I’ve been using the fine doctors at CUF Cascais since we moved to Portugal in 2021. The CUF hospitals are a network of private hospitals throughout Europe. I recently learned that I needed to have my gallbladder removed. Since one of the things that people ask us about a lot is the healthcare in Portugal I thought I’d share my experience navigating the Portuguese healthcare system from start to finish.
How Do You Set Up Healthcare In Portugal?
It’s understandable that when folks are considering a move to another country they worry if they will get good, accessible, and affordable care. Before we moved we did a very thorough job investigating.
Portugal has a public healthcare system and a private healthcare system. The public system is funded by the taxes the Portuguese people have paid into it and by the government. The private system is paid by users through private health insurance and direct cash payments.
When we first moved to Portugal we purchased private health insurance that was required for temporary residence. This type of health insurance is available through several different companies and insurance brokers.
There Are Choices
Some people prefer to use the public system even when they have private insurance. We will only use the public system for an emergency. We feel that since we haven’t paid into the public system we’ll use the private system whenever we can. The public system is fine but overburdened. Like many countries that have socialized medicine, you often need to wait for services. We don’t want to add more pressure onto that system.
We purchased Allianz as we have used them for years as a travel insurance provider. We’ve had them for over two years and have had nothing but good experiences with them and the local broker who quickly processes any claims we may have. We simply send them the needed information and they take care of the rest. They offer competitive pricing and different levels of plans to meet most needs.
Be aware if you’re researching private health insurance that prices are on the rise for 2024. We just received an email showing a huge increase over 2023 with less coverage and will be doing our due diligence in choosing our 2024 plan.
Ready To Go
Once you have your insurance in place you will need to research which hospitals, clinics, and doctors are covered on your plan (if you have specific doctors you’ll want to use, check this before you purchase the insurance).
Pro Tip: If you have a healthcare emergency you will need to call 1-1-2 the emergency number here in Portugal. You will be taken to a hospital in the public system.
How Do You Find A Doctor In Portugal?
Once you set up your health insurance you can begin to look for doctors. CUF makes it easy to search for doctors by their specialties on their website.
When we first arrived we knew we needed to get a “physical” and doctor’s note from a local physician to begin getting our Portuguese driver’s license. We asked some friends for recommendations and got one right away. A quick call to the CUF Cascais was all it took to set up appointments for later that week.
CUF also has a very handy app that we use to set up appointments, check records, and pay bills. It’s similar to the medical portals that most of you probably use in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world. You get access to the app when you first go to the CUF in person. They will get you all set up.
Once you are set up you can easily search for specialists that you’re looking for. Information is provided about each physician and clearly states their areas of expertise and which languages they speak. Most speak excellent English.
Preparing For Surgery
On my birthday this year, I decided to get a complete physical. Something I had typically done annually back in the U.S. It’s important to know that in Portugal you are the one in charge of your healthcare. You have to be proactive, ask a lot of questions, and ask about what tests to do.
One of the tests the doctor ordered based on my age was an abdominal ultrasound, which showed that my gallbladder was full of tiny sand-sized stones. The doctor who did the ultrasound asked if I had any pain or problems with it before. Thankfully, I had not. I had no idea these little guys made a cozy home in my gallbladder.
Since having the surgery I’ve heard way too many stories of long-endured pain and other side effects that sound awful. That’s another thing to note. Typically doctors handle the testing in Portugal. They will discuss the test with you as they do it or after it’s completed. I knew my mammogram was clear as I was in the examination room. That is something that is completely different than the U.S. and it’s great to get results for most tests right away.
Looks Like Surgery Is Needed
Once it was determined by my doctors and me that removing the troubled gallbladder was the best course of action we put a plan into place quickly. The surgeon told me his first available date and scheduled a couple more tests to be completed prior to the surgery. I had about a month to wait so no problem.
Scheduling appointments is easy. You can either do that on the app or on their website. You can also call or simply schedule them while you’re at the hospital, which is what I did.
Pro Tip: It’s important to know that the CUF Hospital is also the same place where you will have your doctors appointments. There are several throughout Portugal. Sometimes you may need to go to another CUF for tests that may not be available at the one you typically go to.
With the surgery date in hand and tests scheduled. I had nothing to do but wait. During that time CUF called me several times to confirm the date and time of the appointment. They also scheduled an appointment for me to meet with the anesthesiologist and a hospital nurse to discuss what would happen on the day of the surgery.
They also contacted my insurance company for approval and later told me what my out-of-pocket cost would be. It’s important to note that they gave me a “cost” but it turned out to be an estimate. My actual payment was about half of the quoted “cost”.
Very Thorough Planning
These were short but helpful appointments. I was given handouts and soap to wash with prior to coming to the hospital. This was all new to me. I haven’t been admitted to a hospital in over 30 years. I admit to being a little apprehensive.
They all did their best to assure me everything would be fine and happily answered all the questions I asked. I was told to bring my toiletries (these are not provided), my pajamas (which I never used), and a way to pay the bill. They also told me that someone would need to pick me up the next day. Thankfully Diana had agreed to do that.
