You’ve probably heard of the NIF, the tax number without which it’s impossible to do very much in Portugal. Well, another important number that you will need is the número de utente or SNS number.
The SNS number allows you to access the Portuguese public healthcare system. That doesn’t just mean emergency care at A&E but also access to doctors and nurses at your local centro de saúde (community healthcare centre). Because healthcare is important, this is something that you should organise as soon as you are able to, which is once you are resident in Portugal.
Finding your nearest centro de saúde
To register for your SNS number you will need to look up the centro de saúde nearest to your property. Google Maps is probably the easiest tool to use here, but there’s also centrosdesaude.pt. Don’t be put off by negative reviews on Google: just about every centro de saúde seems to have them.
You will then need to bring the following documents in order to register.
- Passport or ID
- Proof of residency, such as your CRUE or residency certificate
- Proof of address
- NIF, either on a card or the printed paper from Finanças (Don’t have one? Try Bordr or E-Residence or read more about getting a NIF here)
- Cartão de cidadão (citizen’s card) or, if you don’t already have your citizen’s card, your SEF invitation letter
- NISS or social security number (may not be asked for or necessary if you don’t work)
- Portuguese mobile number
The ease of registering and obtaining a número de utente can vary from one centro de saúde. It can even vary depending on who’s working on reception that particular day. Some people are incredibly helpful. Others, it seems, try to come up with reasons that you can’t register.
Although many doctors speak English, don’t assume that the person on the desk will. Because of this, it’s a good idea to learn some basic phrases in advance and to have memorised important numbers (like your phone number and NIF) and name in Portuguese.
That’s it. The person behind the desk should register you and give you your número de utente and you will now be able to book an appointment to see a doctor or nurse.
Due to the long waiting lists that are common within the public system, many expats also choose to get private health insurance to cut down on the costs of using the private hospitals. You can read more about private health insurance here.