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What is a Tessera Sanitaria? Your Questions Answered

On the long list of things you'll need as an expat living in Italy is a tessera sanitaria. Let's look at what it is and when and why you need one.

What is a Tessera Sanitaria?

The tessera sanitaria is a health insurance card issued by the Italian National Health Service (Servizio Sanitario Nazionale or SSN) to all citizens and residents of Italy.

The tessera sanitaria is a plastic card (best kept in your wallet or purse!) with your name, date of birth, and tax code (codice fiscale), as well as details related to your healthcare coverage.

Why Do I Need a Tessera Sanitaria?

Having this sweet lil' card gets you access to healthcare services within the Italian healthcare system. That means you can get free or discounted doctor visits, hospital care, specialist consultations, prescription medications, and diagnostic tests.

For example, here's what I've paid for medical services using my card:

  • Gynecological visit: €20

  • Endocrinologist visit: €20

  • Bloodwork: €20

  • Primary care doctor visit: €0

What About Using the Card at the Pharmacy?

Oh yea! I almost forgot to tell you. Whenever you buy something at the pharmacy (whether it's over-the-counter or prescription), give the pharmacist your tessera sanitaria card. That way, the medical expense is tracked and you can get a tax deduction when you file your taxes.

Also, keep your receipts from the pharmacy! You may be asked to show them to your accountant.

How Can I Get My Tessera Sanitaria?

The good news is, if you're waiting for your permesso di soggiorno, you can still get your tessera sanitaria, as long as you have the receipt given to you at the post office when you filled out the application.

You'll also need a codice fiscale (I'll be writing about that soon, so stay tuned), proof of residence (a rental contract or utility bill should work), and ID (passport or carta di residenza.

You'll fill out an application at your local Distretto Sanitario (health district office) and present the required documents. You may be required to pay a small annual fee; this wasn't clear to me because what I found online for those with a self-employment visa said I'd have to pay something...but I didn't. So obviously I didn't volunteer this information!

You'll be asked which doctor you want to be your primary care doctor to be. If you want to do a little homework in advance before this visit, search for "scelta di medico [town you live in]". I lucked out. I chose the closest female doctor on the list and she's the best!

Once all this rigamarole is done, you'll be given a paper version of your tessera sanitaria. The plastic card will arrive in the mail in a few weeks. You can register with your regional healthcare system to access some medical information online with your new card (though at least in Calabria, I'm not impressed with how little you can do online).

Leverage Your Free Healthcare...But Remember the Private Option

As I've written about before, I fully take advantage of the free healthcare here. But, because I'm American and sometimes want things to move faster, I also use private services, particularly for imaging, since that can take months to get an appointment.

Even paying for some services, I'm still paying WAY less than the nearly $400 a month I was spending for private health insurance in the U.S.!

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