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Spain Healthcare System

Life expectancy in Spain is among the highest in Europe, with the healthcare system in Spain one of the best in the world. Highly ranked by the World Health Organisation, Spanish hospitals have state-of-the-art equipment and offer a good standard of care. Most hospitals employ English-speaking staff or provide patients with access to translation services.


Spain’s Healthcare System

The Spanish government invests a high proportion of GDP on healthcare, with a high number of practicing doctors (who must pass rigorous qualifying exams). Each of the country’s 17 Autonomous Communities now manages their own healthcare system. All Spanish residents (including expats) with a social security number are entitled to free or low-cost healthcare in Spain through the national healthcare system (Sistema Nacional de Salud). 75 to 100% of the total cost of treatments are subsidised. 


How to Access Healthcare in Spain

Families and individuals requiring healthcare in Spain should register with a local health centre (known as a centro de salud or centro de asistencia primaria or CAP) or a general doctor with an individual practise (médico de cabecera). Once registered, you will recieve a SIP (Sistema de Informacion Poblacional) health card (required to access state healthcare services or treatments). The local doctor should be your first point of call for non-urgent medical ailments and in order to be referred to other specialists within the state Spanish healthcare system. 


Spanish Healthcare for Expats

Expats from European Union countries have access to the public healthcare system in Spain for the first 3 months of their stay, until becoming a Spanish resident, through agreements between their countries. For example, the European Health Insurance card entitles British citizens to free primary health care in an emergency. After the initial 3-month period, expats should start paying into the social security system to access public healthcare, or should take out private insurance. Citizens of non-EU countries must organise private health insurance cover in order to obtain a residence visa.


Private Healthcare in Spain

Spain’s public healthcare system is widely used by those who live and work in Spain, with some residents also opting for a private health insurance plan. Many expats (and Spaniards) use the private system for its lower waiting times and greater selection of options. Many multinational companies in Spain also provide their employees with private health insurance.


When it comes to choosing the best private health insurer, Sanitas is our chosen partner. Sanitas has more than 60 years of experience in the sector and belongs to the prestigious Bupa Group that manages hospitals worldwide. Sanitas offers the best health policies and can tailor-make your policy according to your specific requirements. Find out more via our partners in Barcelona.


Access to Medicine and Pharmacies in Spain

For medicine and prescriptions in Spain (una receta), you should go to a pharmacy (farmacia) where many types of medication that usually require a prescription, such as antibiotics, are available over the counter (meaning a visit to your doctor is not always necessary). Another key difference that most expats will notice is that most hospitals will not directly issue a prescription. Instead, the patient receives a medical report, which they should take to a GP in order to receive a prescription. Residents are required to pay a percentage of the cost of their prescription medication, which is calculated based on their age and income. If you present your SIP (Sistema de Informacion Poblacional) health card, you won’t need to pay the full up front cost.


Most pharmacies in Spain open from 9.30 am until 2 pm and then again from 5 pm to 9.30 pm from Monday to Friday. Most will open from 9.30 am until 2 pm on Saturdays and are closed on Sundays. Outside of these times, you should go to a 24 hour Farmacia. The location of the nearest one will usually be listed on your local chemist’s door.


Most Dentists in Spain operate in private practices.  Children’s dentistry and emergency treatment for adults are covered by the Spanish healthcare system, however other procedures are not so private dental insurance is advisable. 


For more useful information on moving to Spain, including finding somewhere to live, the cost of living in Spain, setting up your finances, local education and more, visit our step-by-step guide at 

More useful information about Moving To Spain