Preguntas Ardientes: What kind of health cover do I need for living abroad in Spain?

If you’re planning to move to a new country like Spain where healthcare isn’t free for or guaranteed for all, it’s important to understand that travel insurance isn’t going to protect you if you fall ill. These policies are cheap for a reason – they cover things like lost suitcases and are only for return trips, explain the independent health insurance brokers at Medibroker.

Buying expat health cover is one of the most important, and most complicated, things you need to do before relocating abroad. Nobody is invincible, and medical bills for even routine operations can land expats in hot water if they don’t have the right insurance.

andalusian health card

Spain’s two-tier healthcare system includes both private and public doctors. If you’re working with a social security plan, you’ll be entered into the public Social Security; if you’re on a long-stay visa or self-employed, you’ll be required to get private health insurance. Several big companies exist, but not all plans are created the same.

Medical insurance is a confusing product – it’s something you have in reserve and it’s not tangible, so you have to shop around. Plans offer varying levels of cover and there’s a multitude of add-ons and jargon to wrap your head around.

When it comes to something as important as your health and finances; you can’t afford to buy a plan that isn’t right for your specific needs.

Maybe you think you’re healthy, but that doesn’t matter – nobody is too careful or too healthy to need good medical insurance. Accidents happen, and they have an annoying way of popping up when you haven’t planned for them.

Things to consider when buying expat medical cover

Your health

If you already have a health issue, getting cover is going to be more complicated. Pesky pre-existing conditions affect your choices when it comes to buying insurance, so it’s useful to ask an expert which of the 100s of plans on the market will be flexible enough to accommodate you.

Do you need a global plan?

It’s often tempting to save money by buying a local health plan. However, you should think carefully about this so-called ‘saving’. Local cover in Spain only pays out for medical treatment received within the country and access to some hospitals is restricted. There’s also a level of risk attached to buying a foreign language policy – the small print may not translate.

Ambulatorio Spain

An international plan means you’re covered wherever you go, meaning it’s a lot more comprehensive. It’s increasingly important for Brits living abroad to get international health insurance because changes to NHS rules in the UK means they may no longer be entitled to free healthcare when they return home.

Visa Regulations

It’s important to research the specific country’s rules regarding health insurance requirements for expatriates. How can you be sure that a medical plan you’ve selected is compliant? Speak to an insurance professional and be sure to add repatriation to the plan – it’s required for visas issued from outside the EU for Spain.


Your budget for health insurance will affect the level of cover you purchase. Plans from UK-based insurers are designed to control costs by limiting geographic cover. An excess or deductible will reduce your premiums, though the higher the excess the more you may have to pay when you come to claim.

Health Insurance is a complex, expensive product because plans try to meet your needs.

hospital care in Spain

The level of cover you need will depend on your individual circumstances. Even if your employer provides you with cover, you should always question its suitability. Your age, health and future plans are all factors to take into consideration and you will also have to think about whether you will need add-ons like maternity or dental cover.

You’re a person, not a category, so a comparison site can’t fully assess your requirements. Understandably, insurance providers are only going to recommend their own plans – even if there’s a better one on the market.

About the author: Medibroker can guide you through choosing a health insurance plan for your time in Spain. A personal advisor calls you to chat about your needs then recommends a plan tailored to you. It’s a completely impartial, 100% free service, regulated in the UK by the FCA.

Seville: Spain’s Most Bike-Friendly City

My ride is a bubblegum pink cruising bike with rusted handlebars, a rickety frame and the name Jorge. Since I live outside the city center (ugh, I know, don’t remind me), I’m constantly busing myself from one end of town to the other to meet friends, run errands and go to work.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to come home from school and ride my bike around the block until my legs practically fell off. Now that I’m an adult, it’s my favorite way to get around, especially in a city with terrible transportation and few parking spots.

Seville is perfect for bikes – it’s flat, has miles of bike lanes and so, surprisingly, nearly one-tenth of sevillanos chose to commute on two wheels. For me, there’s nothing more freeing than pedaling along the Guadalquivir, feeling the burn in my thighs and arriving a little winded to work or to meet my guiritas.

Consider renting a Sevici bike, part of the city’s bikeshare program, for half of what a cab costs from the airport. Yes, the bikes are big and clunky, but it’s the easiest way to get from one place to another. For one week, you can use the bikes for 30 minutes (o sea, between bars or between practically any point in the city), and there are more than 250 rental points.

Is your city bike friendly? Does your bike have a sweet name like mine? For more videos, subscribe to my YouTube channel!

