Overview of Italian Healthcare

Italy ranks among the World Health Organization’s top 10 countries for quality health services (by contrast, the U.S. only holds 37th place, despite being the highest spender). However, although medical facilities are considered to be adequate for any emergencies, some public hospitals are reportedly overcrowded and under-funded.

Of course, you don’t have to rely solely on public health facilities. Like many Italians, you can avail of the parallel private medical service—known as the assicurazione sulla salute—that caters for patients covered by private medical insurance.

However, in some small towns, particularly in the south, you will only be able to access the public health system—private doctors and hospitals congregate in bigger cities where residents are more likely to have private medical insurance.

According to rankings, the best medical care, especially in an emergency situation, is likely to be found in the northern hospitals in cities like Milan and in central Italy near or in Rome. Reportedly, English-speaking doctors are particularly easy to come by in Rome and Milan as well.

Italian Health Insurance

Italy has a national health plan (Servizio Sanitario Nazionale), which provides for hospital and medical benefits. In Italy, healthcare is considered a right and the national health plan is designed to provide for all Italian citizens and residents, including U.S. and Canadian citizens who are legal residents of Italy.

With the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale most care is free or low-cost, including consults with a general physician, hospital visits, lab work, and medications. However, each region is responsible for managing its own care, so expect differences between regions and carefully research the specific region you want to retire in.

Healthcare Costs in Italy

Though costs vary based on a number of factors including region and whether you have private insurance or not, expats report costs as reasonable. One expat couple based in the south reports paying just $236 per year to cover their health insurance. And hospital visits are reportedly free in urgent cases. In non-urgent cases, a small co-pay may be expected.

Pharmacies and Medication

For over-the-counter medications in Italy, you’ll need to visit a pharmacy. These are standalone shops and unlike in the US, you won’t find them in grocery stores. Look for the large green cross (often lit up) and you’ll find your nearest pharmacy. Pharmacists in Italy are used to consulting with patients, so if you aren’t sure what kind of medication you need or what the equivalent of an American brand is here in Italy, ask the pharmacist. In general, you’ll find many of them speak English very well.