Health & Medical Care On Madeira – Information Sheet

Qualifying For Free Health Care Under The Portuguese Health Service.

If you are resident on Madeira, you are entitled to make use of the health service and enjoy the same benefits & standards of health care as a portuguese citizen with doctors & health centres. However, in order to obtain residency it has been necessary in the past to demonstrate that you already have medical protection in this respect, but you will be told this when you apply for residency at the Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras in the Loja da Cidadão, in Funchal. If you use the website link above you can click a button to see the english language version.

Once you have residency, any need for health and medical insurance becomes optional, as you can then apply for your medical registration and ‘health card’. Depending on your working circumstances, you may also need to show that you are registered with your local social security office (Segurança Social) and pay national insurance contributions.

There are cases where applicants have gone to their local health centre and been issued a ‘health card’ showing no more than their passport, and have seen a doctor that same day.

Anyway, however you manage it you will end up with a card called the ‘Cartão De Utente’, which will hold medical information about you on its magnetic strip, or you may be issued with a substitute document. Once you have registered you are covered (even if you have been issued with a temporary document), and you can then seek help or treatment from registered doctors at any of the health centres or hospitals on Madeira. The card will also entitle the owner to discounts on prescription medicines.

If you are unable to obtain the registration, particularly if you are waiting for your residency permit, then you will need to have a medical insurance policy to cover you. As a traveller, you can use the European Health Insurance card (formerly the E111) obtained in your own county, or use your travel insurance policy to deal with any emergencies, and in addition, some countries like the UK have reciprocal agreements with Portugal for assistance and treatment of each others citizens. This will cover any emergency treatments in health centres and hospitals.


Health Care Standards

Unless there is something to compare with, it’s hard to make comparisons, but feedback from people who have used the Portuguese health service has been pretty positive in all respects. Of course each hospital or health centre has good days and bad days, but the bad days are apparently few and far between, and it is fair to say that Madeira provides a very satisfactory medical service, that would compare well with the top european countries.

However, Madeira is a small island, and health problems of very specialised natures may not be familiar to the doctors here, or they may not have the equipment, hospitals or facilities to deal with particular specialist problems. In this case, if you are properly registered in the health care system of Portugal, you may be sent to the mainland to receive consultations or treatment, with nearly everything organised and paid for, including a meal allowance (€18 per day). Flights will be prepaid, but taxis to the airport will not be fully reimbursed for example (75%). If going to the mainland, you have an option to take a companion to help you as necessary. Normally an administrative and help contact is provided in your city of destination, so you can phone at any time for advice and support.

Doctors on Madeira may be reluctant to send foreigners to Portugal, so if necessary you should insist, and as a last resort complain.

Of course some things are done differently than elsewhere, and there have been adverse comments about food quality, hygiene issues, and lack of privacy..


How The Health System Functions

The hospitals on the island are located in Funchal, but major towns have their own Health Care facilities, and even some smaller towns have some facilities, known as the ‘Centro de Saude’. The health centre, depending on the size, will have a number of medical staff (médico/a = doctor, and enfermeiro/a = nurse). If you are making a routine visit, or are well enough to travel yourself, then you should go to your nearest ‘Centro de Saúde’ and report to the reception (if there is one), needing only to take your ‘Cartão de Utente’. If you don’t have one, take your European Health Insurance Card, or your health insurance policy, and also your passport (and Residency Permit if you have one). If you don’t have any protection, it is likely you will have to pay for any treatment.

You will need to wait until a doctor is available to see you, and if he cannot treat you, then it may be that you will be referred or transferred immediately to a hospital. Most doctors speak english very well, so a good dialogue should be possible. The doctor may give you a prescription to obtain medicine, which you will need to take to a chemist. If you need a repeat prescription, ask the receptionist at the ‘Centro de Saúde’, if possible show a copy of the previous certificate.

In the larger ‘Centro de Saude’, you will find facilities to deal with accidents and emergencies as well as the more routine problems and illnesses, and doctors will be available for longer hours.


Private Medical Insurance

If you don’t have the entitlement to use the Portuguese Health Service free then you need to ensure you have one of the other forms of protection previously mentioned. If private medical insurance is the only option open to you, for example as a non EU citizen, then you should keep it valid and present any documents at the request of medical staff.

