisbon can speak English, however not every receptionist can be able to do so.
Generally, with Médis, the consultation fee is generally €15, X-ray costs €7, ultrasound scan costs €12.5. However, the costs in different clinics and hospitals might vary depending on their deals with the Médis insurance.
For dentist, if you purchase the medical insurance package with dental care, then it is quite affordable to get basic treatments or checkup in private dental clinics. We found a really good dental clinic called “Clínica Dentária de São Paulo” near Cais do Sodré. We just went there to make an appointment for teeth checkup and treatment. Actually you can also call them to book your first appointment. They can all speak English well.
Just for your reference about the price: with Médis insurance, I did one tooth filling and basic checkup which costs only €15. My husband did X-ray scan and teeth cleaning which costs only €20. For one wisdom tooth abstraction, it only costs €15.
And for dental emergency, you can walk in Santa Madalena dental clinic in Columbo shopping centre which opens at weekend until 00:00. Therefore, it is very affordable for basic checkup and treatment. We feel really happy to find somewhere to take care of our teeth here. Because before seeing the dentist here, we have heard from a lot of friends saying it really expensive to get dental treatment in Europe. Honestly, things are not that freaking out once you figure it out.
Currently, we prefer using private hospitals since they offer much better services and are affordable with co-payments of private insurance. For waiting time of the appointment, you need to be patient, or ask for a few places and leverage your situation.
Choose Your Private Insurance
We chose Médis as our private insurance just because we found it easy to get. Since we use Activobank which has cooperation with Médis, therefore we purchased the option 2 + dental package after checking their large network and good deals with many clinics or hospitals. You might also consider other private insurance like Multicare, AdvanceCare, etc.
Médis generally offers 3 options. You can get a quote here to check how much you should pay.
We have captured the general co-payments from Médis Health Insurance application form for your reference.
In general, most of the doctors here in Lisbon can speak English well and they are commonly very gentle and helpful. The expense of seeing a doctor is quite affordable in both public and private hospitals with private insurance. Sometimes, it is just the beginning that is difficult. Anyway, we hope nobody needs to see doctors. However, just in case you need or just wanna do a yearly checkup, maybe this article is something you are looking for.