Accessing healthcare in Spain

How to access public and private healthcare

Accessing healthcare in Spain

In 2018 a new legislation granting universal access to the healthcare system was passed in Spain. Most residents in Spain have free access to the public healthcare system. However, certain exceptions may apply.

Public healthcare

The Spanish public healthcare system is recognized as one of the most comprehensive free of charge systems in the world and most Spaniards rely on it, leaving private healthcare as the second preferred option. Public healthcare professionals have stricter admission processes and Spain spends around 10% of its GDP on healthcare, so it constitutes one of the pillars of the national welfare system.


EU/EEA/Swiss nationals

These residents can receive free medical assistance by using the European Health Insurance Card. If you are planning to move to Spain on a temporary basis, make sure you apply before traveling, as it will make accessing healthcare a lot easier. You should apply to your country of residence, as it is the one that will ultimately cover your medical expenses.

Other nationals

When moving temporarily (without registering for residence in Spain), you may be asked to have a private health insurance to be able to travel to Spain. However, certain countries have bilateral agreements that do not have this requirement. For this reason, it is recommendable to consult with the embassy of your home country while arranging your visa procedures.


Under the new legislation, all registered residents in Spain have access to healthcare, regardless of their status in the country.

Applying for public healthcare can take some paperwork, but it will grant you access to general and specialized healthcare in Spain free of charge, so it is worth the hassle.

To get access to public healthcare in Spain, you will be required to follow these steps:

-Registration of residency: in Spain it is known as 'empadronamiento'. It is a certificate that states your official address in Spain, and it can be obtained at your local town hall. You can find some information about how to obtain this document here .

-Social security number and card: if you work in Spain, your employer will have you registered in the social security system and therefore you will already have a number. If you are not working, you will have to get your social security number at one of the social security offices . To get a social security card, you will be asked for a valid ID and your residency certificate (certificado de empadronamiento).

-Healthcare card: after completing the social security paperwork, you will be issued a certificate that grants you access to the healthcare system. With this document, your ID and your residence certificate you can apply for your healthcare card (tarjeta sanitaria) at your closest centro de salud (healthcare center). You should receive your health card a couple of weeks after application. In the meantime, you will be provided with a temporary document that will grant you access to healthcare and you will be assigned a doctor. Your healthcare card covers all hospital and doctors visits and 40-60% of the cost of prescription drugs depending on your income.


112 is the toll-free number available 24/7 across EU. It covers all medical and non-medical emergencies in 80 languages. Emergency room assistance is given to everyone without exceptions, but travelers without the European health card, Spanish healthcare or under a bilateral agreement may be asked to pay for the medical expenses of the assistance.

Private healthcare

In Spain, locals take out private health insurance for shorter waiting times, as long waiting lists are perhaps the main setback of the public system. This insurance is used either as a supplement or an alternative to public care.

Expats may have to choose a private insurance to fulfill visa requirements, to find assistance in their own language or to have easier access to a specialist. Dental coverage in the public system is very limited, so purchasing insurance is an easy way of reducing the costs of dental visits in Spain.

Compared to other European countries, private insurance in Spain is rather affordable. Insurers typically offer both medical and dental coverage with a discount if you sign up for both. Obviously, prices vary greatly according to the age and sex of the applicant. To give you an idea, the average monthly medical premium for a 30-year old can cost around €47-70.

Further reading

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here: