70 – Goodbye to the NHS

A flying visit to the UK, just for a week, mostly to see friends but also to sort the documents I need to begin the process of registering as resident in Spain.  Doing battle with British bureaucracy in order to minimise any hassle with Spanish bureaucracy.

So I’ve been researching residency for some months, and I’ve learned quite a few things:-

  1. I’ve learned that if you accidentally call it “residencia” on some expat forums, you might as well have invited the entire Spanish Armada to open fire on you.  “How could you possibly be so ignorant?” ask the vehemently-correct willy-wavers with too much time on their hands.  How could you possibly not have understood that “residencia” as it was, changed a few years ago and is now a matter of signing on the EU Register of Foreign Nationals (in order to declare that you are, well “resident” in Spain)?
  2. I’ve learned that the people in the UK’s Overseas Health section are almost all incredibly nice and patient and do their best for you, despite the fact they spend their days talking to people who are moving abroad (usually to somewhere sunnier than the UK).
  3. I’ve learned that I should ideally have stopped work in December and moved to Spain
    Carlos Haya Hospital, Málaga

    Carlos Haya Hospital, Málaga

    in January, as this somehow triggers the maximum contribution the NHS makes to the Spanish health system to cover my health care.  Then I possibly MIGHT have got two and a bit years of healthcare in Spain paid by the UK government.  By retiring at the end of March (which I thought kept things tidy for tax etc) and being unable to be clear about an exact moving date, I have reduced my entitlement to one and a half years.

  4. I learned that I should always check the maths myself.  When my final National Insurance bill didn’t arrive I rang up as I wanted to pay it promptly, so my contributions would show as up-to-date, in order for me to get the S1 health form to give to the Spanish health system.  The nice lady in the Self-Employed Contributions section worked it out for me, to get me paid up to the end of March when I retired.  I 70-10pdid an online transfer straight away, and a week later phoned the Overseas Health section who informed me I still didn’t have the full contributions.  The nice lady had done it in her head and had missed 10p off.  The next day I received a demand from HMRC National Insurance section, sent first class, for the missing 10p.  At the bottom of the demand was the standard statement that if I had difficulties paying, I could arrange to pay in instalments.  It was tempting ….. !

So once I had paid the missing 10p, Overseas Health finally confirmed my 2012/13 contributions were fully paid-up (along with the two preceding years), and yesterday with a deep breath I allowed the nice lady in Newcastle to press the button that would issue my S1.  A pause – a moment of fear.  It’s odd, I have complete faith in Spain’s health service, and English and Spanish friends mostly report excellent service.  But there’s something about having been brought up with the British NHS that makes you feel quite abandoned when it’s no longer there for you.  This is nothing to do with any misgivings about the Spanish system – it is simply that the mantra “from cradle to grave” is instilled so deeply 70-nhs_logowithin us, and I have many times given thanks to Nye Bevan for creating the NHS in 1948 free at the point of use, for everyone according to their needs.  Yet now, once the cogs of the Spanish and British bureaucracies grind their way through the paperwork, the Spanish system will eventually inform the British system that I am registered with them and then …… and then ….. gulp …..  I will be removed from the caring arms of the NHS.

And that feels like the biggest step of all.  Tax – fine.  Pension – sorted.  Signing on the EU Register of Citizens – I’m ready.  I already have my NIE number, I’m registered on the Padrón at the ayuntamiento, my bank account seems to work fine, everything is going smoothly.  Oh and I speak the language.

But there are a number of assumptions that you hold without knowing it, if the accident of geography and parentage happens to make you British.  One is all that stuff about those bits of the world that used to be coloured pink (“Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves!”).  Another is that the English language will probably see you right pretty much anywhere, even beyond those bits that used to be pink.  The third ….. and the only one of these three that I do actually hold dear ….. is that “from cradle to grave” the NHS will take care of us.


And now, for me, it won’t.


© Tamara Essex 2013



Staying on the health theme, it has always interested me that in Spanish we refer to the parts of our bodies not as MY head or MY fingers, but THE head and THE fingers.  So that the English “My head hurts” becomes “Me duele la cabeza” (the head is hurting me).  My intercambio partner looked puzzled when I asked why this is, and pointed out that it was unlikely that anyone else’s head would be hurting me, so to say “my” head was both unnecessary and (to Spanish ears) rather ego-centric.  And this is the main reason for mentioning it here – it’s one of the things they laugh at us for!  We sound very self-obsessed when we say “Me duele mi cabeza” so it’s worth trying to get this one right.


13 thoughts on “70 – Goodbye to the NHS

  1. After nearly 5 years in Spain, the only post still piling up for our tenants in the UK appears to be reminders for NHS screenings – they are still determined to take care of me somehow!

    • I must admit that there’s a naughty little bit of me that reckons it’ll take forever before my GP in Dorset actually gets told I’ve moved …. I reckon I’ve got another 3 years or so before I get officially removed!

  2. Once you are safely under the Spanish system, Tamara, you will them have to apply for a new EHIC (from England) so that if you are visiting the UK, and you need medical care, you will be covered in case of emergency. This used to be issued by Spain (who received payment fro the UK), but has now reverted to the UK!!!

    Comprendes??? 🙂

      • When we first moved here, our EHIC was issued by the UK. Then we received a letter from them to say that our cards would be cancelled and we would need to apply for ones issued by Spain (from a non-descript office in Velez-Malaga), which we did. A year or two ago we received yet another letter from the UK, to say that they would be re-issuing us with EHIC cards – once again from the UK!! At the end of the day, our healthcare, even though we come under the Spanish system, is being funded by the UK – because that’s where we paid in. Talk about bureaucracy!

  3. Living in Oregon as I have for over twenty years, I still miss the cradle to grave of the NHS. There is no system to carry over to the US and so I have blissfully imagined over the years, that the NHS still would gently rock me!

  4. A timely reminder of how we need to safeguard our heritage, and what we’ve paid in for. Cameron’s government is doing its best to destabilise it and allow the profit making sector to grab its most lucrative aspects…

  5. Pingback: 104 – All the Language Points in One Place | A Foot in Two Campos

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