Private Doctors

Private Doctors and Specialists are plentiful on Madeira with over two whole pages in the yellow pages in the telephone directory under ‘Médicos’. You should enquire about the cost before you agree to have treatment done.


You should dial 112 if you need an ambulance in an emergency, or find a listed number here bearing in mind you may be talking to the fire brigade, who provide ambulance services. Ambulance journeys can be chargeable, so if you can find your own way it may be quicker and cheaper. Road accident attendance are normally charged to the policyholder to reclaim on their vehicle insurance.



Dental care falls outside of the Portuguese health system, so you will always need to consult a private dentist, and their services are not cheap, a fact supported by the fact that a great many Madeirans never go to the dentist, or only in the event of an emergency. You should ask the dentist about the cost before you agree to have treatment done. You will find over 30 dentists in the yellow pages of the telephone directory listed under ‘Médicos – Dentistas’.


Opticians & Eye Care

Opticians are plentiful on the island, with a shop or more in most large towns. You need to pay for everything, as they operate outside the Portuguese health system. You will probably find them very helpful if you need a screw replacing in your glasses, but if you need to buy new glasses then you might find them comparatively expensive against prices in other countries. It is possible to have an eye test and then use the prescription to order glasses on the internet or use the same prescription in another country. Likewise, it is possible to see an optician in another country to obtain a prescription and use it on Madeira. You will also find over 20 opticians in the yellow pages of the telephone directory listed under ‘Oculistas’ and several opticians advertise in the daily paper ‘The Diário’.


Chemists /  Pharmacies

Chemists / Pharmacies are well represented across the island, with around 100 listed in the yellow pages and a presence in most towns, the shops with the green cross outside. If you have a minor ailment or just need some advice, your local ‘farmácia’ may well be a good port of call, as the staff are well trained and helpful, and are able to recognise most medicinal products you may be familiar with. Chemists / pharmacies also carry large stocks of non prescription items.

Many chemists / pharmacies open in the evening, some until late at night, and there are even 24 hour chemists / pharmacies. The YELLOW PAGES directory on-line may help.

Prescriptions are issued by doctors in the health centres and hospitals, and this is taken to the pharmacy. If you have a ‘Cartão de Utente’, present that also, as it may earn you a discount on the marked price. Often the medicine prescribed may have a much cheaper generic alternative, but the pharmacist is not permitted to make a substitution. It is often worth asking for an generic alternative, as it may be available without a prescription.


Tax Concessions

Medicines and many medical expenses are tax deductable for tax payers in Portugal. Ask for and keep any receipts safe. Also medical insurance is a allowable tax deduction.


‘ORDEM DOS MÉDICOS’ – This is the governing body covering doctors and medical facilities and specialists. You can contact them if you have a complaint about medical personnel, services and facilities on Madeira.

Complaints about public health institutions, including hospitals and health centres should be directed to the regional health administration office if they are unresolved at the point of origin.

However, you can now access an online complaints book, instead of asking for the ‘Livro de Reclamacões’, go to: Health Care Complaints Book Online

At this stage, this is only for complaints on matters of health care, but the principle is good, and hopefully it will extend to other areas. It’s certainly a lot easier than doing this in the environment where the complaint was incurred. The form is in Portuguese, but is not too hard to understand with the help of a dictionary.




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Schools & Education On Madeira – Information Sheet


The school education system on Madeira falls under the remit of the Portuguese education system, although there are some important differences outside of the curriculum itself.

The school year commences late September for most students, and runs across 3 terms, with breaks at Christmas and Easter, and then for almost 3 months during the summer. There are no half term breaks in Madeira schools.

Schooling is compulsory from the age of 6 until the age of 16 for all residents, although some children may start earlier if there is a nursery school or other preschool facility available. School registration usually requires a health check and the production of documents relating to identity and health care, and although there are set registration periods, if coming to Madeira from elsewhere there shouldn’t be any problems outside of these periods as long as space is available in the school.

