Health and Safety in Spain
Health Care in SpainLike many of today’s developed countries (Canada, UK, etc.), Spain has in place a national healthcare system that offers a variety of free healthcare services to all Spanish residents. Moreover, because the Spanish system is based on the notion of “universal” healthcare, tourists, non-residents, and even people living in the country illegally are never denied treatment. In some cases, non-resident individuals will be required to pay upfront for the health services they receive, either through direct payment or via their national social security system, but these charges seldom apply when the services rendered are deemed “basic” in nature.
The Spanish National Healthcare System
The national healthcare system in Spain, known locally as Instituto Nacional de la Salud, covers all Spanish citizens, regardless of their economic standing. To ensure equal access to quality healthcare for the entire Spanish population, the system is decentralized, and thus not merely concentrated in heavily populated urban areas. Reforms in recent years have regionalized the system even more in an ongoing effort to provide greater response time in health-related emergencies.
Today the Spanish National Healthcare System is made up of three organizational levels:
- Organizacion de la Administracion Central. The Organizacion de la Administracion Central, or Central level of health organization, is administered by the National Ministry of Health. This agency is responsible for creating and issuing health proposals, and developing and executing the government’s guidelines with regard to public health. The agency is also active in coordinating programs designed to curb the use of illegal drugs in the country.
- Organizacion Autonomica. Oversight and operation of the Organizacion Autonomica, or “Autonomous Organization” level, is the responsibility of each of Spain’s 17 Autonomous Communities. Each Autonomous Community must provide integrated health services to its specific population through the centers, services and establishments of that community.
- Areas de Salud. The Areas de Salud, literally “Health Areas,” represent the local level of health administration. These are the fundamental structures of the national healthcare system and are responsible for unitary management of the health services offered at the level of the Autonomous Community. To increase the efficiency of the healthcare system, the Areas de Salud are subdivided into smaller units called “zonas basicas de salud,” or “basic health zones.”
The nationalized healthcare system In Spain is generally recognized as one of the finest public health programs in the world. However, like any system it is not without its flaws. Although the quality of care the Spanish people receive via the National Healthcare System is top-notch, there are typically very long waiting periods to see a doctor (sometimes weeks or even months), save for emergency cases in which the care is usually immediate. Because of this inconvenience, most of the Spanish citizens who can afford to purchase private healthcare insurance usually do so. This option allows them and their families to receive quick medical attention with each and every appointment.
Visiting European Citizens and Spanish Healthcare
If you plan to visit Spain for any length of time, and you reside in another European Member State, any health care services you receive in the country, whether in an outpatient clinic or hospital, are generally free of charge. As a tourist from an EU Member state you can receive free treatment for up to 3 months, but after this initial period you will need to present a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This card allows you to seek the services of a general practitioner at the nearest healthcare clinic, or to have a doctor visit and treat you at your place of residence, when getting to a clinic is not an option. If the affliction for which you are being seen warrants further treatment, either by a specialist or in a hospital setting, the general practitioner will usually give you a referral or a medical certificate. Most hospitals in Spain also have Accident and Emergency departments for those in need of immediate care.
Non-European Citizens and Spanish Healthcare
If you hail from a foreign, yet non-EU-Member country, you can still receive basic and emergency healthcare in Spain and obtain pharmaceuticals prescribed by a doctor. In most cases, you will be required to pay upfront for these services and prescriptions, although in some cases the clinics and hospitals will allow you to make monthly payments until the cost of the services are paid in full. For this reason, foreign, non-European citizens who plan to visit and/or live in Spain for a time, either for employment or educational purposes should seriously consider purchasing travel/health care insurance that will cover the cost of their care in cases of illness or accidents.
It should also be noted that Spain has several bilateral agreements in place with certain non-European countries. These agreements, at least in most cases, entitle citizens of those countries to receive certain types of medical care in Spain without the cost normally charged to other non-EU citizens. Individuals visiting Spain from countries such as Brazil, Chile, Peru, Paraguay, Ecuador, and Andorra, can all avail themselves of free medical care and hospitalization in Spain, but only in cases of medical emergencies or accidents. In these instances, they will usually need to supply the clinic or hospital with the corresponding health certificate from their specific country of origin. In the event they are not currently in possession of these documents, they will typically have to pay for all medical costs upfront. However, by saving the receipts for these costs they can usually get reimbursed by their national insurance provider upon returning to their home country.