CaminoFTK: Meet my Sponsors, Podoactiva

I’ve been thinking a lot about passion these last few weeks as I wrap up my master’s and mentally prepare for walking over 200 miles on the Camino de Santiago. Many of you have never met me face to face, but it’s clear that my passions are Spain, blogging, and photography. Add with that a love for helping people and connecting, and challenging myself, and you’ve essentially got my reasons for wanting to do the Camino de Santiago.

Pursing my passion led me to Spain in the first place: a passion for Spanish language, a passion for traveling and a passion to do something different while pushing my personal limits. I’m never one to drag my feet when it comes to making a decision and sticking to it – evident by my fight with bureaucracy, my fight against the Spanish private school system and my fight to make a meaningful life in Seville while dealing with my guiri complex.

My parents claim I ran before walking, and have been the first to tell me I’d always have the world at my feet so long as I stayed true to myself and what I wanted out of life. Thanks, padres. This led to a near-obsession with walking the Camino de Santiago, and for carrying something more than a 6kilo backpack for more than 200 miles.

When looking around for sponsors, I had very few criteria. For one, they had to be on board with my reasons for walking and support Dance Marathon and my passion for it. Secondly, they had to be people who personified passion themselves. When Caser Expat Insurance contacted me not three days after my post on why I’m walking went live and shared their interest in me and my story, I was floored.

A few weeks later, I was on a Madrid-bound train to meet Pablo, the director of Caser Expat Insurance, and his team. Their biggest focuses are on health and well-being, so they took me to have a physical…for my feet. Talk about putting your best foot forward!

Pulling up to the Podoactiva clinic near Paseo de la Castellana, it was clear that these people were passionate about feet. Despite having a clientele that ranges from the players of Real Madrid to Shakira, the office was welcoming and calming (it even quelled my nerves about baring my feet to a bunch of strangers).

Carlos got me set up in one of the consults, which was stacked wall-to-wall with machines. Podoactiva uses biomechanics to measure your feet’s resistance, strength, weight distribution and more, which is why they specialize in sports performance. Having been a gymnast my whole childhood, I would have loved to know all of these fators growing up, especially because my body now feels like an abuelita‘s.

After the customary round of questions – birthdate, weight, shoe size – I was made to lay down on a cot while Carlos tested the flexibility and strength of my ankles. He guessed I was a dancer because even the slightest touch or twist meant my ankle bent. “I hope you got boots that cover your ankles” was Carlos’s response.

Oops. They looked funny!

Once finished, I stood still for 30 seconds upon a mat so that the pressure I put on each foot could be properly measured. Carlos and his colleague, Jaime, then fed these images into a computer so that I could see the results. As it turns out, the knee injury I got from gymnastics ten years ago has greatly affected the way I walk and stand – I overcompensate with the right side of my body, particularly in the toes.

Asking me to walk back and forth on the pressure mat, Jaime and Carlos watched closely (and took a video) to see how I walked and how much support my ankles got when doing so. It was evident that my feet turned in, and the effect than four years of marching band had on the “roll-down” way in which I walk. This, Carlos explained, was causing the bones in my feet to become impacted and lose the natural arch (in other words, I have juanetes. Go look up that word, lest it show up in a search engine in English!).

I also walked on a treadmill, both barefoot and in my running shoes before sticking my foot into the patented Podoactiva 3-D scanner. Jaime helped me to Keep my foot still on the soft silicon hammock as each foot got scanned, creating a virtual image of what my custom insoles should look like. The scans are sent to the company’s manufacturing plant in Huesca, where they use lasers and robots to cut the insoles.

In about two weeks, I’ll have custom-made plantillas delivered to Podoactiva’s office in Los Remedios to start breaking in, along with my boots. Since the whole two-week trek won’t exactly be a walk in the park, knowing I have the passion for foot care and a healthy lifestyle behind me and someone to walk in memory of, I’m excited. I’m elated, actually. And dreading how my feet will look afterwards!

Don’t forget to follow my Camino story through my blog and through the hashtag #CaminoFTK. Awareness is key, so please spare a moment to share any posts via social media if you see fit. I couldn’t do all of this without the support of people like you all, Kelsey’s family, Caser Expat Insurance, Walk and Talk Chiclana, Books4Spain, Your Spain Hostel and Dance Marathon.

Podoactiva will be with me literally every step of the way: they graciously picked up the tab for both my consultation and the lime-green insoles I’ll be getting for my hiking boots. I’m still a bit cross that their client Xabi Alonso didn’t come watch me run barefoot on a treadmill, but you can’t always get what you want. 


