Every resident of Spain has a right to healthcare, and in theory expats have the same rights here as a national as soon as they have declared themselves resident at the town hall and tax authority.

The Spanish healthcare system is a non-contributory system paid for by tax money. Each autonomous community has its own budget. Non-Spanish nationals will automatically have access to the health coverage once they become residents, although EU citizens may be able to receive international coverage from their country of origin. Generally non-residents will use a scheme called the convenio especial. It’s important to remember that European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) are for emergency care only, and should not be confused with a medical card.

Access to healthcare

If you are working in Spain, either for a company or as sole trader, you will be paying into the social security system and so will be able use the health service for all medical needs. Pensioners from EU countries are treated free of charge (this is actually paid for by their country of origin) but there is a small charge for their prescriptions depending on their income in Spain. For example, a pensioner earning less than €18,000 (approx. £14,500) a year will have to pay 10% of the cost of their prescription medicine per year, and those earning greater amounts will pay more. Those living in Spain unregistered do not have access to medical care except in the case of emergency, pregnancy, contagious disease or if they are under 18. Doctors do however often treat patients regardless, or refer cases to the European Court of Human Rights.

The health service is extensive throughout the country.

The Spanish Healthcare System

Regardless of your situation, one of the first things you need to do once you arrive in Spain is find out where your nearest hospital is, the name of your nearest doctor, how to register with them, and the best time to make an appointment at your surgery.

The health service is extensive throughout the country, despite government cuts, so once you have received your medical card you will need to find a local health centre (known as either the centro de salud or the centro de asistencia primeria (CAP)) close by and will need to then register yourself and all family members. This is where you will go for routine medical services such as GPs, paediatricians and nurses, and they will usually also provide a first call emergency service 24 hours a day. For anything other than an emergency, you will need an appointment and waiting times vary from centre to centre.


Medical care in hospitals is excellent and A&E services are usually quick and thorough. If you need to see a specialist, you will be referred to the hospital by your GP. Local hospitals are well run, clean and efficient but rarely have extra facilities such as coffee shops or family rooms.

Visiting times are longer than in the UK and there is often no limit to the number of people allowed to visit at one time, so it can become noisy. However, medical attention is generally very good and caring. All hospitals have outpatients departments. Nowadays many GPs and specialists speak English, but it is not advisable to assume they will.

Living - Healthcare

State medical care in Spain is available for all residents of the country.

Private healthcare

There are numerous public and private hospitals and medical centres in Spain, and for those who have taken early retirement or are not working, private healthcare will usually be the best option. This can be provided by UK Health Insurance providers or Spanish ones, and the cost will depend very much on your age and medical history.

It’s important to shop around, and consider what each private health insurance company provides – and perhaps most importantly, what they don’t! Read the small print. Most companies have their terms and conditions available in English.

One of the many benefits of private healthcare is that you can choose where you are treated.

Dentists are always private in Spain and are usually of a very high quality. However, they will usually require a high payment that is not covered by your health insurance.

Prescriptions and pharmacies

Medication can only be purchased at a pharmacy, Farmacías, but these will usually be found on every street.

One of the many benefits of private healthcare is that you can choose where you are treated.

The amount you pay for your prescriptions depends on your income. Those who work and earn less than 18,000€ a year will pay 40% of the cost, between 18,000€ and 100,000€ will pay 50% & over 100,000€ will be 60%.

Certain registered chemists can offer medical consultations and advice on treatments.

Important telephone numbers

For emergencies, dial 112, for ambulances 060. It is quite possible that the person who answers will speak some English, but don’t count on it.

We can recommend a leading private healthcare insurer who is able to look after your health interests abroad.

Healthcare Abroad 2018

Taking care of your health doesn’t stop when you move to Spain. With Brexit on it’s way, there is now an added level of uncertainty about cheap and accessible healthcare overseas. This is why we have produced this guide to Healthcare Abroad in 2018 which provides information on:

  How to get Spanish healthcare
  Private medical insurance
  Planning ahead
  How overseas services compare with the NHS
  What could happen after Brexit

Download your free guide to healthcare abroad in 2018

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