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Before You Go
Italy has a public health system that is legally bound to provide emergency care to everyone. EU nationals are entitled to reduced-cost, sometimes free, medical care with a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which is available from your home health authority; non-EU citizens should take out medical insurance.
If you do need health insurance, make sure you get a policy that covers you for the worst possible scenario, such as an accident requiring an emergency flight home. Find out in advance if your insurance plan will make payments directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures.
It's also worth finding out if there is a reciprocal arrangement between your country and Italy. If so, you may be covered for essential medical treatment and some subsidised medications while in Italy. Australia, for instance, has such an agreement; carry your Medicare card.
No jabs are required to travel to Italy, though the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that all travellers should be covered for diphtheria, tetanus, the measles, mumps, rubella, polio and hepatitis B.
Availability & Cost of Health Care
Health care is readily available throughout Italy, but standards can vary significantly. Public hospitals tend to be less impressive the further south you travel. Pharmacists (farmacisti) can give you valuable advice and sell over-the-counter medication for minor illnesses. They can also advise you when more-specialised help is required and point you in the right direction. In major cities you are likely to find English-speaking doctors or a translator service available.
Pharmacies generally keep the same hours as other shops, closing at night and on Sundays. A handful, however, remain open on a rotation basis (farmacie di turno) for emergency purposes. These are usually listed in newspapers. Closed pharmacies display a list of the nearest open ones.
If you need an ambulance anywhere in Italy, call 118. For emergency treatment, head straight to the pronto soccorso (casualty) section of a public hospital, where you can also get emergency dental treatment.
Tap water in Italy is safe to drink. The only exception is where a tap is marked 'Acqua non potabile' (Water not suitable for drinking).