Nothing is as important as your health and that of your family and this is something you should organise well in advance. Your decisions about healthcare will depend on your circumstances and we have extensive information for all eventualities on our healthcare section. One thing you should do before you move is to find out your healthcare entitlements in Spain. Remember you may not be able to claim benefits in the same way that you did at home. If you currently live in the UK, contact the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) www.dwp.gov.uk to find out your entitlements, which will depend on whether you're retired or not and on whether you've been paying social security in the UK up to the point of departure.
Whatever your situation, it's advisable to take out private healthcare to begin with so that you're covered until you become familiar with what's what in Spain. See our healthcare section below.
If you're below retirement age and on a short visit to Spain from the UK, EU or some non-EU countries, you're entitled to free or reduced cost emergency medical treatment. This will be equivalent to the treatment Spanish nationals receive, though it may vary from what is offered in your country of residence. Before you are treated you'll need to produce a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC, known in Spain as a “Tarjeta Sanitaria Europea”), which has replaced the former E111 form, and several other healthcare forms. You should note that this only covers you for medical emergencies within the state sector and does not include repatriation due to illness, so it's not an alternative to private insurance. The EHIC card is available and valid in all European Community countries, as well as in Switzerland and the European Economic Area (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway). Apply for the EHIC card in your country of residence prior to departure. In the UK, EHIC forms are available free of charge from post offices and travel agents. For further information or to download an application, log on to: www.dh.gov.uk/travellers.
If you're a pensioner resident in the EU or EEA (see above), you're entitled to receive, subject to certain criteria, the same free or low-cost state emergency medical treatment as Spanish pensioners, provided that you are in possession of an E121 form, issued in your country of residence. In the UK, the E121 can be obtained from The Department for Work and Pensions. Contact them on 0191 218 7777 or visit: www.dwp.gov.uk.
If you're a retired EU citizen you should apply for a form E121 from the UK Pensions Service before you go to live in Spain. Once you arrive, you must register the form at the local social security office and they will issue you with a social security card which must be produced when you go for treatment either at your local surgery or hospital. Until you have your card (and it may take some time to arrive), you should be able to show that you have applied for a card and want to be treated under EEA rules.
If you're going to live in Spain but won't be working and have not yet reached retirement age, you may still be able to get free or low cost state healthcare for a limited period of time, depending on your circumstances. If you've been paying social security contributions in the UK up to the point of departure, you should apply for form E106 from the Pensions Service in the UK. They will send you a claim pack and let you know whether you're entitled to this limited cover. Ask if you can include any family members in your claim. If they decide you're entitled to claim, they'll send you form E106, which you must then complete and register with the social security authorities in Spain. Until you register, you won't be entitled to free healthcare, so make sure you've got health insurance cover as a back-up. Once you start working in Spain and are paying social security contributions through the normal channels, you're no longer entitled to use your E106 or your European Health Insurance Card. For full information about your healthcare rights in Spain, you can download the Pensions Service leaflet SA29 “Your Social Security Insurance Benefit and Healthcare Rights in the European Economic Area” by clicking on this link.
In a life-threatening emergency, Spanish state hospitals are required to provide vital primary care treatment irrespective of the patient's ability to pay. Non-EU visitors should always be covered by appropriate medical insurance and in many cases will not be able to obtain the necessary visa without proof that such cover exists.
Even if you are resident in Spain, you'll have to pay monthly Social Security (Seguridad Social) contributions to qualify for state healthcare. If you are an employee, part of the cost will be borne by your employer and the state. If you are self-employed, you will be responsible for making the payments yourself (the same applies to those neither working or yet of pensionable age).
Southern Spain has several major hospitals serving the state and private sector. Many doctors and nurses are fluent in English and there are volunteer translators on hand to help. You'll find a list of hospitals below.
There are state-operated medical centres (“ambulatorios”) in every town and village, offering a wide range of medical services. Unfortunately, these GPs tend to only speak Spanish and are often booked up for days in advance.
You may prefer to visit one of the many private English-speaking GPs, family practitioners and paediatricians in the area. Many allow you to drop in without an appointment and some are open 24 hours a day. The British Consulate in Málaga can provide you with a list of doctors from the UK in practice on the Costa del Sol, and there are other English-speaking GPs from Spain, Scandinavia and Germany.
There's a vast network of private dental clinics in the area, but very few state dental practices.
Chemists or pharmacies are called “farmacia” in Spanish and they usually have a green or red cross outside. They're open Monday to Saturday 9.30am to 1.30pm and 4.30 to 8.00pm.
Details of the nearest 24-hour pharmacy (“farmacia de guardia”) will be displayed on all pharmacy doors.
*Non-prescription drugs are only sold in pharmacies in Spain, you won't find them in supermarkets or elsewhere.