Access to public health care without social security number

As an EU citizen, having tax residency in Portugal, are you eligible for public healthcare/insurance if you don’t have the social security number (NISS)? According to, I can see that one can register with a health centre by first requesting the SNS number (with NIF and residence permit as required documents). Is that the correct procedure? But then in order to request the EHIC card, the NISS is required, so I’m bit confused.


Hi Tom,

If you have a residency card for Portugal, then yes, you have access to the public healthcare and you would need to register with your local health center to get the SNS number. You will need that to apply for the EHIC.

The biggest problem we had was getting the SNS number. After more than 6 months of applying online, sending emails to multiple addresses, and being turned away multiple times when trying to talk to someone in person (they do not answer the phone to make an appointment), we were finally successful in getting to a real live human at the health center desk that would help us!

Two pieces of advice that no one tells you in advance (at least no one told us) of going to the health center:

  1. Not only will you need your NIF and residence permit, but you will also need a printout of something showing your physical address (the only thing they would accept were utility bills that were in our names with the address shown). I would also bring a copy of your passport - she told us she needed it when she told us to come back with the documentation, but I can’t remember if she kept that copy or not.

  2. Very important: Bring photocopies of all (including copy of the back of your residence permit) and sign each one (they will not make photocopies for you there) - they will keep these copies.

It took us 1 week to get the number after that first in-person meeting and we had to go back into that office to get the printout with our shiny new numbers.

At that point, you can then apply for your EHIC. Just a few of weeks ago we applied for (and received) our EHIC without an NISS number.

If you do NOT have a pension from another EU country, then you can actually apply for the EHIC without obtaining an NISS. There are two places on the application where you check that you do not have a pension and do not need/want an NISS (I don’t have a copy of it so I can’t tell you which two boxes to check, unfortunately).

Since the filling out that portion of the form is a bit confusing when you don’t have/need an NISS, the easiest way to be sure that you check the right boxes will be to go into the local Segurança Social office and they will help you check the right boxes. I don’t know where you are located in Portugal, but we were able to get into the Lagos office within a couple of days by calling and making an appointment.

Based on our conversation with the person issuing the EHIC numbers, it is our understanding that if you receive a pension in another EU country, you DO need to provide that information. It was not clear to us whether they issue an NISS from Portugal or if they get your social security number from your EU country - but one from somewhere will be needed.

The lady helping us told us that if you have a pension from another country, they tie the EHIC to that country and that’s the country that governs your benefits. Since we are US citizens and we do not have any types of pensions, this didn’t apply to us, so I can’t help much more than this.

If you DO need an NISS, make sure that you tell them you need both the NISS and EHIC, when you call to make the appointment (they DO answer the phone!) and they will schedule both application activities in the same appointment.

If you are in a hurry to get the EHIC because you will be traveling soon, they can give you a temporary certificate to use when traveling while you are waiting for the physical card to be mailed to our Portugal address. The card took approximately 2 weeks, maybe a bit less, to get to us via mail.

In all cases, going into the office is the best and easiest thing to do - it was quite quick and painless and we were able to make sure that our application didn’t get rejected by filling out the wrong form. Make sure you bring a copy of your SNS number document, your original passport, your PT residency card, and a copy of your NIF document when you go.

In all cases, our experience was all within the last month, so it’s pretty fresh - all of this is based on our experience dealing with the various offices in Lagos, so if you live somewhere else, your mileage may vary…


Thank you Cocoro, thats very useful information.

Always happy to share our knowledge and experiences in the hope maybe someone else’s journey goes smoother. :blush: We have benefitted a lot from the Nomad Community in our own journey, so hopefully we can pay it forward to help others.