All pilgrims to the camino should worry about health insurance coverage. European pilgrims can get freely the European Health Card in their own country days before the pilgrimage. However, American pilgrims or anyone that travels overseas should order a full-covering medical insurance including emergency rescue and transportation to their home country. If you are not a EC citizen, then you will have to pay for hospitalization in Spain.
Getting a full-covering travel insurance is pretty cheap and it is worthanticipating and preventing bad luck from happening before it actually happens, that´s to say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. For instance, I have been said a medical and evacuation insurance (no travel or trip cancel coverage) is about $60.USD for 15 days coverage, although it may vary according to age and days out of your country. However, many companies will only insure you for 60-63 days, which means $200-$350 depending on your age and what included. Spending a night in a Spanish hospital being treated for a simple blood infection due to your injured feet could cost about 500 euros. Do you still think it is worth risking?
Last year I knew about a new insurance called Jacobeo for all pilgrims, walkers or cyclists, from anywhere.It is part of the collaboration between Galicia Tourism and Europ Assistance, a 50 year old company. The insurance is offered in Spanish, English, French, German, Italian and Portuguese. Jacobeo Insurance Europ Assistance offers pilgrims travel assistance, for example: transfer to Santiago de Compostela in case of illness or accident, interpreter service, extended stay hotel for illness or accident, coverage for medical expenses, legal assistance in Spain, uninitiated trip cancellation, travel delay, baggage warranties or liability. One unique feature is that the pilgrims, despite their mishap, can be moved to Santiago to meet their promise to reach the city of the Apostle.
Some hikers´ experience is that the local hospitals and medical centres along the routes are very good at treating pilgrims but that is usually for fairly minor ailments so the problems arise with emergencies or serious illness requiring surgery and when repatriation is needed. In this way, you will not be generally charged if get a consultation or treatment at a local clinic but you will if you require referral for treatment or consultation by a specialist or have to go to hospital for a diagnostics such as X-rays or you have to be hospitalized. So if you were hospitalized for a trauma, or a heart attack, you would be charged for the per diem rate, lab tests, x-rays and all other treatments. In my view, Spanish Health Authories have been quite lenient to foreigners and treated them for free for a long time (as I have been told or I have read many pilgrims experiences about walking the camino Frances or camino Primitivo), but with the recent cut backs in the health sector in Spain this is no longer so.
Most of pilgrims found the Spanish system well up to par and nothing to complain about. Doctors and nurses are qualified professionals although few speak English or French. All towns in the camino have got local clinics called “Centro de Salud” where you can be treated of minors ailments as blisters or sprains at no charge, there are also plenty of pharmacies or chemist´s where to purchase medicine, band-aids, bandages and so on. However, both local clinics and pharmacies are closed at night and on Sundays (local clinics are usually closed at the weekend) so you will have to go the nearest hospital or emergencies if you have a pain or an accident. There are also all night pharmacies on a rotational schedule and it is easy to know which is open if you ask a taxi driver to take you there.
I hope this kind of information can be useful for your future camino.
Buen camino, amigos!
Important note: None of the companies mentioned here is sponsored or related by any business contract to Camino Travel Center.