ABOUT 200 disgruntled British expatriates have just taken to the streets of Alicante in protest at the Valencia regional government’s plan to withdraw free healthcare to British early retirees.

There are now an estimated one million Brits living in Spain, although fewer than 400,000 have declared residency. If we’re to believe the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) the exodus of Brits since 2007, numbering about 250,000 per annum, is the largest UK emigration since the sixties. It seems that a job lot ended up in Spain.

Back in 2003, the Valencia regional government, perhaps unwisely, offered free healthcare to émigré British shunning the UK for an Eldorado existence. Most of these new arrivals chose to live in Little Britain ghettos in urbanisations where a Spaniard was as rare a sighting as a Golden Plover.

Most didn’t integrate or learn the lingo and, crucially, the majority no longer worked.

To its chagrin, the Valencia health authority soon acknowledged that this ageing foreign population was costing the region millions of euros every year in healthcare.

To stop the rot, it has now put its foot down and decided to charge expats an annual levy of 1080 euros for state healthcare, and with the intervention of the British Consulate, agreed to continue cover for those with chronic conditions.

This has cut no ice with some local expats who perhaps foolishly believed they’d spend their old age supported by the Spanish healthcare system. How wrong they were.

Let us face the facts. Unlike the UK, the Spanish government does not offer state healthcare to all and sundry who take up domicile status. Immigrants – or expats, if you like – must contribute to the economy to receive benefits. Valencia was an oddity and has subsequently regretted its earlier largesse.

The only way a British expat can qualify for state healthcare in Spain is by working and paying into its social security system, being under 18, or a retired UK citizen. The only other concession is for new UK expats who can receive up to 30 months free healthcare providing they’ve previously paid UK national insurance contributions.

The point is that there is no Europe-wide reciprocal agreement on healthcare provision for those under retirement age and so Spain can set whatever rules it wants. As far as the Alicante martyrs go, what were they thinking? To leave your country of residence on a wing and a prayer without future provision is surely at best naïve?

Much as one can sympathise with those in Valencia now crushed by the rollercoaster rate of exchange and free-falling pensions and house prices, it doesn’t alter the fact that they didn’t do their homework or think long-term.

Rebecca Bellafont-Evans, managing director of Mallorca Solutions, which aids expats with residency problems, admits that few Brits think about healthcare issues until they set foot in the country.

“I’d say 90 per cent of expats turn up in Mallorca without even checking on healthcare provision in advance,” she says. “Most mistakenly believe that they’ll be entitled to free healthcare as in the UK and rarely think about the future.”

For those not eligible for free healthcare, Spain offers excellent private health insurance for as little as 60 euros per month and the private hospitals are superb and widespread.

While some of us continue to work in order to afford sufficient healthcare and live a desirable expat existence in Spain, others choose to retire early and “live the dream”. But when the cash dries up and they’ve no provision, is it really fair to expect the host country to pick up the tab?

For advice on healthcare for expats in Spain visit http://ukinspain.fco.gov.uk

Anna Nicholas, who lives in Mallorca, writes a blog called Majorcan Pearls at http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/expat/author/annanicholas/

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  1. Uh oh, poor article alert….

    First of all, the Valencian healthcare plan was unique and not related to other areas of Spain. It was a one-off and doomed to failure.

    When Ms Nicholas says “they chose to live in Little Britain ghettos in urbanisations” that is a highly insulting sentence. People have the right to integrate as much or as little as they want. No one can make judgements about the way other people run their lives, and certainly not Ms Nicholas. Truth be known, the Spanish on Mallorca actually despise Ms Nicholas. A small urbanisation with people of similar backgrounds and language is what some pensioners desire, and good luck to them.

    I am glad Ms Nicholas is living in her ghetto on an island far away from mainland Spain. Perhaps they can put all naïve Telegraph ‘journalists’ there?

  2. At last, someone who calls it as it is for the Brits living in Spain. Yes, people can choose whether they want to integrate or how much but you can bet your bottom dollar a lot of these people are the same ones complaining about ‘immigrants coming to Britain and using the NHS’. I am fed up with meeting so many Brits, living and working here, paying nothing into the system, driving illegal cars and then moaning about everything Spanish. Both my husband and I work here in Spain, pay into the systems and have used the excellent health service. Why should people think they do not have to pay for it? We are the immigrants here. The term expats gives us a status that so many of us do not deserve.

  3. I agree with you on the point of moaning Britains who pay nothing into the system, but there are people paying into the system who have gripes too. However, my point was more about the ‘integration issues’. If a retiree wants to live in Spain on an urbanisation that is predominantly made up of expats, then so be it.

    I am glad you are finding nothing to moan about in Spain, but I doubt that’s completley true somehow, Sheilagh :)

  4. Certainly I have things to moan about; I wish my husband would do the washing up more often and I wish this rain would stop. But I know I am never going to have a 22-inch waist again so I have given up moaning about that.

  5. If you are under pension age you are not entitled to free healthcare in any other EU country except under the cover provided by the EHIC and often you have to pay up front and claim upon return to the UK. I cannot understand people relocating to a foreign country without doing research beforehand. Where people choose to live is up to them, personally I am happy in my small Spanish village where we have a small ex pat community which gives me the best of both worlds, if I want a deep conversation I have the ex pats when I want to have fun and a laugh I have my lovely Spanish neighbours who are always inviting us into their homes and hearts.

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