Spain is often hailed as a leader in healthcare. Many people believe that all of its citizens have access to free medical care. But is this actually true? Is there free healthcare in Spain? Whether it’s from your family doctor or a nearby hospital, let’s learn more about Spanish healthcare. Over 91% of the Spanish population uses the public healthcare system which is known as the National Health System (SNS). This means that almost every individual receives quality medical care.
But how exactly does free healthcare in Spain work? Can you just visit any hospital or clinic and expect to be treated for free? In this blog post, we explore whether Spain has a system of free healthcare or if there are charges involved. Read on to find out your rights as a tourist in terms of medical care when visiting this beautiful country.
Analyze your situation
Depending on your legal situation, there are certain ways to access free healthcare services in Spain. Below we discuss some of the most common cases.
Healthcare if you live and work in Spain
If you plan to stay in Spain for over three months, you must register as a resident or apply for the applicable visa. This will then allow you to make social security payments, which are mandatory in Spain. These payments contribute towards private health insurance and the national health system and provide access to private medical care.
If a Spanish company or organization employs you, your employer must deduct these payments from your salary. Alternatively, you can pay for private insurance covering private medical care and access to private hospitals. As a working or self-employed individual in Spain, you are granted the same state healthcare benefits as Spanish citizens. Plus, your dependents also qualify for these comprehensive health services.
Head down to your nearest clinic and register with your social security number obtained from the National Social Security Institute (TGSS) in Spain. Furthermore, you are eligible for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) that allows access to medical care at private or public hospitals within any EU nation.
If you are not working and not entitled to an S1 form
After five years of living in Spain, you can apply for permanent residence and gain access to the same state healthcare system as any native citizen. Once approved for permanent residency status, head over to your local INSS office and register for a health insurance plan.
To be able to access healthcare while abroad, you must present a “legislation letter” (or “documento de no exportación” in Spanish). You can obtain this document by contacting the NHS Overseas Healthcare Services. With this evidence provided, you will then have the ability to receive necessary medical care overseas. Upon acquiring the document from the INSS, you must head to your local health center. However, permanent residence registration is impossible if the UK pays for healthcare via an S1 form.
If you are not a permanent resident and you are not working
After residing in Spain for over a year, you can join the public health insurance program called “Convenio Especial”. At an affordable monthly cost, this allows access to all of the Spanish healthcare services. However, being eligible and gaining acceptance into the plan requires proof that one has been on the ‘padrón’ (at your local town hall) consistently for at least twelve months before applying.
If you have been living in Spain for less than one year and cannot access healthcare coverage, purchasing private health insurance is an option. On the other hand, if the UK offers to cover your healthcare expenses through an S1 form, then you are unfortunately not eligible for a Convenio Especial. However, should you start receiving a UK State Pension, applying for an S1 with them may be possible! So visit your local health authority’s website now and learn how to register today.
If you’re dependent on someone living or working in Spain
Suppose one is classified as a dependent on someone eligible for state healthcare coverage in Spain (due to employment status, permanent residency status or Spanish benefit receipt). In that case, you must fill in an application with your local INSS office. A family doctor and private healthcare coverage may be available for a fee.
For private medical insurance, private insurance companies offer comprehensive private healthcare coverage at an affordable monthly rate. Furthermore, private sector hospitals may provide specialist doctors and emergency services in addition to hospital treatment. Additionally, private medical services can cover prescription medication and other necessary costs.
Accessing emergency treatment as a tourist in Spain
From tourists to EU/EEA residents, Spain’s public hospitals are available for emergency medical treatments that are considered urgent or severe. Suppose you’re visiting the country on holiday and have a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), also known as Tarjeta Sanitaria Europea in Spain. In that case, access to free healthcare is granted at any public medical facility.
Before you plan your trip to Spain if you are from a non-EU/EEA country, it is highly recommended that you purchase travel insurance for any possible healthcare matters that may occur. Keep in mind that the hospital will decide whether your situation qualifies for free treatment with an EHIC scheme. Being prepared in advance gives you peace of mind should anything occur while traveling abroad. For non-life-threatening situations, make a doctor’s appointment through an insurance provider or use your EHIC.
Who is entitled to free healthcare in Spain?
All Spanish residents, including salaried and self-employed people, children, pregnant individuals, and students aged 26 or younger, can receive complimentary healthcare courtesy of the government. Other citizens may also get free medical treatment if they fit these criteria:
- Holders of a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
- EU/EEA nationals with private health insurance.
- Foreign nationals who are registered as residents in Spain, paying taxes and making Social Security contributions or private medical insurance payments.
- Students aged 26 or younger, even if they are not Spanish citizens.
If your UK employer sent you to Spain temporarily, you can access healthcare in Spain using an EHIC, GHIC or S1 form. With an EHIC or GHIC, you can access the same state healthcare as Spanish citizens. If your employer provides an S1 form, you can access free healthcare in Spain.
Is it free to go to a hospital in Spain?
If you are a Spanish citizen or an EU/EEA visitor, then the treatment offered at public hospitals in Spain is free. You only need to present your national health card (Spanish citizens) or EHIC (EU/EEA visitors). However, remember that certain things such as optional vaccines and particular medications may come with additional costs. Those enrolled in the Convenio Especial will be responsible for paying the total cost when obtaining prescription medication.
With the state system, a few basic dental treatments are available; however, most people prefer to use private dentists. Also, different insurance companies have customized policies when it comes to dental coverage. Also, be aware that any test you may take, must be prescribed by your family doctor in order to get access to a specialist.
How can I get public healthcare in Spain?
Hospitals in Spain are among the best in the world. The Spanish Government regulates the public healthcare system. Private insurance companies, as well as private hospitals, are available in order to provide additional services. You must register for a social security number using your passport and residency card to receive public health coverage. Then, present proof of registration with your local town hall (padrón).
Once you have obtained the necessary documents, visit your nearest clinic to request an assigned primary care doctor who will give you a health card to access private healthcare services provided by public hospitals and private clinics.
A word from SpainDesk
While it’s easy to see that Spain does offer free healthcare for its citizens and legal residents, it’s important to recognize that the system is not without fault. Issues like overcrowding, long wait times, and a lack of specialized services are just some of the complaints lodged by those with experience in the Spanish healthcare system.
You may choose to supplement the state system with private health insurance or private medical insurance in order to ensure you get access to the best quality care, when and where you need it. It’s important that you understand your options before making a decision about your healthcare. Ultimately, free healthcare in Spain is essential for ensuring a healthy society and a flourishing economy in the future.