The Spanish Public Healthcare System: How Exactly Does it Work?

Legal & Administrative
| | 6 min read |

Spain has a high-quality healthcare system, guaranteeing universal coverage for all residents. Healthcare in Spain consists of both private and public healthcare, with hospitals (hospitales) and healthcare centers.

An overview of the Spanish Healthcare System

Public health care is available to everyone, but you will need a Social Security Number (read more about it here) and an Individual Health Card (TSI).

Studentfy offers an affordable private health insurance for all students. Check out the Health Insurance page to read more and apply.

EU citizens

If you are staying on a temporary basis in Spain and are an EU citizen you can use your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This gives you access to the medical treatment at the same cost as Spanish citizens.

Important: Your EHIC only covers necessary care, as with an emergency. Planned treatments are normally not covered by your insurer. Since the compensations and conditions differ for every insurer, we recommend you check those before taking any treatment. Visit the official website of European Health Insurance Card for more information.

Non-EU citizens

If you are a Non-EU citizen you might have to prove that you insured with a private health insurance.  There is a list of countries with which agreements are in place in terms of healthcare and other benefits. Go to one of the offices of the Spanish National Social Security Institute (INSS) to find out if its applicable for you or contact your embassy.

In case of an emergency

Studentfy has partnered with the Quirónsalud system to offer assistance if you are feeling sick and can’t leave home. Call the free number +34 901 123 456 to ask for a doctor to come to your house for free. Make sure you mention that you are coming from Studentfy. Read our Doctor Home Visit page for more information.

IMPORTANT: In a serious, life-threatening emergency, call the pan-European number 112 – free of charge from any mobile/cell phone or landline.

Other emergency numbers:

  • 061 – for an ambulance (ambulancia)
  • 1003 – for an emergency doctor
  • 961 496 199 – emergency dentists
  • 963 600 313 – on duty pharmacy

Spanish healthcare useful contacts

The Individual Health Card (TSI)

Spanish Public Healthcare System card, an example

What is it?

The individual health card (TSI – tarjeta sanitaria individual) provides citizens an access to the public health system of Catalonia. It gives free access to:

  • The centers and services of the public healthcare system
  • Prescriptions subsidized by CatSalut*

* CatSalut is name for a Catalan healthcare system (Generalitat de Catalunya-Autonomous Government of Catalonia).

The TSI card is personal and non-transferable. It has the personal identification code (CIP).

How much does it cost?

The Catalan public healthcare, CatSalut, is completely free for the citizens of Catalonia.

Who can apply for the TSI?

Anyone with a Social Security Number with a recent and authorized residence in Spain (empadronamiento). It does not apply to individuals who are students only.

For more information, read our detailed blogs:

Why is this important?

You must have the TSI so that you can:

  • go to a public healthcare center or hospital
  • access subsidized prescriptions, independently of having private medical insurance
  • take a sick leave and provide an official certifiate as the public healthcare system doctor is the only person authorized to accredit a medical certificate

What are the requirements?

  • The individual healthcare card can be requested by individuals who meet any of the following requirements:
  • Be an official resident in Spain
  • Be registered in the National Institute of Social Security (INSS) and pay social security contributions, either through employment or as a freelancer

How to apply for the TSI?

You have to apply for the health card in person by going to your healthcare center (centro de salud or centro de asistencia primaria or CAP) in your neighborhood. You can find out where it is located by calling 061 (available in English).

You need to fill out the application form and bring it with the following documents:

  • Identity document (DNI, NIE, passport)
  • Certificate of registration (empadronamiento) issued not more than three months
  • Photocopy of your Social Security registration

The CatSalut TSI will be sent free by mail to your home address within one month or you can pick it up yourself from the health center.

European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

What is it?

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is a personalized card that gives the holder the right to receive medical assistance during a temporary stay in any of the countries of the European Union, the European Economic Area (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway) and Switzerland.

What are the benefits?

With the EHIC you can get the same medical services as Spanish residents. But remember that having this card doesn’t guarantee free services. The card is meant to cover urgent medical assistance for illnesses or accidents, but it also covers the aggravation of chronic diseases, such as asthma, heart disease, cancer, etc.

What is not included in the services?

  • It is important to know that the EHIC is not an alternative for travel insurance. It doesn’t cover private healthcare or costs such as the return flight to your country of origin or the loss or theft of your belongings.
  • It does not cover your expenses if you travel for the express purpose of receiving medical treatment, only problems that may arise during your trip.
  • It doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the service will be free of charge.
  • If you receive medical help while abroad but you’re not on a holiday, but rather changing your country of residence, you don’t need the European Health Card to receive medical assistance; you must register with the EU form S1, which you can get through your insurance provider.
  • It does not cover repatriation

Where is it valid?

The European Health Insurance Card is valid in the following countries: Germany, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, Denmark, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Romania, Sweden and Switzerland.

How can apply for it?

You should apply for the card from the country where you’re registered as a resident. If you are an ex-pat resident in Spain (i.e. you have a residence permit), you can apply for the Tarjeta Sanitaria Europea (TSE).

Visit the official Social Security website and follow the instructions (available in English).

This blog covers the very basics of the Spanish healthcare system. Stay tuned for more detailed blogs about more specific aspects of the system.

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