Law Enforcement in SpainSpain has long been recognized as one of the safest countries in Europe to visit, but just in case you encounter one of those rare cases in which you need the assistance of law enforcement, it would benefit you to familiarize yourself with the various law enforcement agencies and their respective duties and responsibilities.
Law enforcement in Spain is divided between three agencies or forces: the Cuerpo Nacional de Policía (National Police Corps), run by the Minister of the Interior (Home Office); the Guardia Civil (Civil Guard), operated by the Spanish military; and the Policía Municipal/ Local (Municipal or Local Police), responsible to City Hall.
Cuerpo Nacional de Policía (National Police Corps)
The National Police Corps in Spain can be recognized by their dark blue uniforms and the blue and white police cruisers they drive. According to the Organic law 2/1986 of March 13, 1986, the official duties of the Cuerpo Nacional de Policía include:
- The issuing of identity documents – ID cards and passports
- To control receipts and outgoings of the foreign people and Spaniards
- Immigration law, refuge and asylum, extradition and expulsion
- General law enforcement
- Gaming enforcement
- Drug enforcement
- Collaboration with Interpol and Europol
- Control of private security companies
Guardia Civil (Civil Guard)
The makeup and duties of the Guardia Civil, or Civil Guard, in Spain have changed drastically since the passing of the Spanish Ruler Franco (1975) and the transition to a new democracy. Once seen as “storm troopers” for the old dictator, they are now mainly responsible for the country’s borders and rural areas. A specialist branch of the Guardia Civil, “Seprona,” is chiefly responsible for the environment and animal welfare; and the “Tráfico” division is responsible for the policing of rural roads. In present day Spain, the areas of policing in which the Guardia Civil is responsible include, but are not limited to:
- Protection of the King and Royal Family of Spain
- Military Policing
- Highway Patrol
- Counter-drugs and anti-smuggling operations
- Customs and border control
- Weapons licenses and arms control
- Bomb squad and explosives
- Intelligence and counter-intelligence
- Cyber crime
- Environmental law enforcement
Generally speaking, the local police in Spain are responsible for all duties and responsibilities not given to the other two branches of law enforcement. Some of the areas/function for which this branch of law enforcement are responsible include:
- Urban traffic control and policing—including dealing with traffic accidents within town.
- The protection of local government authorities; supervision or custody of their buildings and facilities
- The enforcement of ordinances and municipal regulations
- Providing assistance in cases of accident, disaster or public calamity, and the execution of civil protection plans.
- Crime prevention
- Private dispute resolution, domestic assistance
- Monitoring public spaces and performing crowd control in cases where there are large concentrations of people.
- General Emergencies (Police, Fire, Ambulance, etc.): Dial “112” (equivalent of 911 in the U.S.)
- Cuerpo Nacional de Policía: Dial “091”
- Guardia Civil: Dial “062”
- Policía Municipal/Local: Dial “092”
General Health and Safety Tips for Visitors of SpainHealth Tips
Although nobody can plan for a health emergency when traveling, there are certain steps you can take right now to help prepare you for your upcoming trip to Spain. Experts suggest, for example, that you see your dentist before you leave for a long trip and that you always carry a spare set of contact lenses or glasses just in case you lose your primary pair. If you have a medical condition, have your physician sign and date a letter describing that condition and any prescription medications you currently take to treat it. Also, if you plan to be away for an extended period of time, you may want to look into travel insurance that will cover the cost of your care in the event of an unexpected illness, accident or other type of health emergency. A final preparedness step you can take before traveling is to get vaccinated. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that all visitors to foreign countries should be vaccinated for diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and polio, regardless of their destination.
Traveling in a foreign country such as Spain can be a great adventure, but unfamiliarity with your surroundings can often pose risks you may not have considered. Here are just a few safety tips you should keep in mind while enjoying the beautiful country of Spain:
- Avoid walking in poorly lit areas or alleys.
- Use the buddy system and pair up with someone while visiting the various sites and attractions.
- Secure your money carefully and carry only the amount you will need for any one excursion.
- Take extra care of your possessions in crowded areas, such as department stores and public transport stations and vehicles.
- Try to keep valuable objects—mobile phones, cameras, etc,--out of view as much as possible
Click on one of the following links to learn more about the culture, language, education, health & safety, economy, government, history, religion, gastronomy, visas, local services, climate, locations in Spain.