My Biggest Medical Mishaps in Spain

One of the first words the Novio ever taught me in Spanish was torpe. Clumsy, klutxy, prone to running into things, falling off of things and hitting my head on things.

To my credit, I have never broken a bone. I think (my current toe situation is cloudy).

When I first came to Spain as part of the Language and Culture Assistant program in 2007, I was promised a student visa, a teaching gig and private health insurance during the eight months of the program. Great for being in Spain, but what about my long weekends to travel when my health insurance was not valid outside of Iberia?

The Spanish Health System is a relatively good program and free to all residents and workers, who pay their social security taxes to receive coverage. Still, there’s been a great deal of backlash with expats who have tried unsuccessfully to use their NHS card in Spanish clinics and hospitals. I myself wish I had considered an annual holiday insurance coverage policy for the times I tried to push myself to the limits unsuccessfully. These days, coverage plans seek to not only offer crazy affordable health services for expats and holiday makers, but also to go as far as insure flight cancellations and free coverage for the kiddies. These plans are extremely helpful for families moving to Spain or taking long holidays to the land of sunshine and siestas.

So let’s get to the good stuff…me beating myself up and spending far too much time in a hospital waiting room while they take the more “emergent cases” and not “esa torpe guiri” cases:

Running into the Sevici Station. Sober. While on my Phone.

Yes, this happened, and I had a black eye to show for it during my entire Semana Santa trip to Croatia and Montenegro. On my way to go out and meet Ryan and Ang, my blogger friends over at Jets Like Taxis, I checked the bus schedule on my phone and ran smack into the stationary Sevici station. I made a run for the arriving bus, and the driver even asked if I was alright when I paid onboard.

I began getting looks from other passengers who gasped as I passed by, looking for a rail to hold onto. Catching a glimpse of myself in the reflective glass, I saw that I had a bump the size of a ping-pong ball on my right cheekbone, just underneath my eye. Then the throbbing began. I exited the bus at the next stop, calling the Novio to pick me up and take me to the hospital. He shook his head disapprovingly, once again proving that I am, quite literally, a walking disaster.

I’ve been to the ER in Spain a few times before, and it’s always a time-consuming nightmare. I’m always standing the wrong line (and often in the longest), or my name gets so mutilated that I don’t understand when I’m being called, or I’m forced to wait for hours, only then to get so turned around in the hospital, I end up in the maternity ward and not the triage. Even on this calm Saturday, I had to have a doctor escort me to the ER, having my wishing I’d considered some sort of private health coverage to cut through the red tape (and have a smaller building to navigate).

I had clobbered myself so well that I had nearly fractured the bone, but still being able to talk and bite were good signs. The doctor, who was actually quite friendly, uttered the words “hematoma” and must have seen my eyes widen. For someone who studied words and not pathologies, my obsession with Grey’s Anatomy has made me a hypochondriac, but the doctor told me I would merely have the bump until the hematoma broke, after which I would have a bruise for five days. Mentira, it lasted nearly two weeks, meaning all of my pictures from the Balkans looked like this:

Attack of the Pollen (and the olive blossoms and the animals and the hay….)

My childhood nickname was “Honker” (my mother’s was “Grace” because she is just as torpe as I am!) because of my terrible hay fever and my tendency to go through more tissue packets than a vendor on any given street corner in Seville sells in one day.

I hoped that coming to Spain meant exposure to different allergens that wouldn’t bother me as much as my mother’s horse did as a kid.

In May, the sunflowers greeted the warm weather and end of the course in Olivares, the town where I taught for three years. With the sunflowers came olive blossoms as well, and it turns out I’m allergic to them, too (self-diagnosed). Teaching with the window open was no longer an option, so I headed to the pharmacy for anti-histamines.

“Take this once a day, at the same hour every day, and maybe invest in a pill slicer and just take half. They’ll knock you out.” Ah, over-the-counter medicine in Spain. The pills, which were nearly the size of a quarter, had me falling asleep in an English class just a few hours later.

They say the years without rain are the worst for allergy sufferers, and last year’s spring had me blotchy, covered in hives and with red, watery eyes.

One morning it was so bad, I woke up at 6am and headed to the ER for some relief. The halls were deserted, but I waited over two hours to get an allergen shot and prescriptions for inhalers, nasal spray, eye drops and allergy pills when a private doctor could have just scribbled them away without taking my vitals while I heaved and death-rattled.

And then there was the Tough Mudder...

