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Health Insurance for Spain: The Expat Healthcare Guide

If you’re heading to Spain – either as a tourist or an expat – it’s critical that you understand how you can access the healthcare facilities on offer. We’ve put together a complete guide to health insurance in Spain to help you ensure that you can get the treatment you need while away…

The reality is that many tourists and expats visiting Spain from another EU country are under the impression that an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) grants them free and unlimited access to healthcare in Spain.

Sadly, this is generally not the case. Numerous stories exist of disappointed visitors not receiving the standards of care they expected. If you are heading to Spain shortly and are looking to understand how the healthcare system works and whether you need health insurance read on for our detailed explanation of the system as of 2016…

“Free” Healthcare Access

As in most countries there are two broad forms of healthcare on offer in Spain; public, state-funded facilities and privately-run facilities. Interestingly, while the queues in private clinics may be shorter, many expats report similar standards of care whether opting for private or state facilities.

Some expats moving to Spain will be entitled to “free” healthcare if they meet one of the following requirements:

  • Employed
  • Self-employed
  • Retired

Health Insurance for Employed Expats

Those expats who move to Spain in order to work will generally be registered for a social security number and will then pay into the Spanish system. Thanks to these payments working expats will then gain access to the state-run Spanish healthcare system.

Health Insurance for Self-Employed Expats

Self-employed expats living and working in Spain can also gain access to the public healthcare system. In order to do so you will need to register yourself for local taxation. Under this system you will then receive a social security number and will be entitled to free care at public hospitals.

Health Insurance for Retirees

Retirees who choose to move from the UK to Spain will find themselves able to access free healthcare in Spain. In order to do so you will need to have reached the state retirement age in the UK, and should then request as S1 form. Once filled in, a reciprocal arrangement between Spain and the UK will kick in, granting you free healthcare when living abroad.

“Free” Health Insurance for Travellers in Spain

Visitors to Spain from within the EU can make use of an EHIC card in order to gain access to the healthcare system. It should be noted, however, that such a card really only gains you emergency medical treatment (rather than long-term care) and is only suitable for temporary visitors.

Due to the severe limitations of this option, therefore, many travellers exploring Spain opt to take out supplemental health insurance policies offering broader care.

Visitors from outside Europe do not gain access to the same European Health Insurance Card system and so should regard private medical insurance mandatory in Spain.

Private Health Insurance for Expats

SpainExpats who do meet any of the above requirements will not have free or discounted access to the State-run medical facilities.

Instead you will need to make use of two possible alternatives.

The first of these is a “buy in” through the “convenio especial” system. Here you pay into the National Health Service and in exchange gain access to its facilities.

That said, this solution is far from perfect as it has a distinct number of limitations. A good example of this is that such individuals will find their prescriptions are not being subsidized so will need to be paid in full.

The second option is to opt for a fully-featured private health insurance policy for Spain. Such policies are generally recommended as the best option due to the level of coverage provided.

Not only will such a policy grant you access to all the services that you require but they also cover medical repatriation and cost-effective dental care.

Health Insurance for Children

Children of all nationalities automatically gain access to free medical care in Spain.

As a result it is considered unnecessary to take out further coverage for dependants, unless of course you require the extra peace-of-mind which comes with the additional coverage. Some private health insurance policies are able to offer supplementary care to children also.

Dental Care in Spain

If you are planning to make use of the State-run medical services then it is important to realize that dental care generally isn’t covered. For this reason those individuals relying on the national system will need to pay for all their dental care out of pocket.

This is in contrast to many fully-featured private medical insurance policies which include dental care as standard. As a result such a policy, while not cheap at face value, may turn out to be much better value than you had initially realized.

Prescriptions in Spain

Generally speaking Spain operates a co-payments system for prescriptions. This means that you are unlikely to receive “free” medications while in Spain, though it is likely to be heavily subsidized.

It is interesting to note that unlike the UK where most working adults pay the same fixed fee for prescriptions, in Spain the policy is rather different. Here the level of subsidy you enjoy depends on your taxable income; the more you earn the more you will pay in general. Furthermore while some people’s annual contributions for prescriptions are capped at a maximum, others are not.

Therefore if you expect to need prescription medication while visiting or living in Spain it pays to investigate how the system will work in your case to make budgeting for such eventualities much easier.

Lastly, be aware that as with many other Spanish businesses many pharmacies maintain “Spanish” hours. In other words many drug stores close for much of the afternoon (2-5pm typically) but then re-open after “siesta time” and work late into the evening.

As a result it is wise when requesting a prescription to consider when you’ll be able to collect it. Try to avoid afternoons if possible in all but the most cosmopolitan areas or you may be disappointed to find the pharmacy closed.

For a no-obligation quote on private health insurance for Spain please click here.

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