Spanish healthcare

Being ill is hardly fun at the best of times but when you’re far away from home with a different medical system and language to understand it can be a nightmare. Luckily the healthcare system in Spain isn’t too complex. This section aims to give you a good introduction Spanish healthcare and make you aware of the options.

Medical system

As with the UK, there are both public and private healthcare systems in Spain. There is also a network of private health insurance companies.

The public healthcare system offers all citizens universal health care through a tax-financed scheme. The vast majority of the Spanish population use this system. All individuals select a primary care doctor who they see whenever they’re unwell – If you’re moving to Spain you’ll have to register with one. They will usually be able to see you for non emergency consultations within a day or so. It is through the primary care doctor that access to the rest of the system, such as specialist referral, is gained. Unless the case is urgent seeing a specialist can involve moving up a long waiting list. The same is true of minor and elective surgical procedures. If you wish to see a doctor who speaks your own language the easiest way is to ask at your embassy or local consulate and they should make a list of physicians available to you. Medical care in this form is usually free but remember that dental and optical care is part of the private healthcare system.

The most popular private healthcare providers in Spain are Sanitas, Adeslas and Asisa. The waiting list for treatment through such companies is usually a lot shorter than the wait you can expect from public healthcare, but it will cost you! Private health insurance is held by roughly 15% of the Spanish population, and they use it to supplement public care or as a complete alternative to it.


The general emergency number in Spain is 112. You can ring this number to request an ambulance and to talk to a phone operator who can walk you through such medical procedures as mouth to mouth resuscitation.

If you are ever involved in an emergency situation in Spain and you or the person at risk have no health insurance don’t worry, just get to the nearest healthcare provider for treatment. Every healthcare organisation in Spain must treat extreme emergency patients whether they have health in insurance or not – It’s the law.


In Spain a green flashing cross on a storefront means one thing: Pharmacy. The pharmacies take the provision of night time and holiday care in turns. Pharmacists in Spain are trained to be able to give treatment advice for many minor illnesses and conditions. As a result of state imposed price restrictions, medications tend to cost significantly less than in other countries and many are available over the counter.