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The World Health Organisation rates the Spanish healthcare system an impressive 6th in the world. Meanwhile, the UK only manages 24th – behind Chile and just ahead of Costa Rica.

Healthcare in Spain

The World Health Organisation rates the Spanish healthcare system an impressive 6th in the world. Meanwhile, the UK only manages 24th – behind Chile and just ahead of Costa Rica.

Surprised? The real shock is that most competitors expect the NHS to slip further down the league tables, while the Instituto Nacional de la Salud (the Spanish equivalent) continues to improve. But what does this mean if you’re planning to move to Spain?

It means that you can rely on the same standard of care that you would receive ‘at home’ – if not better. Since Spain and Britain are members of the European Union, their citizens can be entitled to free healthcare in either country. However, restrictions apply for people who retire early and who do not intend to work when they move to Spain.

A climate for good health

The World Health Organisation (WHO) believes that the Mediterranean Coastal area of Spain has one of the healthiest climates in the world. The area boasts over 320 days of sunshine a year, with extremely low rainfall and mild temperatures. (Learn more about Spanish climate and weather). The Costa Calida and Costa de Almeria is the driest and warmest region of Spain – even in December the temperature rarely drops below 17 degrees.

Spain is the market garden of Europe, with daily markets, mouth watering displays of fresh fish, meat and every type of fruit and vegetable. The acclaimed Mediterranean diet is recommended by the medical profession for its healthily balance and nutritional qualities. The plentiful supply of local wines provides a welcome accompaniment to local Spanish dishes, and Rioja is always a popular choice.

The local micro-climate is reputed to bring great relief to sufferers of rheumatism, arthritis, asthma and heart related problems. We all know that when the sun shines we feel good (if not great!), and this lifestyle could be yours every day of the year when you purchase your home in Spain.

But it's not just the weather; the diet, the pace of life or the quality of the healthcare services - all of these contribute to a healthier environment overall that should mean that people on average can live longer and healthier lives well into their retirements.


For those using their properties for holidays and who are non-resident, the Spanish Health Service is freely available to all British subjects under a reciprocal agreement with the European Union (you should carry the new European Health Insurance Card, or the form E111, available from main post offices). Even so, some form of travel insurance is still all but essential; with it, you should be able to claim back the cost of any drugs prescribed by pharmacies. European policies generally also cover your baggage/tickets in case of theft, so long as you get a report from the local police.

No inoculations are required for Spain, though if you plan on continuing to North Africa, typhoid and polio boosters are highly recommended. The worst that's likely to happen to you is that you might fall victim to an upset stomach. To be safe, wash fruit and avoid tapas dishes that look as if they were cooked last week.

For minor complaints go to a farmacia - they're listed in the phone book in major towns and you'll find one in virtually every village. Pharmacists are highly trained, willing to give advice (often in English), and able to dispense many drugs which would be available only on prescription in most other countries. They keep usual shop hours (9am-1.30pm & 5.30-8pm), but some open late and at weekends while a rota system keeps at least one open 24 hours. The rota is displayed in the window of every pharmacy, or you can check in one of the local newspapers under Farmacias de guardia.

In more serious cases you can get the address of an English-speaking doctor from the nearest relevant consulate, or with luck from a farmacia , the local police or turismo. If you have special medical or dietary requirements, it is advisable to carry a letter from your doctor, translated into Spanish, indicating the nature of your condition and necessary treatments. In emergencies dial 091 for the Servicios de Urgencia , or look up the Cruz Roja Española (Red Cross) which runs a national ambulance service. Treatment at hospitals for EU citizens in possession of a European Health Insurance Card or form E111 is free; otherwise you'll be charged at private hospital rates, which can be very expensive. Accordingly, it's essential to have comprehensive travel insurance.

The E111?

The E111 form 'transfers' your primary healthcare from the UK to Spain. You'll need to have it tamped by a British Passport Office and our advice is to get plenty of copies made as you'll need to submit one each time you need to use the Health Services. The form E121 is needed if you intend to live in Spain and you require any benefit associated with a disability or pension; such as free prescriptions. Both forms are available at the Post Office.

English Speaking?

One of the great benefits of being British is that everyone else seems to speak our language. English is widely spoken by health professionals in Spain, so you shouldn't have any difficulties in making your needs understood. If you have a specific health problem is might be worth learning some relevant Spanish words, or carrying a card with important information written down in Spanish.

Going Private?

There is a flourishing private healthcare industry in Spain, with insurance schemes to suit most needs and budgets. There are more than 140 private hospitals in Spain and the comparison with the state scheme will be familiar to British readers: care tends to be a bit quicker and the facilities are arguably more modern.

If you are retired?

If you are retired at the state retirement age - 60 for women, 65 for men - then you are entitled to receive free state provided healthcare in Spain just as you are in the UK.

If you are 'early retired?'

You will need to make national insurance contributions until you reach state retirement age if you wish to qualify for state provided primary healthcare. There are though, plenty of private healthcare arrangements as alternatives.

Waiting Lists?

Spain has managed to cut its waiting lists for most treatements and procedures to less than its counterpart, the NHS. Apointments with specialists also come through generally much more quickly.

Prescription Charges?

Not if you're retired or qualify for free prescriptions in some other way. For everone else, prescriptions are charges at 40% of the retail price - which varies depending on the product.

Useful contacts

Richmond House,
79 Whitehall,
London, SW1A 2NL;
Instituto Nacional de la Seguridad Social, Servicios Centrales, Padre Damian 4, 28036 madrid; 00-34-915-688300;