Doctors and specialists in Spain

Spanish healthcare: Going to a doctor or specialist in Spain

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This guide explains everything you need to access state Spanish healthcare so you can register and find a doctor or specialist in Spain.

If you plan to live in Spain, you’ll find an excellent Spanish healthcare system that provides free or subsidised health services and prescriptions. Anyone who is an official resident and working in Spain – and their dependent family members – can claim Spanish healthcare once they are registered and pay into Spanish social security. Globality Health explains the processes to visit a Spanish doctor or specialist for expats living in Spain.

Who can visit a doctor in Spain?

Unless it’s an emergency, if you want to go to the doctor in Spain most people must either be registered with the state healthcare system, have taken out private healthcare insurance, hold an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card), be from a country with a bi-lateral health agreement – or be prepared to pay. Follow these five steps to register with Spanish healthcare.

Once you’re in the healthcare system in Spain, you can visit your local doctor for free. To visit a specialist under the state system, however, you will need a referral from your doctor.

Find and register with a doctor in Spain

Before you can make an appointment to see a doctor in Spain, you must register with a local doctor. Doctors in Spain may work in a health centre (centro de salud or centro de asistencia primaria or CAP) or in an individual practice as a general doctor (médico de cabecera). Doctors may offer both state and private consultations and treatments, so make it clear which type you require.

You can find a doctor through a personal recommendation, from your embassy, from the phone book under medicos or from your local healthcare authority (see here for a list). When you register, you should be given a leaflet called Carta de Derechos y Deberes (Charter of Rights and Obligations) setting out your rights as a patient. 

According to the UK newspaper Daily Telegraph, there have been cases where doctors have refused to treat non-Spanish speaking patients without an interpreter as they say it can double the diagnosis time. If you don’t speak Spanish, some practices and hospitals – especially in more touristic areas – may be able to provide an interpreter for you, for which there will be a charge of around EUR 9 per hour. In private hospitals there are almost always some English-speaking medical staff.

Health card and healthcare charges in Spain

After you register with your local health centre or doctor, you will receive a health card (Sistema de Informacion Poblacional or SIP), which you will need to show whenever you access state healthcare services or treatments.

You must show your health card every time you visit the doctor and will consequently not be charged any fees for visiting a doctor or hospital that is part of the free state healthcare system.

Prescription costs and subsidies

You also have to show your card at the pharmacy when you collect prescription medicines. However, you will have to pay 60 percent of the cost of the medication but these are relatively cheap in Spain.

Pensioners are eligible for free medicines.

Visiting a primary care doctor in Spain

Even small villages will have a doctor or nurses available on specific days while larger places may have medical centres and health clinics, which offer the usual family and general practitioner services, including paediatrics and nursing. There are often midwives, social workers and physiotherapists working alongside doctors and nurses.

Where there are several doctors working together in a health centre, you may not see the same one each time, although you may able to book an appointment with the same doctor at some centres for continuing treatment for a specific health issue, if you wish. Most doctors have appointment systems (including online) while others work on a first-come-first-served basis.

Sometimes patients are given the same appointment time with a slip of paper bearing a number showing the level of priority, which can mean long waiting times –  shorter waiting time is one main reason why some people choose private healthcare. Doctors don’t usually make home visits.

Up to the age of 15 children see a paediatrician, after which they transfer to a general practitioner.

For expats in Spain, if you have a long-term medical condition it is useful to bring information from the doctor in your home country to give to your Spanish doctor.

If you want to change doctors, you can simply re-register with another local practice.

Seeing a specialist doctor in Spain

If you want to see a specialist through the state system you need to be referred by your family doctor. If you have private health insurance you may be able to visit a specialist clinic directly, although some health insurance companies have lists of approved doctors you must choose from. With private health insurance, you will get an appointment faster than through the state system and you may be able to have an English-speaking medic, if that is important to you.

Getting hospital treatment in Spain

You need a referral from a doctor to get hospital treatment, unless in an emergency. Over half of all Spanish hospitals are privately owned and some hospitals offer both private and public healthcare, so make sure beforehand that you (and the hospital) are clear about which type you want. You will need to show your social security card or proof of private insurance on your first visit.


Globality Health / Expatica

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1 Comment To This Article

  • Greg posted:

    on 22nd January 2016, 18:38:59 - Reply

    We are a unique couple , it seems. No one has been able to give me a definitive answer to this question. We are Canadians and residents of Spain. Were have never paid into the Spanish Social service and we are both retired. We understand we can , after 1 year registered on the pardon , get Spanish health care , if we pay a monthly fee. Is this true ?

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]