How to Expats Can Receive Medical Care in Barcelona

It’s inevitable; if you’re an expat living in Barcelona long enough, you’re going to have to see a doctor at some point. You do not generally have to pay your own money for health care if you are registered properly or have private health insurance. The process is a little different depending on your situation.

Health Care in Barcelona for EU Citizens

EU Citizens should carry their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to ensure they receive free emergency health care. However, EU citizens who are resident in Spain should register with a doctor (see #3 below) to ensure they receive free health care in all situations.

Health Care in Barcelona for Americans & Other Non-EU Citizens

Americans, and others who don’t qualify for free healthcare (see #2 below), should take out private health insurance to ensure their costs are covered.

Health Care in Barcelona for “Illegal Workers”

You are ‘illegal’ if you are employed in Spain, but not paying into the social security system, or if you’re resident in Spain but can’t provide proof of address (ie. you are living in a shared flat without your name on the contract). If this is the case for you, your only option is to visit a hospital (see #2 below) and you may be asked to pay.

How to Expats Can Receive Medical Care in Barcelona

The health care in Spain is very good, but, in typical Spanish style, navigating the bureaucratic process isn’t easy. There are several ways to access health care in Spain, each with their own pros and cons.

#1: Call 112 (the European Emergency Number) or 061 (Health Emergencies)

If you need immediate medical attention, call 112 or 061. Depending on the call centers, calls can be handled in English, French, Portuguese, Arabic, and German (as well as the national languages).

You don’t have to be registered, or hold any form of documentation to be admitted to a hospital. However, you may have to pay for your visit afterwards.

#2: Visit a hospital

To qualify for free services in Spain, you must either be registered with the state health care system, have private health care insurance, hold a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), or hold a passport from Andorra, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, or Peru. If you don’t qualify, or if you don’t bring documents that prove you qualify, you may have to pay for the treatment you receive.

You must bring:

  • A form of ID (such as your passport), and
  • Proof you qualify for free healthcare (such as EHIC), if you have it,

To one of the following hospitals:

  • Clinical and Provincial Barcelona Hospital: Carrer de Villarroel, 170, 08036 Barcelona |
  • Hospital Universitari Vall d’Hebron: Paseig de la Vall de Hebron, no. 119, 08035 Barcelona |
  • Hospital del Mar: Paseig Marítim, 25-29, 08003 Barcelona |
  • Hospital Sant Joan de Déu Barcelona: Passeig de Sant Joan de Déu, 2, 08950 Esplugues de Llobregat, Barcelona |
  • Hospital de Barcelona: Avinguda Diagonal, 660, 08034 Barcelona |
  • Centro Médico Teknon: Carrer de Vilana, 12, 08022 Barcelona |

How to visit the hospital a Barcelona if you’re an expat

Generally, there are four stages of a hospital visit:

  1. Entry. Tell the receptionist you want to see the doctor and show your documents. They’ll enter you into the system and give you a wristband with your name and time of entry into the hospital. You’ll then be directed to see a triage nurse.
  2. Initial Assessment. It’s likely you’ll see the triage nurse very quickly. However, they rarely speak foreign languages so be prepared for some charades while explaining how you’re feeling. They’ll decide how urgently you need medical attention and direct you to a waiting room.
  3. Waiting. And waiting. And waiting some more. Depending on patient numbers, staffing, time of day, and the urgency of your illness, this could be a really long time – perhaps up to five hours or more in some hospitals. There might not be enough chairs for everyone, so be ready to sit on the floor. There is unlikely to be free wifi, so bring a book. Be aware that if you come with a friend and it’s very busy, they might be asked to wait elsewhere. If you need to leave for any reason, let the receptionist know in case your name is called while you are away.
  4. Seeing the doctor. This is usually worth the wait. Your doctor will most likely be the first English-speaking person you interact within the hospital. At this point, you’ll be diagnosed and a course of treatment prescribed. You may get a prescription for medicine, or – if the medicine is available over the counter – they’ll write a note for you to give to the pharmacist. Success!

How to Expats Can Receive Medical Care in Barcelona

#3: Go to a CAP (Centre d’atenció primària)

If you want to skip the long wait at the hospital and you’re a resident in Barcelona, you can register with a local clinic (or CAP). Unfortunately, it requires a lot of documentation, so make sure you do it before you get sick. Being able to speak or understand some Spanish or Catalan during this process will make it much, much easier, so consider asking along a friend if you don’t have the language skills yourself.

To register with a doctor in Barcelona you must be:

  • A resident in Spain,
  • Paying social security contributions (ie. you are legally employed or autonomo), or
  • A child, a pensioner, a pregnant woman, or receiving certain state benefits.

How to register with a doctor in Barcelona

First, you need a Tarjeta Sanitaria Individual or TSI (Individual Healthcare Card), which you can get by visiting your nearest security office with:

The social security office will give you a certificate proving you are entitled to free healthcare, and your health care card will be sent in the post.

You can now take either the certificate or health card to your nearest centre d’atenció primària <> and they will give you the name, timetable, and phone number of the doctor that has been assigned to you, as well as a number for after-hours care.

Visiting the doctor in Barcelona

Once you’ve gone through this process, visiting the doctor is actually very straightforward! Remember, that if you’re taking time off work due to illness, you have to ask your doctor for the “baja” – a doctor’s note to say that you’re legitimately unwell. While you have the “baja”, you are not allowed to work. Once you are feeling better, you have to return to the doctor to get a second note called the “alta” which says you’re well enough to work again. Some doctors will issue you both at the same time (a few days apart) for your convenience. Unfortunately, your employer does not have to pay you for the first 3 days that you miss work with the “baja”, but, after that, you should get a percentage of your normal salary.

By Christopher Brown

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