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Seeing a Doctor in Spain

When you are registered with the Social Security system in your autonomous region, you'll need to go to the nearest Centro de Salud, which is often within a few kilometers of your residence. These primary care centers are assigned on geographic location, so you'll need to go here for your non-emergent medical needs. Here, you will be assigned to a general practice doctor, a médico de cabecera, depending on the date and time of your preference. This is the doctor who will be required to see you before referring you to a specialist or for a hospital stay. Many centros de salud offer other services, such as gynecology or family medicine; if one of these doctors is not available in your nearest clinic, you will be referred to another.

Making an appointment to see your doctor is as simple as using your community's service number or website, or visiting the nearest Centro de Salud in person. If using the state system, visits and general check-ups are free; private insurance may require a co-pay. Alternately, you can find a local care center for the public system through 060.

If you have private insurance, your provider will provide a directory for doctors throughout your region, often divided by specialty or zip code.

Wait times do exist, though it's not as long as many other first-world countries. Note that in some cases, you will be given a time (hora) and a number in line (orden). It's possible that you could be waiting to have blood taken behind ten other people at your assigned time! The hora is generally assigned at 15 minute intervals.

There are very few public retirement and nursing homes in Spain, largely due to the close family ties. There are psychiatric and youth facilities in many major urban areas.

Hospitals

Hospital emergency rooms will see patients and administer a health report. You will then need to visit your general practitioner to obtain the prescriptions.

Large hospitals will often have English speaking doctors or interpreters. If you have any allergies to medications or a condition that may become a problem, be sure that you know the appropriate translation.

Pharmacies and Prescriptions

Like in many first-world countries, pharmacies (farmacias) are on nearly every street corner in big municipalities in Spain. While each will have its own operating hours, expect them to be open between 9:00 and 13:30 and 17:30 and 21:00, with reduced hours on Saturdays, generally until 14:00. Many, however, are open during siesta in cities, and there will be at least one open all night. Check a local newspaper for pharmacies open on Sundays, holidays and during the night.

Many antibiotics, pain relievers and beauty products are available over the counter in Spain. General care doctors administer prescriptions for their patients, which can be redeemed at any pharmacy. Keep in mind that many are good for a year and to keep them guarded in a safe place. They must be both signed and stamped to be valid.

If you regularly take prescription medicine in your home country, be sure to ask about variations in name, including generics, before travelling to Spain. Costs for prescriptions will vary depending on the brand, and whether or not they are fully- or partially-covered by your health insurance. They do, however, carry a 4% tax that is included in the price.

Seeing a Dentist

Note that dental service is not provided under the state health care system, save emergency extractions, though some private insurance providers may cover one cleaning a year. Costs are low for most basic procedures, and you can find a dentist easily through referrals or local listings. You will be required to show some form of ID when making your visit.

Private dental coverage offers more extensive care with state-of-the-art equipment, such as Vitaldent or Mapfre.

By Cat Gaa, who left her native Chicago five years ago to live in the olive groves of Andalusia. Residing in Seville, she teaches first grade at a private school, but all she wants to really do is write.