Health & insurance
Spain has an excellent health-care system.
Before You Go
We strongly recommend that you don’t leave home without travel insurance. Find out in advance if your insurance plan will make payments directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures (many Spanish hospitals and doctors expect payment up front). It’s also worth making sure that your travel insurance will cover repatriation home or to better medical facilities elsewhere. Your insurance company may be able to locate the nearest source of medical help, or you can ask at your hotel.
In an emergency, contact your embassy or consulate. Your travel insurance will not usually cover you for anything other than emergency dental treatment. Not all insurance covers emergency aeromedical evacuation home or to a hospital in a major city, which may be the only way to get medical attention for a serious emergency.
No jabs are necessary for Spain. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that all travellers should be covered for diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and polio, regardless of their destination. Since most vaccines don’t produce immunity until at least two weeks after they’re given, visit a physician at least six weeks before departure.
Availability & Cost of Health Care
If you need an ambulance, call 061 or the general emergency number 112. For emergency treatment, go straight to the urgencias (casualty) section of the nearest hospital.
Farmacias offer valuable advice and sell over-the-counter medication. In Spain, a system of farmacias de guardia (duty pharmacies) operates so that each district has one open all the time. When a pharmacy is closed, it posts the name of the nearest open one on the door.
Medical costs are lower in Spain than in many other European countries, but can still mount quickly if you are uninsured. Costs if you attend casualty range from nothing (in some regions) to around €80.
- If you’re hiking at altitude, altitude sickness may be a risk. Lack of oxygen at high altitudes (over 2500m) affects most people to some extent.
- Symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) usually develop during the first 24 hours at altitude but may be delayed by up to three weeks.
- Mild symptoms include headache, lethargy, dizziness, difficulty sleeping and loss of appetite.
- AMS may become more severe without warning and can be fatal.
- Severe symptoms include breathlessness, a dry, irritative cough (which may progress to the production of pink, frothy sputum), severe headache, lack of coordination and balance, confusion, irrational behaviour, vomiting, drowsiness and unconsciousness.
- Treat mild symptoms by resting at the same altitude until recovery, usually for a day or two.
- Paracetamol or aspirin can be taken for headaches.
- If symptoms persist or become worse, immediate descent is necessary; even 500m can help.
- Drug treatments should never be used to avoid descent or to enable further ascent.
Bites & Stings
- Be wary of the hairy reddish-brown caterpillars of the pine processionary moth – touching the caterpillars’ hairs sets off a severely irritating skin reaction.
- Some Spanish centipedes have a very nasty but nonfatal sting.
- Jellyfish, which have stinging tentacles, are an increasing problem at beaches along the Mediterranean coastline.
- Lataste’s viper is the only venomous snake that is even relatively common in Spain. It has a triangular head, grows up to 75cm long, and is grey with a zigzag pattern. It lives in dry, rocky areas, away from humans. Its bite can be fatal and needs to be treated with a serum, which state clinics in major towns keep in stock.
- The weather in Spain’s mountains can be extremely changeable at any time of year.
- Proper preparation will reduce the risks of getting hypothermia: always carry waterproof garments and warm layers, and inform others of your route.
- Hypothermia starts with shivering, loss of judgment and clumsiness; unless warming occurs, the sufferer deteriorates into apathy, confusion and coma.
- Prevent further heat loss by seeking shelter, wearing warm dry clothing, drinking hot sweet drinks and sharing body warmth.
Tap water is generally safe to drink in Spain, although there are exceptions (Ibiza among them). If you are in any doubt, ask, ¿Es potable el agua (del grifo)? (Is the (tap) water drinkable?). Do not drink water from rivers or lakes as it may contain bacteria or viruses that can cause diarrhoea or vomiting.