Since my surgery was going to be performed laparoscopically it would be minimally invasive. Just four tiny incisions. However, it was still major internal surgery so I would be staying over one night to be sure everything was okay.
How Do You Pay For Healthcare In Portugal?
When you get set up at your local CUF they will ask for your insurance card and load that into the system. Your costs will then be calculated based on your coverage and a bill will be sent to you electronically.
You can then pay your bill online with a credit card or through the online banking system here in Portugal. You can also pay by using Multibanco. Those ATMs are quite impressive. You can pay just about any bill on them, withdraw cash, make deposits, etc. Let’s say that makes it very easy for you to pay your bills.
They Make It All Very Easy
If you have other medical expenses like prescriptions or any other items you will need to submit your receipts to your insurance broker and they will get your reimbursement. As I’ve said before this system also works very well and you get reimbursed quicker than you might imagine. Since everything is handled electronically the money goes directly into the Portuguese bank account that you choose.
Since I know you’re wondering… The cost of my surgery was about 500 euros, and the tests I took which included everything but the kitchen sink were about 350 euros, which included all my doctor follow-up visits and all the tests. I know I don’t need to tell you what the cost comparison would have been if I had this procedure and all these tests back in the U.S.
My Overall Experience Of Healthcare At CUF Cascais In Portugal
Overall my experience was a very good one. My doctors and the care I received and still receive are excellent. The surgeon warned me that I would be out of it for 3-5 days and I sure was. It took quite a while for the anesthesia to work its way out of my brain and body. And it took another couple of weeks before I felt myself again.
My stay in the hospital was top-notch. We sprung for the private room which was an extra 30 euros. I had no idea how I was going to be feeling when I woke up from the surgery. But I was sure I wouldn’t want to share that experience with someone else if I didn’t have to. Turns out it was a good decision. Although I was pretty out of it there was a nice couch for Diana to relax on and be comfortable, a small television, and a private bathroom. The room even had a small veranda that looked out on Cascais. I confess that I never used it.
The Surgical “Theater”
When they wheeled me into surgery I admit that I got a little clammy and nervous. Who really knows what’s going to happen? But the nurses were all smiley and happy. As they wheeled me into the surgical theater my doctor was in the little office next door and gave me a big wave and a huge smile. That really settled me down.
As they were rolling me in I heard them laughing and speaking in Portuguese about the music they would be playing. I then heard gentle yet familiar guitar music playing. “I know this song,” I was thinking. Then it hit me. Hotel California by the Eagles. What!?!?! I said to the anesthesiologist, wait! Am I going to check in but not be able to check out? They all roared with laughter.
She then said I’m giving you some champagne and put the drugs in my IV. I said, “Pink champagne on ice?” again they laughed. Then she gave me one more injection and said this one is vodka. I said I hope you have lots of water for me on the other side. Needless to say, this whole experience made me very relaxed and calmed my nerves.
That Was Fast
The next thing I knew I was opening my eyes in the recovery room. The whole procedure took less than an hour. After about an hour or so they moved me to my room.
Text Me When She’s Done
Diana said that they were very good about notifying her of my progression. They had her mobile number and texted her when I went into surgery, when it was over when I went to recovery, and when I was going to my room. Excellent communication.
Diana met me in the hallway as I was being wheeled into my room.
The nurses came in frequently to see if I needed more pain medication or anything else. I was up with help and walking to the bathroom in just a few hours.
Soon, a treat of green jello and a giant bottle of water landed on my tray. I’m sorry to say I had just one bite. I just wasn’t hungry. The nurse was so disappointed. She said that was the best one!
Breakfast Is Served
After my breakfast of apple tea and apple juice at CUF Cascais, the doctor came to visit and said everything was fine and that the surgery went great and I could go home! I was back home in my own bed before noon. The cats somehow knew not to walk on me but still came and snuggled and checked on me, too.
I’ve had to go back to CUF Hospital twice within the next week to have my dressing changed. The nurses were so nice. We shared several stories since I always had the same team.
Pro Tip: When you go to the CUF for an appointment you will need to first check in at one of the kiosks in the lobby. If you need help there’s someone there to guide you. You simply enter your NIF number and your appointment will come up. You print out your ticket and it will tell you what waiting room to go to in the building, on what floor, and what your number is. There are monitors that ding everytime a number is called for appointments. Just be sure you’re in the right place. I’ve made the mistake of not looking at the ticket and assuming I knew where I was going. Don’t do that.
I then went back a few days later to get my staples removed. I can’t tell you how nice and professional my doctor was and I really liked him. There’s one more follow-up appointment in about a month. So far my recovery has gone very well. I’ve had a few stomach issues as my system gets used to not having a gallbladder but all and all it’s been really smooth.
The Best Care Is At Home
Diana has been an angel and the best nurse I could ever ask for during this whole ordeal. Cooking healthy food when I was interested in eating and checking on me constantly to be sure I was ok. I am truly a lucky woman.
I hope learning about my experiences at CUF Cascais Hospital helps you to better understand healthcare in Portugal. Sometimes no matter how well we take care of ourselves we still need to rely on doctors and nurses to help manage our healthcare.
Pin For Later