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Health Emergencies for Expats in Italy

Submitted: April 2014

If you are in an emergency situation, dial 118 (health emergencies service) or go straight to your nearest public hospital (Ospedale). You may also dial 112, which is the European emergency number. Calls to 118 or 112 are free.

There are other free emergency numbers in Italy, including:

If you need to make a call but you can’t speak Italian, say it straightaway. In such situations, you might wish to be assisted by an Italian-speaker to handle the conversation. In any event, you must be able to describe the place where you are. A list of Italian keywords can be found here.

It is always advisable not to be alone at the hospital. Thus, you should call somebody to come with you to the hospital as soon as possible.


Emergency response

While the emergency service is coordinated at national level, it is managed at regional level. Some regions choose to let private ambulances do the work, others prefer relying on volunteer organisations (e.g. the Italian Red Cross). In some cases, the emergency service (or part thereof) may be run directly by the local authorities.

Given Italy’s large inequalities among regions, the emergency response times vary from one region to another. In theory, life-threatening emergencies should be responded to within 8 minutes. In practice, it may take longer in some regions. By law, it may anyway not exceed 20 minutes.


Once the ambulance comes

Overall, Italy has a problem of underpaying its ambulance personnel. This doesn’t automatically mean a lower service quality though.

First aid treatment may be provided on the scene or in the ambulance by a qualified physician and/or a nurse. Life-threatening emergencies are those for which you would expect the most qualified staff. Otherwise, the issue is more likely to be handled by volunteers.


At the hospital emergency room

As in most countries, a nurse will immediately assess your situation immediately upon coming to the hospital emergency room. The nurse will then determine how urgent your case is and assign you a colour accordingly.


Cost of emergency treatment

Italy is one of the few countries across Europe that provides emergency care for free with no questions asked. There is not even any requirement to be registered as a resident.


Doctor’s out-of-hours service

If your problem is urgent but is not an emergency, you might wish to call the out-of-hours service (Guardia medica) in your local area. If the helpline deems it necessary, they may send a doctor to your place.

There is no single phone number for the out-of-hours service. Each local area has its own number, which you should check in the telephone book.



In Italy, the pharmacy business is regulated. In theory, there should be at least one pharmacy open at night in your local area.


Travel advice

Many countries provide updated travel information to their citizens, and this often includes health advice. You should regularly check the Foreign Office website of your home country to see if there are any specific steps you need to make. Alternatively, you can go to your local embassy in Italy.



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