This is something we posted in a Facebook group a few months back. The experience we had with a medical emergency in Portugal was terrifying and to be honest, it made us question whether we’d made a smart decision in moving here. Now we know better and are better prepared in the event something like this happens again. 

Below, we’ve included the post and the advice of what we can do in the future. Knowing the solutions has given us much more peace of mind.


“We had a medical emergency last week and had a really disconcerting experience with the emergency operator, the ambulance and two nearby public hospitals.

I’m wondering what could have been done differently to have had a better outcome. This happened in LISBON. In the city center; not in the middle of a cornfield or anything.

Without going into too much detail, I’ll just say that my friend almost died gasping for air between the almost comically bad care from the ambulance responders and then was left without any care for over 90 minutes in the public hospital to the point that she had to order an Uber to take her to another hospital in the middle of the night where the woman at the check-in counter at the new emergency room just shrugged and said, “nao” when my friend eeked out that she couldn’t breathe and needed help. At that point my friend collapsed in tears and a stranger in the waiting room helped her get a doctor to actually see her.

So my questions are:

  1. Is 112 the right number to be calling for an ambulance? That’s number I called for the ambulance but the operator was not only rude, they showed no sense of urgency in ordering that ambulance and basically interviewed me for 15 minutes while my friend gasped for air before they were willing to send the ambulance (which didn’t arrive for another 25 mins. The hospital is literally 5 mins from her house). So, is there another number I could have called for an ambulance?
  2. Are the ambulance drivers not usually paramedics here? The guys that arrived to help my friend had no medical equipment on them and did nothing to stabilize her. They didn’t bring up a stretcher or anything. They just stared at her blankly when they arrived as if they’d never performed a medical procedure or anything. They said they couldn’t perform anything medical because they were not paramedics. And again, there was no sense of urgency in providing care for my friend even as her breathing got shallower and as her lips began to turn blue sooo….is there another form of ambulance we should have called? How do we get paramedics to a location in the event of a medical emergency? If my friend had been having a heart attack or stroke, she would have been dead by the time the ambulance got there and/or from the lack of care when they arrived.
  3. Do Private Hospitals have ambulance service or paramedics that will come to you in the event of a medical emergency or do we have to drive ourselves to a private hospital’s emergency room?
  4. Are there such things as concierge doctors or doctors/clinics that have 24/7 on-call service where they will come to your location if you have a medical emergency?

Thanks for any advice on resources or different steps we can take in the future to make sure our loved ones get the appropriate care in the event of an emergency.”

Medical Alert Bracelet

First Aid Kit

Travel Hand Sanitizer


Here’s what we learned from people who responded to the post. I would first like to say to those who haven’t moved here yet that in general, the health care here is stellar and in our family’s experience, much better to the health care we received in California so this post is not speaking to health care in general in PT but to the emergency medical care we personally experienced during this instance.

From the other commenters on that thread, there seems to be a mixed bag of experiences (some great and some horrible) but this was our experience and it was honestly terrifying.

This is what I’ve learned from the responses to my post so far.

  1. If you call 112 (the emergency number), tell them that the person may be having a heart attack so that they’ll actually send a doctor or paramedics to the scene (no matter what the issue is). They don’t always send paramedics with the ambulance.
  2. This company offers some 24/7 emergency medical services. They should be able to order the correct type of ambulance for your needs.
  3. This company offers medical concierge services.
  4. Here’s a free service that offers similar services to Serenity (according to some commentors).
  5. Go to a private hospital with a 24/7 emergency room if you can (BUT you will have to drive/uber yourself there. Private hospitals apparently don’t have ambulance service)

**UPDATE: Apparently, not all private hospitals with emergency rooms are equipped to handle major emergencies. Everyone should research the hospitals in their area to figure out where they should go during a medical emergency (whether it’s public or private).

We still have to research those resources listed but it’s a start if you are considering relocating to Portugal or have already done so.

Also, I suggest having a printed document in your house with the emergency numbers, your address typed out, SNS numbers listed, insurance info listed, and a list of steps of what to do in the event of an emergency if you have kids who might have to call for an ambulance or it’s a friend who is helping you.

For example, I gave the wrong apartment number for my friend’s apartment when I first called 112 for her. Had I had that information all on one sheet, it might have helped.

Also adding commenter, Katie Skow’s important advice: “… based on an experience this week, that if anyone has children it is important to know whether or not the private hospital nearby does pediatric emergencies / urgent care.”

So add that to your list as well!

Wishing you all good health!! Saude.