Portuguese children would naturally go to their local state school, but some non-Madeiran parents choose to send their children to the private English school in Funchal, but through that option there is of course a impact on the speed and thoroughness of that child’s integration into Portuguese society and culture.  Fees would be payable, and any private school would have to be registered by the Department of Education and follow national and / or international curricula. 

State schooling is state funded, with the exception of books and equipment, clothes and meals, which are expensive and many parents find difficulty in funding. There are often arrangements in
place for transportation for children living in the more remote areas of Madeira.

Together, the primary and secondary school systems take a child through a minimum of 12 years (grades), and amongst the compulsory subjects, English is due to become taught for a period covering up to 4 years for Madeira’s children.

Primary School (Escola Básica)

Education at this level is split into phases (4, 2 & 3 years), and in the first phase the child may be with the same teacher and classmates for several years, normally studying or learning in less hours than in later years. Before proceeding to the next phase, the children need to be assessed for ability to progress, which can result in some children being retained for a further year.

Due to some issues of supply and demand, some schools work a double shift system, with early morning starts and early  finishes for some, followed by an second shift for other children.

In the second phase, the children generally stay together, working longer hours and may have several teachers, each  covering a group of subjects.

In the final phase, lasting 3 years, which takes the children up to the age of 14, students can branch out into new subjects according to their preferences, and will have a variety of much more specialised teachers.

Getting from year to year involves passing assessments, and if a particular child does not pass the criteria then they stay at the same level for an extra year before moving on, meaning that theoretically the normal finishing age of 14 can be considerably extended.

When each subject module is successfully passed, the student receives a certificate of basic education, and after the final evaluation the successful students gain a diploma which allows them to enter into secondary education, if they choose to do so, or they can finish schooling at that stage.

Secondary School (Escola Secundária)

The students here exercise further choices in more specialised subject matter, in courses spanning over a further 2 or 3 years.  The assessments are continuous, with annual exams in each subject. At the end students take exams, set and managed at a national level, and if they are successful in completing the third year then they are able to proceed to further education on Madeira or elsewhere if they choose to do so.


Education & School ‘Cycles’ for Madeiran Children

1st Cycle 1st Phase
1º  year / grade age 6
2º  year / grade age 7
3º  year / grade age 8
4º  year / grade age 9

1st Cycle 2nd Phase
5º  year / grade age 10
6º  year / grade age  11

1st Cycle 3rd Phase
7º  year / grade age 12
8º  year / grade age 13
9º  year / grade age 14

2nd Cycle
10º  year / grade age 15
11º  year / grade age 16

2nd Cycle for University Entrance
12º  year / grade age 17

3 years

Adult Education

Madeira has its own university (UMa), where students can opt for courses to obtain diplomas and degrees, but a noticeable number leave the island to take their course on the mainland, usually Lisbon, rather than stay on Madeira where the choices are understandably more limited.

Adult education classes are available around Madeira, often through night school, with the aim of providing poorly educated adults with an opportunity to better themselves and their careers. They run for up to 3 hours a night on every weeknight, and are free for residents to attend. Some foreigners use these courses to try and learn or improve their Portuguese language skills, but it can be difficult as there is no guarantee that the teacher can speak English.

It is becoming more common to find language courses for foreigners wishing to learn to speak Portuguese, and in recent years classes have been held at Calheta, Ponta do Sol and Ribeira Brava.



Professional and technical qualifications obtained on Madeira should equate to EU recognised levels, and would certainly be recognised within Portuguese boundaries, but beyond that each country would have its own means of comparison. Demonstrating that difference, it would suffice to say that a degree gained at an English university would enable you to announce yourself as ‘Doctor’ on Madeira.


Standards Of Education

Madeira and Portugal are like any other country where good and not so good standards vary from school to school. By enlarge, it is usually reported in the local press that Madeira underachieves compared with the Portuguese national averages, but given the differences in the economy, maybe that is not so surprising.

Also, teacher moral is not high on Madeira due to issues such as pay, and changes in employment conditions and the teaching curriculum, with the latest issues being over retirement conditions and teacher evaluations, and there have been several strikes in recent years. The issue of teacher evaluations was overcome on Madeira, when the regional government unwisely decided to give them all a blanket evaluation of ‘good’ in 2008.

