In 2014 I applied for the Ministries of Spain Auxiliares program on a whim. I was also considering teaching in Asia for programs like EPIK and HESS. I had promised myself I was going wherever I got an offer first because I had to get out of the USA. The day the email came telling me I had a position in Spain I couldn’t believe it. I was going to be living in Ibiza!
Everything happened pretty quickly since I got my carta mid-summer. I had to quit my full-time job, sell all my furniture, get the Spanish student visa in Chicago, and physically move to Spain! But of course, there were some worries. I had no idea what healthcare in Spain would be like. As a person with Narcolepsy, I knew what I needed but I had no idea what would actually be available to me. Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised.
Prepare before leaving for Spain
First of all, I didn’t get the insurance card until I had been working for at least a month. So make sure you bring enough medications with you to last a while. Generally, before I left the states I always asked for a 3 month supply. Do NOT assume you will be able to have family member ship you medication since Spanish law does not allow it. Even simple vitamins may delay or prevent a package from ever arriving. It is much easier to see a doctor and get a new prescription once you arrive in Spain. Your health insurance will not cover prescription costs but you will be surprised at how much cheaper medications are in Spain.
How to use your Spanish insurance
The process for seeing the doctor will depend on your insurance company. Generally, it should be easy to go to a private clinic with your insurance card and see a doctor quickly. Non-Europeans are not on the same health care program as the native Spaniards, so they are not necessarily the best to ask for advice when you need a doctor. I have used two different insurance companies, Adeslas and Asisa. In both cases, the easiest way to find information was just to call the number on the card.
How to see a specialist with Spanish insurance
With some companies, you are able to go to any specialist without a preapproval. But preapprovals also were not a big deal when I did need them. The doctors simply gave me a carbon copy prescription order for the tests I needed. I took those papers to the insurance office and they stamped them for the preapproval.
Doctor appointments and tests in Spain
Most tests had to be done in a different facility than where I saw the doctor so it was normal to leave the office with these orders. Often when a test was completed, I had to return to pick up the results and physically take them back to the doctor with me when I went.
I am not advising you to go to Spain if you have serious medical issues to get free healthcare. But I am encouraging you to realize it may not be a huge limitation for you. I have had 2 CT scans, allergy tests, an EKG, and various blood tests in Spain without paying for any of it. Yes, you read that right. This insurance doesn’t cover 50% or 70% of services. It covers all of the fees to see a doctor and get tests. You only have to pay for medication.
Price of medication in Spain
Of course, I don’t have experience with every type of medication but from what I have seen, everything is more affordable in Spanish pharmacies. The most expensive medication I used there is a controlled substance and I paid 30 euros a month. Also I was able to buy birth control over the counter without a prescription. Since I’ve been using it as long as I can remember for medical reasons, I had no qualms showing the pharmacist my prescription from the states and asking them to find a matching option. This freed me up to buy 6 months or more at a time and not have to worry about ever running out!
Applying for the Peace Corps from Spain
Also, I applied to the Peace Corps while I was living in Malaga. I had a lot of medical tasks to complete including dental x-rays, vaccines, eye exam, gynecologist visit and numerous blood tests. I completed all of it in Spain. I did end up seeing a doctor out of network to complete some of the psychological history that I couldn’t get from my doctor in the states. I chose to do this so I could see an American doctor that is familiar with the Peace Corps and it would not be necessary for normal medical issues that arise while traveling. I paid her hourly fees but it was nowhere near what it would cost to go to a doctor out of network in the United States.
Enjoy the coverage
Overall I would say that healthcare in Spain is one of the perks of living there. Even when I stayed for the summer, I spoke with my insurance company and extended my insurance so I wouldn’t have to worry about getting sick. This is a requirement for renewal in some regions and it’s worth looking into. While I did have to pay a monthly premium it was nothing like the fees back in the USA.
It really gave me a sense of peace of mind to be able to go to the doctor for anything I felt was necessary. I didn’t have to weigh the financial cost against how much I was willing to suffer before going to seek a doctor’s advice. I ended up staying in the Auxiliar program for 3 years.
So in conclusion, if you have a medical issue that you feel is well controlled, don’t let it prevent you from traveling! Talk to you doctor about your plans. Take care of yourself and learn about your options!