Healthcare in Spain

This guide is about healthcare in Spain - the quality of the healthcare available and how to find and access medical treatment.


Spanish healthcare has improved tremendously in the last few decades, and now ranks among the top in Europe.

Medical care is available even in small towns, is reasonably priced and of a high quality.

Be sure to register for healthcare as soon as possible – even a good healthcare system is stressful to deal with if you are unprepared.

Emergency numbers

Call 112 – the general emergency number or 061 for an ambulance

The quality of healthcare in Spain

Health Expenditure: 8.9% of GDP (US: 17.9%; France: 11.6%; Turkey: 5.4%; China: 5.2%) lightbulb image - click here for more information on this subject

Doctors: 4/1000 (US: 2.42; France: 3.38; Turkey: 1.71; China: 1.46) lightbulb image - click here for more information on this subject

Hospital Beds: 3.1/1000 (US: 3; France: 6.6; Turkey: 2.5; China: 3.8) lightbulb image - click here for more information on this subject

World Health Organization ranking of health systems: 7 of 191 countries

Spanish healthcare is of a very high quality. Life expectancy at birth is 83 (three years higher than the OECD average).

The WHO Healthcare Index put Spain 7th of 191 countries ranked.

Spain spends around 9% of its GDP on healthcare and has four doctors for every 1,000 people (6th best in the EU).

Cultural differences in Spanish healthcare

One thing to take note of is that, in Spain, you will be expected to have a friend or family member help out with general care if you are staying in a hospital for several nights.

How to get healthcare in Spain

Healthcare in Spain is mainly gotten through health centres. You’ll find one of these in almost every town or village in Spain, no matter how small. Before seeing a doctor you’ll need to register with the health centre nearest to where you live. Bring with you a utility bill or other proof of address (such as a rental agreement) to avoid having to make repeat visits.

A healthcare centre is likely to have several different doctors – you may not see the same one every time you visit.

Healthcare centres in Spain may offer both public and private healthcare – be sure to specify the type of healthcare you want before you receive treatment to avoid an unexpected bill.

Many doctors and nurses in Spain will speak English, but this is in no way guaranteed. It’s a very good idea to brush up on some useful Spanish phrases.

Be prepared

Don’t wait until something goes wrong before you register for Spanish healthcare. You’ll end up losing a lot more money and going through a lot more stress.

Be prepared also for an emergency – scope out your nearest hospital (you need to go to a hospital registered in your district) and find out whether it takes both public and private patients.

Pharmacies in Spain

Prescriptions are picked up at a pharmacy. Pharmacies can be found in almost any town: look for a large, green cross outside a shop. Check out this index to find your nearest pharmacy.

Pharmacy hours are typically 9:30 to 14:00 and then 17:00 to 21:30. Some pharmacies, especially in larger towns, are open 24 hours.

Unless you are a pensioner and a resident of the EU, you will have to pay for prescriptions in Spain. People who carry an EHIC (see below) or who are registered in the Spanish healthcare system pay 40% of the cost of medication. People who not not fit this criteria have to pay the full cost.

Each item is priced individually – this is different from countries like England where there is a set prescription fee.

Public healthcare in Spain

Who is eligible for state healthcare in Spain?

You can take advantage of the public healthcare system in Spain if:

  • You have an EHIC card and are staying only temporarily (see below)
  • You are a resident in Spain paying social security (through employment or self employment)
  • You are a resident in Spain not paying social security but are recently separated or divorced from somebody who is
  • You are a resident in Spain and on state benefits/social security
  • You are a resident in Spain and pregnant
  • You are a student in Spain (and under 26 years old)
  • You are a resident in Spain under 18
  • You are a state pensioner

How can I register for public healthcare in Spain?

You have to register with the Dirección General de la Tesorería General de la Seguridad Social (TGSS) to get a social security number. The TGSS offices and their contact details are listed on this website.

When you go to the office, you’ll need to bring:

Once you’ve registered, you’ll get a certificate. You can use this certificate to apply for a health card (tarjeta de seguridad social or TSI) and a Sistema de Informacion Poblacional (SIP card) at your local health centre. You’ll need to present your SIP card whenever you use a clinic, hospital or pharmacy.

European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

You can apply for an EHIC if you’re an EU citizen. Apply through your country’s government website (e.g. the UK’s Gov.UK.

This card can be used on a holiday or a short-term visit to Spain. You should have it on you at all times, and take it with you to a healthcare centre or a public hospital if you require treatment.

The basic rule is: if a Spanish national would have to pay a fee for the treatment you receive, so will you

It’s up to the individual health centre or hospital to decide whether your treatment is necessary or whether it can wait until you return to your own country.

An EHIC is not a substitute for medical and travel insurance when travelling abroad. Use an EHIC in conjunction with proper travel insurance.

Private healthcare in Spain

If you don’t qualify for public healthcare – or if, indeed, you just prefer to go private – you’ll want to purchase Spanish health insurance.

See our Guide to Health Insurance in Spain for more information.

Dental care in Spain

Dental care in Spain is of a high quality.

Dental care in Spain is not covered by social security but the prices are generally reasonable in comparison to, say, Northern Europe (a good, white filling may cost €70, a check-up €60), so it’s accessible to most – especially if you purchase dental insuranc.

Use the Yellow Pages (Páginas Amarillasto find a dentist near you.

Hospitals in Spain

Treatment in Spain offer a search tool that you can use to find a hospital near you.

You may also want to peruse this list of the best-ranked hospitals in Spain.

Expats’ Tips

I did join the private health insurance out here – it’s a fraction of the cost of back home. Back in Ireland I was paying €1,100 a year. I now pay €55 a month. A fraction of the cost. I’m 60 now but when I’m 70 it will still be a third cheaper than what I was paying as a 55-year-old in Ireland.

My Irish health insurance company was very honest with me and said, ‘If you intend to live in Spain you’re actually better off going to the private system.’ They said to me that private hospital care in Spain is just as good as in Northern Europe.

Gerry O Brien, Dublin, Ireland


You’re unlikely to have any problems with the quality of healthcare in Spain. It’s modern, eaily available and doesn’t break the bank. Just be sure to be prepared and, if at all possible, learn at least some rudimentary Spanish to help you along.

You may also want to read:

The highest-ranked hospitals in Spain From Webometrics

Healthcare in Spain Information on accessing Spanish healthcare, provided by the UK Department of Health

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