However, the measures for child assessment on Madeira are set nationally, and it is at least possible to monitor a child’s progress and spot at an early stage if the educational targets are not being met, and then it is not too late to take remedial action through further tutoring, or as a last result a change of school.




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Banks, Finance, & Currency On Madeira – Information Sheet

Banks, Banking & Finance

Madeira is well blessed with banking organisations, with at least 7 banks well represented on the island. Outside of Funchal, which hosts the Bank Of Portugal and other international banking institutions, much smaller towns on Madeira will have branches of some if not most of these banks. Hence the customer is king and can pick and choose who they do business with for the best terms and conditions available.

The Main Banks are:
Bank of Portugal (Funchal)
Barclays Bank (only in Funchal)
Banco BPI
Banco Espirito Santo (BES)
Banco Santander Totta
Banif (Banco Internacional do Funchal)
BPN (Banco Português de Negócios)
Millennium BCP
Montepio Geral
Caixa Geral de Depositos

As well as multiple branches across Madeira, internet banking is also available to manage accounts, bills and services, but not all have English language versions of their websites (BES & BPI definitely do).

All the usual services are available, such as personal current and savings accounts, cheques, cash withdrawals from ‘multibanco’ machines, direct debits for bill paying, credit cards, loans, mortgages, insurance and investment products, and a similar range of products and services for business customers.

The ATM machines, or cashpoints, are called ‘Multibanco’ machines. They are widepread in larger towns, and have numerous functions. As well as cash withdrawals, one can use them to pay bills, set up direct debits, transfer money to other bank accounts, to name just a few facilities. The instructions come up in Portuguese if using a Portuguese bank card to access, but with bank cards from other countries the language presented should be English.

Some key aspects of the banking system on Madeira are the almost instantaneous interbank money transfers, a speedy cheque clearance system, and the ability to manage accounts in different ways by branch, internet, and multibanco machines to the extent of setting up your own direct debit mandates.

Some Madeiran banks charge a monthly fee, others charge certain transaction fees, and some operate on practically no fees whatsoever for normal daily transactions. Banks don’t normally pay interest on current account balances.

To open a bank account you need to choose your ‘supplier’ and go along with your ‘numero de contribuinte’ (taxpayer reference) issued by your local Finance office. Take along also your passport, residência card (if you have one), and proof of address (utility bills). If you don’t have a Madeira address, you can still open an account, but check what documents you need.

If you don’t speak portuguese, you might be well advised to find a bank branch in Funchal or another major town, as explaining your needs and problems can be a little tricky.

If you have savings or wish to put some money away to earn interest, ask to link a savings account to your current account. You might not get the highest interest rate, but the convenience of an easy transfer between the two accounts may make it worthwhile until you find something better.

Normal banking hours are 8.30 am until 3.00 pm weekdays, though some larger branches stay open later for appointments and other services. Visitors to Madeira may be surprised to find that most bank staff sit or stand behind counters with virtually no security arrangements … long may it continue!


Currency Exchange

Banks on Madeira offer currency exchange, as do banks elsewhere, and also in some Funchal hotels. If you are just taking a holiday, then you can use those facilities, but take note that the exchange rate may be poor, and there may be commission charges.

To move large amounts of foreign currency to a Portuguese bank account may also incur conversion charges and a poor exchange rate. There are specialist currency exchange companies that operate low cost exchange deals on high value transactions, and its worth checking some of these out in order to convert your currency at the best rate before sending it to your bank.

There are other currency exchange offices, mainly in Funchal. The usual opening hours are 9.00 am until 1.00 pm, and 2.00 pm until 7.00 pm, Monday to Friday. Saturday hours differ. Portugal and Madeira use the Euro (€) monetary system, which has been in place since 1999.

The notes used are €500, €200, €100, €50, €20, €10, €5, the coins are in denominations of €2, €1, 50 cents, & 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1 cents.

The Euro monetary system bank notes are standard across the Euro using countries (15 in 2008), but each value of note is different in size and colour to assist with easy identification.

The coins are designed by the individual members to a European specification, with their own images one side, but are otherwise identical across the user countries.



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