Italian healthcare

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Italy is one of the world’s top ten countries when it comes to healthcare provision.

The main criticisms levelled at the public Italian health service are to do with its limited resources when it comes to out-patient/psychiatric/geriatric treatment, nursing and post operative care. Long waiting lists are another common cause for complaint.

Bear in mind the fact that the importance of regular health checks is not promoted as heavily in Italy as in other nations, patients generally organise health checks with their doctor rather than the other way around.

An important thing to note if you have children is that in lower and upper secondary school a health certificate must be produced if they are to engage in any sporting activities.

The Italian healthcare system is called the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale or SSN, which is mainly directed by local health authorities and regulated by regional governments.

This system of state insurance aims to offer the entire population a consistent and effective level of care. It provides family doctors, hospital treatments/accommodation and specialist care.

All residents, students, families and retirees are provided with affordable or free health care by the SSN regardless of their nationality, employment, contributions or income. Medicines are also either free or subsidised. If you are a citizen of the EU or an Italian resident you qualify for the same healthcare benefits as a local but emergency care is also given to foreign visitors.

Private health insurance is required for anyone not entitled to public health benefits and proof of coverage is needed when applying for residency.

If you do qualify for health care under the SSN than any dependants of yours (spouse and/or children) are also eligible.

Registering with the SSN

In order to register with the SSN you must make an appointment at your closest local health authority and bring the following documents with you; passport/Italian driving licence, family status certificate, permit/residence permit, fiscal code card, a statement from the INPS which proves you have regular employment/an unemployment office registration card/proof of admission into an educational establishment, and (if applicable) a letter from your employer detailing the date you begin or began your employment.

Following the registration procedure you will be asked to select a family doctor and issued with a health card. You and all of your dependents will also receive a national health number. Health cards must be annually renewed and must also be replaced if your address changes.


In Italy doctors are nearly as common as pizzas. The nation has the highest number of doctors per head of any country worldwide but it can still be quite difficult to find one which speaks English in certain parts of Italy.

Embassies and consulates should keep a record of English speaking doctors in their area.

You can register with any doctor who has the space to take you. Surgery hours do vary but are generally from 8 to 10 am and then 3 to 5 pm. As most surgeries apply a first-come first-served system appointments are rarely necessary but the waiting time can be quite long.

When ill your doctor will assess your condition and issue you with a prescription or request further testing/refer you to a specialist if necessary. Specialists who are registered with the SSN generally have their consulting rooms in SSN facilities and state hospitals.

If you decide to register with a private doctor the services offered will be of a high standard but consultations and treatments can be pricey.


As is often the case the difference between private and public hospitals in Italy can be vast but most agree that the quality of medical treatment available in each is of a similarly high standard.

The best hospitals are to be found in the prosperous northern and central regions of Italy and many have a particularly good reputation for specialist treatments. Unless the situation could be considered an emergency a doctor must refer you for treatment at a hospital.

In public hospitals any in-patient treatment under the SSN is free but a ‘ticket cost’ of around 40 euro’s must be paid for any out-patient treatment. If you aren’t covered by the SSN then treatments must be paid for in advance.

All public hospitals have a 24 hour accident and emergency department.

It is the prerogative of any patient under the National Health Service to request that operations are performed in the hospital or city of their choosing.

The accommodation provided in public hospitals is usually of a low standard, particularly when viewed in comparison with the luxurious facilities provided in many private hospitals. Also, whilst public hospitals often have quite restricted visiting hours, private hospitals regularly have no restrictions. The high quality of private hospitals is reflected in the high prices they charge for treatments. Although the Ministry of Health sets a minimum charge for private operations how much each hospital charges for a procedure can vary wildly.


In an emergency situation dial 113 and ask for the required service.

Private Health Insurance

Not only is having comprehensive health insurance a really good idea but it is mandatory for all non-EU residents who are applying for a residence permit or VISA.


In Italy chemists are privately owned and there are no chain chemists. Most chemists are family run and many Italians go to them to seek advice on minor ailments.

Medication costs also aren’t fixed by the government so can vary significantly.

The majority of chemists are open from 8.30 am to 12.30 pm. After closing for lunch the chemists reopen from 3.30 to 7.30 pm.

It is common practise in Italy for doctors to prescribe homeopathic medicines and these are stocked by all chemists.

As the brand names of certain medications differ from country to country before leaving for Italy ask your doctor for the generic name of any medications you take. Bear in mind that you may not be able to get certain medications in Italy.