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The healthcare system in Spain is generally of a high standard and combines both private and public facilities. Residents in possession of a Spanish social security number and the necessary documentation are entitled to receive free or low-cost healthcare.
Each of the country’s 17 regions takes individual responsibility for the implementation and execution of medical services within its jurisdiction, so expats may find healthcare provision differs slightly depending on their location.
Public healthcare in Spain
Public hospitals provide much of the primary healthcare and emergency services that Spanish residents require. Staff are generally efficient and well educated, and hospitals often employ personnel who speak English or offer the services of interpreters.
Public hospitals in Spain are well equipped. The downside is that the public sector has been known to suffer from staff shortages, and the waiting periods to see a specialist or have a procedure done can, in some cases, take months.
To be able to use the public healthcare system (Sistema Nacional de Salud) expats would first need to get a social security card at the Social Security Treasury Office (Tesorería de la Seguridad Social). It is then necessary to obtain a medical card at their local clinic, which will give them the right to use the services of the nationwide public health network.
Expats should note that a social security number can only be obtained if they have registered on the Empadronamiento, the municipal register.
Non-residents, unfortunately, do not qualify to receive universal healthcare, but there is a pay-in scheme for those who aren’t otherwise able to access state healthcare, called the Convenio Especial.
EU citizens can use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access state healthcare here during a short-term visit. UK citizens can make use of their Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which replaced the EHIC for UK citizens post-Brexit.
Private healthcare in Spain
Some expats prefer private healthcare in Spain in order to have access to more options for treatment and physicians, and to avoid the queues and waiting times of the public health system.
There are hundreds of private clinics and hospitals across the country, giving the Spanish private healthcare system a greater degree of accessibility.
While single consultations within the private system may be affordable for most expats, the cost of a medical complication or an emergency can quickly escalate. It is recommended that expats who plan to regularly utilise private care take out health insurance.
Health insurance in Spain
While the public health service sometimes only covers 75 percent of the cost of treatment, private companies generally pick up the full amount if the account holder pays their monthly premiums.
Most employers offer private health insurance for foreign assignees, so expats moving to Spain for professional reasons should check their contract before arranging their own coverage. Private insurance providers operate in different ways: some reimburse the amount spent on healthcare, while others pay medical bills directly.
Expats should note that most Spanish health insurance providers offer plans that best suit the local market, and it follows that contracting an international service provider or one that covers all of Europe might be beneficial.
Pensioners moving to Spain should take special care to ensure that they can obtain optimal treatment for the best price.
Medicines and pharmacies in Spain
Expats will not struggle to find a pharmacy in Spain, and can easily recognise them by a large green neon cross outside. Pharmacies are open daily, including on weekends, and some are open 24/7.
Just about all medicines have to be purchased at a pharmacy. It is not possible to buy any medication at a supermarket in Spain. Medicines are quite affordable thanks to strict price restrictions.
Emergency services in Spain
There are both state-run and private ambulance services in Spain. Both offer efficient and timely. Expats can dial 112 in the case of any emergency. This is a general emergency number. Operators are usually able to speak English and will dispatch the relevant emergency services.
Medical emergency number: 061
General emergency number: 112
►Expat Experiences in Spain provides first-hand insight into living in the country
"I have private insurance through a company called Adeslas. On the few occasions that I have gone to a doctor I had almost no wait time, it was remarkably easy, efficient and inexpensive." Learn more about American expat Dan and his life in Barcelona in his interview.
"Private insurance is what I think I’d get in the US – direct access to specialists, private hospital rooms for overnight stays, more comfortable waiting rooms.
Knowing I won’t be bankrupted if I have an accident or illness is a relief, and the doctors I have come across in Seville in both the private and public sector – general medicine, OBGYNs and paediatricians – have been patient and present with me." See Cat's interview to learn more about what she has to say about expat life in Seville.
Are you an expat living in Spain?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Spain. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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