The national health service in Portugal and you

What is the difference between a Medical Card (Credencial) and a Cartão do Utente, and who can have which?

Medical Card (Credencial)

A Medical Card is peculiar to British and Norwegian passport holders only and is issued by Segurança Social Internacional. To qualify, a national of Norway will be required to prove the existence of a Norwegian National Health Service Pension, while a British national will not be asked to produce a similar document from the UK authorities.

The credencial is normally applied for when taking Portuguese residência and may save the cost of expensive private medical insurance. The Portuguese social services will inform the British or Norwegian authorities that you are now a resident in Portugal and using their National Health Service. Technically, the individual is not then supposed to return to their home country for medical treatment without the completion of a specific form provided by the British or Norwegian authorities, along with confirmation from the National Health Service in Portugal that the treatment you need cannot be supplied in Portugal.Once the credencial is obtained, it needs to be renewed annually, showing proof of residência.

UK pensioners holding a credencial are allowed cheaper prescriptions, provided they can prove that they are in receipt of a DHSS pension.

Cartão do Utente

A cartão do utente is applied for at your local Centro de Saúde. This card is basically proof of registration with the health centre and takes the format of a plastic card with a magnetic strip. The Portuguese authority is working towards a database which will allow the card to hold information relevant to your medical history (whether allergic to penicillin, diabetic, epileptic etc.) which will obviously be of assistance when visiting the doctor or being admitted into hospital in an emergency.

There is still quite a backlog of applications and not everyone has yet been issued with a card. However, you should be given a Guia (Guide) to work with, until such time as it becomes available.

While identifying specific rules that apply to nationals of Norway and the UK, it is important to note that other EU nationals fall within a separate category, and non EU nationals into yet another, in terms of the provision of documentation that will result in a successful application.