Healthcare in Spain

Spain is a popular destination for working expats and retirees alike. It is one of the largest countries in western Europe, and expats living in Spain will be treated to a diverse natural environment and a range of cultural experiences to enjoy.  

Expats in Spain will also be able to take advantage of a high quality of life for a relatively low cost of living. Those with permanent residency will be able to take advantage of a range of government services, including subsidised education and healthcare.

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The public healthcare system in Spain is generally considered to be of a high standard. Spanish hospitals are modern and well-equipped, and staff are knowledgeable and well-trained. Most hospitals in Spain also have accident and emergency departments. Expats should keep in mind that most medical staff are not fluent in English, but a voluntary translation service is sometimes available.

The National Health Service of Spain has a wide network of hospitals and health centres located throughout the country. These health centres provide primary healthcare services that include family and GP services, nursing and paediatrics, social workers and physiotherapists. Additionally, if circumstances require, it is often possible for the medical professionals to go to the patient’s residence.

Anyone who pays into the Spanish social security system can make use of the government-subsidised public healthcare system. As with many other European destinations, expatriates or visitors who are from another European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) member state and can present a valid EHIC or equivalent will be able to use the Spanish public healthcare system at the same cost as locals. For the most part, unemployed, non-EU citizens will not be able to use the public healthcare system and will have to make contributions to a private medical insurance scheme throughout their stay in the country.

Spain has some bilateral agreements with countries such as Peru, Paraguay, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil and Andorra, and these citizens can also avail of government hospitalisation and medical care in cases of medical emergencies or accidents. In order to make use of these services expats will need to carry the health certificate from their country of origin or pay upfront and claim a refund once they have returned home.

Despite the high standard of public healthcare in Spain, most expats and wealthy locals opt to make use of private healthcare. Expats using private healthcare will be able to avoid the queues and waiting lists associated with the country’s public healthcare system. Spanish private hospitals usually have excellent facilities and deliver high quality, attentive service and improved comfort for patients.

Private healthcare in Spain can be exorbitantly expensive, and as such it is essential that all expats intending to use it take out comprehensive international healthcare insurance. Without the assistance of private health insurance some treatments in private hospitals can be prohibitively expensive.

Pharmacies in Spain are abundant and easily accessible. Spanish pharmacists are usually knowledgeable and efficient and can often recommend medications and treatments without a doctor’s prescription. Expats living in larger urban centres will find that some pharmacies are open 24-hours, while there are even a few that will deliver medication to one’s home. Expats living in rural Spain may have more difficulty getting medication after hours.

Expats who qualify to use public healthcare will be able to purchase most medications at reduced rates. It is advisable to find out the generic name of any long-term prescription drug, as brand names tend to vary from one country to another.

Expats in Spain will be able to use the general EU emergency number, 112. Operators on this line will be able to speak English and communicate with the relevant local emergency service. 061 is the specific local medical emergency number for Spain.

Those living in urban areas will have access to timely emergency response services, whereas expats in rural areas may experience longer wait times or even have to drive themselves to hospital.

Expats should also take note of the number for their home country’s embassy or consulate for cases of emergency.