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Health Service

Spain - Health Service

Each of the 17 regions in Spain is responsible for the provision of healthcare in the region. Central government simply oversees the budget. There are a wide range of clinics, hospitals and surgeries within each region and healthcare is available either free or at a very low cost to those who are enrolled and contribute to the social security system. Most residents are no more than 15 minutes away from the nearest health centre and there is the facility to be seen at home if needed. In rural areas clinics may only be open on a part-time basis and staffed by professionals from different health centres around the region. Most hospitals have an accident and emergency department and there are smaller accident units at some health centres (centro de salud). Occasionally it may be the case that you need to travel to another area if the facilities for treatment are not available locally.

It is normal when needing surgery in Spain to be added to a waiting list although these are generally not as long as the waiting lists in the UK. Many people will have private healthcare insurance for situations where they need surgery in order to avoid waiting, so this keeps waiting lists at a minimum. Spanish medical staff deal only with medical treatment, all other care is expected to be provided by the family or carers.

It is considered that the overall standard of healthcare in the country is good and in most hospitals there are staff who can speak English. If you should need to visit a health centre then they can often arrange for an interpreter if one is needed.

In 1998 the Ministry of Health (Ministerio de Sanidad y Consumo) issued the ‘Carta de Derechos y Deberes’ which is a charter outlining the services to which both patients and medical staff are entitled. A leaflet outlining this can be collected from any hospital or health centre. The charter gives patients the right to choose their own doctor and health centre. The Ministry is also responsible for checking the qualifications of medical staff and all medical staff needs to be registered in their own region with the local Medical Association.

In order to qualify for low-cost health care a resident needs to be registered with the department of social security. They will be given a certificate to prove their status and which will allow them to make an application for a health card (Tarjata Sanitaria Individual - TSI). This will cover around three quarters of the cost of treatments and medicines. The rest of the cost can be covered by the patient or by private medical insurance, which is readily available. Those who do not qualify for registration with the social security department will need private insurance which covers the full cost or will need to pay the full cost themselves. The health card will need to be presented when you visit a hospital or health centre for treatment.

Anyone who is living legally in Spain is able to register with the social security department but they must be employed, self-employed, a student, a civil servant or in the military. All residents are issued with a social security number which stays with them for life. If a worker does not have a number it can be requested by the employer. Proof of ID such as a passport is needed, along with a certificate which proves residency status.

If you should need emergency medical treatment during your time in Spain then you can call the emergency services using 112. Those who have a Spanish social security card or one of the European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) are entitled to free emergency treatment, but only in state hospitals, not those in the private sector. Any treatment not considered to be an emergency will be charged as usual. There are some agreements with other countries such as Brazil and Andorra where emergency medical treatment can be free but those from other countries outside the EU will need to have private medical insurance.

There are counselling organisations in most areas although these services are not often free. There is now a branch of the Samaritans on the Costa Blanca which does offer a free service and there are plans to open more around the country.

Spain has some of the strictest anti-smoking laws in Europe which have been recently introduced due to the high numbers of people who die there each year from smoking-related illnesses. Other health problems such as obesity and heart disease occur regularly although levels are not as high as they are in other countries.

Useful Resources

Counselling in Spain
Directory of counselling groups

Costa Blanca Samaritans
Tel: 902 88 35 35

Ministry of Health website (in Spanish and English)

Expat Health Insurance Partners


Our award-winning expatriate business provides health benefits to more than 650,000 members worldwide. In addition, we have helped develop world-class health systems for governments, corporations and providers around the world. We want to be the global leader in delivering world-class health solutions, making quality health care more accessible and empowering people to live healthier lives.

Bupa Global

At Bupa we have been helping individuals and families live longer, healthier, happier lives for over 60 years. We are trusted by expats in 190 different countries and have links with healthcare organisations throughout the world. So whether you're moving abroad for a change of career or a change of scene, with our international private health insurance you will always be in safe hands.


Cigna has worked in international health insurance for more than 30 years. Today, Cigna has over 71 million customer relationships around the world. Looking after them is an international workforce of 31,000 people, plus a network of over 1 million hospitals, physicians, clinics and health and wellness specialists worldwide, meaning you have easy access to treatment.