My friend Audrey can’t be described in ten words, or even 100. So when she asked me to do the Tough Mudder and described it as an “obstacle race in London,” I thought we’d knock back a few pints and have one last hurrah before she moved back to America in the form of a scavenger hunt.

I was so, so wrong.

For 20 kilometers, I literally defied death while scrambling over 10-foot walls, plunging into icy water and even getting electrocuted. For the entire grueling race, we picked one another up, hoisted one another over obstacles and had our clothes get torn, blood- and mud-stained and racers drop out. One of the guys on our team even needed to have medical attention at the end for muscle strain, and we were concerned that another was hypothermic.

Because I didn’t have valid insurance for the UK, I was happy to skip the extremely dangerous obstacles and to play it safe when it came to my health. Besides, I had the bumps, bruises and swollen joints to show for it for over a week.

The biggest problem I had was the stench from the river water that evening when I flew back to Spain.

Accidents happen, and often while you’re away from home. Even the most meticulously planned trip can go awry, so having a comprehensive health insurance when moving to Spain or any other country – even for the short-term – can mean a great deal of savings, both in hassle and money.

Have you had any medical incidents abroad? Were you insured?

Saying Goodbye

You might say my mind has been made up since last August. For the first time in my six flights from America to Spain, I cried boarding.

Normally, I’m equipped with a travel magazine, a bottle of water and a nervous stomach at going back to a place that I love so much, but this trip was different. Spain no longer held the same excitement and romanticism for me as it did during my first few years there, and I wasn’t looking forward to going back.

It was clear what the problem was: My work situation.

I thought about how many mornings I’d trekked to the foreigner’s office or to the unemployment office or to job interviews during the hot summer months. I remember I told my friend Izzy that I was about to throw in the towel and just go back to America, defeated. Then Refu called back, asking me for an interview. Seven hours, a 13-paged written interview and two classroom try outs later, I was officially given the job at SM’s.

And two school years later, I’m bowing out. Official reason? I don’t want to be a teacher forever. I want to blog. To not have to turn down weekend trips because I have too much to do. To live my sevillano life, lest lose it forever.

Next year will be a transition year: master’s in Public Relations at the Universidad Autònoma de Barcelona, 26-hours-a-week teaching gig at a language academy (working in the pm again…weird!) and toying around with this blog. I’ll still be teaching, though I’ve made up my mind that it’s not the career I want forever. At least, not in Spain.

The thing is, my situation – long hours, poor pay, no chance at moving up  – will be the same forever unless I do a master’s in teaching. My school threatened to have to complete a five-year teaching program (as a master’s for primary school teacher does not exist) or to lose our jobs. I did them one better and gave official notice about a month ago, citing that I wasn’t willing to pay for five or more years of schooling for something I can’t see myself doing forever.

Of course, there’s more to the story that isn’t fair to share. No one in my school has been overly abusing of anything else but my time and my self-worth. Sure, I’ll miss my co-workers and the staff at the bar across the street, who never need to ask me how I want my breakfast. I’ll miss the parents, full of compliments and funny stories about the 45 kids I’ve grown to adore after being their tutora for 10 months.

That’s the thing – I’ll miss my kids with locura. Absolute, unending locura.

If I make the count, I’ve taught at least 700 kids in some form – between my five years and three summers teaching. I’ve had kids that make my nerves snap, kids who are mini-mes (and tell me they want to teach English like me), kids who understand where I’m coming from, kids who give me hell. As a director of studies, I’ve put up with fist fights, calls home sobbing to parents, crazy moms who yell at me over the phone…vamos, all in a day’s work. Between the test-giving, the long nights preparing theatres and parties, the endless hours of programming and grading, I’ve found that this is and isn’t where I want to be.

I think about just how far me and the babies have come since September. Having been their English teacher in Five years’ preschool, I already had the confianza of knowing them – and having them know me. They were excited, and I had unhappy preschool parents asking to know why I’d been changed to primary. But I was elated. Finally, my own classroom, a manageable number of kids and a feeling of actually being on the team.

It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies – there were kids who I needed to win over, motivation to keep up and a lot of work to be done. Since my coworker and I have 45 kids, that’s twice the work when it comes to grading and report cards, and an extra class of parents to see. But I enjoyed watching their Aha! moments, rewarding them for using their English blocks of speech (even if just a few words here and there) and how they smiled when we’d play a game (roll the ball in the bucket as a math game? I deserve some kind of award) or take a field trip or make a breakthrough. They, as well as I, have matured and come into their own in these ten months, and I’ll take a piece of them with me when I have to say goodbye next Friday.

