Healthcare System in Brazil

Understand what to expect from the Brazilian medical system if you're moving there to live and work or to retire…

Most major urban centers have at least one private hospital and in popular tourist areas there are generally more.

Foreigners in Brazil will find that English-speaking general practitioners, dentists and opticians are not always readily available. If in an emergency situation an English-speaker is not available, it is suggested to call an international hospital.

Brazil’s health service infra-structure consists of government health services, non-profit health organizations (NGOs), and the private medical sector.

Government-funded health care

Health care in Brazil is funded by the Brazilian Government. The Ministry of Health (Ministério da Saúde) is responsible for public health services, government hospitals (also known as Municipal Hospitals) and medical services. Any legal citizens, including foreign residents, are entitled to free healthcare at a public clinic or hospital by producing an RG (Brazilian identification card) and an SUS card (Cartão SUS).

Government-funded hospitals and clinics offer good medical services. However, government hospitals are often crowded because they are free. Waiting times can be long and the facilities may not be as good as those found in private hospitals (such as air-conditioning or certain items of medical equipment). This is especially true in rural areas. Around 70 per cent of Brazilian residents use public hospitals, while the rest opt for private hospital visits, which they either pay for themselves or which are covered by private medical insurance. Foreigners may use private hospitals but will be charged for the visit.

Around 70 per cent of Brazilian residents use public hospitals, while the rest opt for private hospital visits, which they either pay for themselves or which are covered by private medical insurance. Foreigners may use private hospitals but will be charged for the visit.

The Brazilian Government oversees public health programs such as Farmácia Popular whose aim is to make essential medications and drugs readily available for the population (at affordable prices) in pharmacies throughout Brazil.

The private sector

Most of the private hospitals in Brazil have excellent medical facilities and Brazil is one of the leading medical tourism destinations in South America.

Non-profit organizations (NGO)

Brazil has a variety of agencies set up to help disadvantaged people in Brazil including the Red Cross (Cruz Vermelha Brasileira). Other agencies include:

The SUS card (Cartão SUS)

Brazil's Unified Health System (Sistema Único de Saúde) is normally known simply as SUS. This is a collective term for the public, private, and supplemental healthcare systems. To access any of these, an SUS card (Cartão Nacional de Saúde - SUS) is needed.

The SUS card has recently been replaced with an electronic National Health identification card system. The only difference between the old SUS card and the new National Health Identification card is the addition of a personal identification number. This number allows a patient's health record to be accessed via a central database from any public or private hospital within the Unified Health System network.

The aim of the card is to create a better system of coordination between public and private sector healthcare institutions regulated by the Health Agency (Agência de Saúde Suplementar). Despite the new name, the National Health Identification Card is still commonly referred to as an SUS card.

How to apply for an SUS card

SUS cards are issued by all Brazilian municipal offices , hospitals, clinics, and health centers. They can also be pre-ordered online. The SUS card is issued free of charge.

The following documents are required to obtain an SUS card:

  • A Brazilian identity card or birth certificate. The identity card may be called a cartão/carteira de identidade, a cédula de identidade, or 'RG' (General Registry, Registro Geral) depending on the Brazilian state of residence.
  • Proof of residence
  • Individual Tax Payers Number (Cadastro de Pessoa Física - CPF)
  • Marriage certificate or divorce certificate (where applicable)

For more information on the SUS card visit the Ministry of Health website (in Portuguese)

Health Portal

Once issued with an SUS card, holders are able to register for a password, which allows them to access their medical records online via the Citizens Health Portal (Portal de Saúde do Cidadão, site only available in Portuguese). The user can review their records and add personal health information like allergies.

  • Find further information on governmental health procedures and facilities from the Ministry of Health
  • Saude Brasil is a health education site, which provides useful information and articles (in Portuguese)
  • More information about the new electronic SUS card can be found on the Cartaosus website (in Portuguese)