The plan, before I gave notice, was for me to continue onto second grade with my minions. Multiplication tables, reflexive verbs and the solar system were all on the docket, and I had many anxious six-year-olds asking, ¿Serás nuestra seño en segundo? Since my move up to first grade was so unexpected, I didn’t have to lie and say I didn’t know who their teacher would be next year, because it’s all up to the boss anyway. But as I take down their adorable drawings, send home their corrected and completed workbooks, I find myself giving more hugs and kisses, pinching more cheeks and wishing that things could somehow be different.

Teaching and I have a love-hate relationship: I hate the work, but love the reward. I find pleasure in creating a challenging lesson and giving it, like standing up and acting goofy in front of a crowd and crave the daily satisfaction that a young learner’s progress garners. It’s all of the extras at my school that was slowing me down, and it all came to a head with the theatre last week. I cried in front of the kids for the first time all year.

My decision to leave is the right one for me.

Maybe some of my kids who finally started getting results will get blocked with a new teacher. Or maybe they’ll like him more. But I’m confident that the right foundation has been laid for them to be successful.

Now that exams, grades and everything else is done, it’s time to enjoy with the kids who taught me that school can be fun and hands-on, with the ones who read my emotions even better than I do, the ones who say ” I want the holidays to Chicago con Miss Cat!” Boogers and all, they’re still really special kids, and I will miss them dearly.

A Dance for Every Heart

I’m going to take the liberty to break from my normal roundup of life in Spain, teaching baby English and enjoying the sunshine (and biting cold) and siestas of Spain for the next few minutes.

Back in college, I rarely pulled all-nighters. Hello, I studied journalism, and few sources were up that late. Every first weekend of February, however, I did stay up for 24 hours without sitting, sleeping or drinking alcohol all in the name of pediatric cancer. This was, of course, after raising $425 or more to get in the door, spending hours at morale meetings, visiting kids at the hospital and connecting with other dancers.

Dance Marathon was, by far, the most important student org I ever belonged to.

Imagine your little sister is diagnosed with cancer. You don’t live near a children’s hospital, the bills are piling up, and you can’t go to school. That’s where Dance Marathons – organized at college campuses, elementary schools and in cities across America – step in. Apart from providing research opportunities and providing better facilities for kids, my alma mater also provides emotional support for the families who are coping with childhood cancer.

The child assigned to me was Kelsey. She served as my contact family for my morale group and my sorority for years during her initial battle with bone cancer, then her secondary leukemia, and the relapse that occurred just a few months ago. At 14, I felt a connection with Kelsey and her family that made me feel like I had another cousin or sister. We wrote each other through email, talked occasionally on the phone and met when she came to Iowa City for check-ups.

After repping Kelsey for two years, she was passed onto another sorority sister, but stayed in the family – literally –  a sister from two pledge classes above me’s father married into Kelsey’s family. When I moved to Spain, we kept in touch through Facebook and the numerous postcards rumored to be kept safe in her bedroom. She went to technical college, took trips to Iowa City to see the Child Life Specialists and pretty much won the affection of everyone around her. She even made it to her 21st birthday and sent me pictures of her first time out with friends.

“You’re so much braver than anyone I know,” she wrote me in an email just before Christmas. “I really have to come visit you in Spain to see why it is you’re still there.” I promised to call her once she was out of surgery for some build-up in fluids around her lungs, an effect of her current treatment. She was supposed to watch the bowl game, as she loved the Hawkeyes like I do, and then be operated on.

The following day, she passed away.

I always said I’d never have to be one of those dancers who had to remember a child through a memorial candle that burns during the 24-hour event, claiming the child is dancing in my heart. As the  DJ gets the crowd going at 7pm CST tomorrow (2am in Spain), Kelsey will be one of the children honored by that candle.

I lost two friends to cancer in 2011, so I’m asking those of you who follow my blog to consider learning about Dance Marathons (there’s one in Chicago), dancing in one, or even donating a few bucks to kids like Kelsey and her family that spend holidays in the hospital and can’t live a normal life like most of us enjoy. If you donate anything, please let me know via personal message or in the comments, and I’ll be sure to send you a postcard from Spain (be honest, it’s For The Kids!!).

Our morale dance in 2006, the year I suited up in red ended with the now well-worn mantra of Iowa’s Dance Marathon: A dream for every child, a dance for every heart. I sure take it to my own little heart, so please consider a small donation to make miracles happen for kids across the Midwest.

Donate now

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