Health and Safety

Proper rest and nutrition help to prevent illness and minimize stress, thus enabling a stimulating and rewarding cross-cultural experience. Taking certain basic precautions will head off unpleasant, and potentially dangerous, situations. Please review the health and safety tips, including information about health insurance coverage abroad, below. Also be sure to check out the separate sublink under Life in Madrid called Emergency and Other Useful Numbers, especially for specific information about hospitals and clinics in Madrid and mental-health services. Finally, if you need medical (including psychiatric or psychological) help of any kind, please speak to the Assistant Director (Pepa) about identifying a specialist near your homestay.

Alcohol and Substance Abuse

Alcohol and substance abuse is a serious problem on U.S. campuses, and unfortunately the problem exists on American programs abroad. One of the temptations of life in European cities for American students is the lower drinking age and the regular presence of alcohol in social situations of all kinds. Moderate drinking among young Spaniards is normal and acceptable, but drinking to excess is regarded as socially inept and immature (the botellón is practiced by 16-year olds as a rule rather than by college students). In addition, substance abuse of any type is your passport to tragedy, as it seriously interferes with students’ ability to handle the challenges of an unfamiliar environment.

Beyond health and safety, substance abuse could result in arrest, fines, and incarceration. It is also essential to keep in mind that, while in Spain, Spanish law applies. The student’s embassy and the program staff will assist anyone in making sure their family is contacted, but students in such circumstances are subject to Spanish law and are responsible for all corresponding expenses.

With regard to the VWM program, if substance abuse is disruptive to the program or homestay family or potentially harmful to the student’s own well-being, the director is authorized to expel the student from the program. Useful related information is made available by the University of Minnesota study abroad office.

Medical Care and Health Insurance 

Students in urgent need of medical attention should call 112, the Spanish national hotline for emergencies.

Since students are not normally residents or citizens of Spain, they are not eligible for national health insurance coverage. Therefore, VWM participants are required to have medical insurance coverage from the US while studying in Spain and should take all pertinent information and forms for reporting claims. Wesleyan provides study abroad health insurance to its own students for the duration of the program. Both Vassar and Wesleyan require students to work through their respective international service providers, On Call (Vassar) and SOS (Wesleyan), which complement (and work with) your American health insurance providers. For more information about these services, see the bold-faced items below. If you have further questions about how these services work, you should first contact Vassar’s Office of International Programs or Wesleyan’s Office of Study Abroad.

The program also provides local insurance through the Spanish company Adeslas. This policy covers basic medical care from every kind of specialist, including diagnostic tests and basic dental work, within Adeslas’s extensive national network. It does not include hospitalization, intensive care, catastrophic coverage, major emergencies or the return trip to the U.S. if the student’s condition requires it. These must be covered by students’ American medical insurance through On Call (Vassar) and SOS (Wesleyan). Adeslas also does not cover major previous conditions. However, the Adeslas insurance will cover routine visits and medical needs in Spain without students’ having to pay upfront or depend on reimbursements from home. There are minimal co-pays, but the program pays them in order to encourage students to use medical services when needed. Students receive their member cards and have immediate access to care upon arrival in Spain.

A list of providers is available in the Madrid office and under the Emergency and Other Useful Numbers sublink on this website (under Life in Madrid). To identify the appropriate specialist, ask the assistant director. She will find the doctors closest to the student’s homestay in Madrid and will request an appointment.

If a student needs intensive care and/or to be hospitalized (which is covered by students’s American medical insurance policies rather than by the local ADESLAS policy), we do one of the following:

1. If in Madrid, head for the Hospital de Madrid in Plaza Conde Valle Suchil (metro San Bernardo) and ask for Hospiquality, which has an office there. They explain how to obtain reimbursements from the student’s American medical insurer: they are mediators, not insurers or providers.

2. Whether in Madrid or not, Wesleyan students should refer to their pre-departure materials for information on travel assistance through International SOS/University Health Partners. Review your SOS materials to determine what kinds of medical care might need pre-authorization. Bear in mind program staff are not authorized to make these kinds of calls for you. You might well need to pay up-front and seek reimbursement from your American provider later. Check with SOS and your American insurance provider to determine what forms you need to claim reimbursements. SOS explains pre-authorization instructions and coverage and can provide some remote medical care directly. The SOS telephone number is (from Spain, dial 00 as if to the US, then the country code plus number as follows) +1 215 942 8478. As a rule, when you need any type of medical care except preventive medicine or maintenance medication (neither of which is covered), you will need to call this SOS number in Philadelphia. If you can arrange the appointments through International SOS (they need to authorize the care and then direct you to the appropriate hospital or clinic in Spain), you will not have to pay out of pocket. Whenever possible, contact International SOS as early as possible, even before you leave for Spain if you know you will need one or another kind of medical (including psychiatric) care while abroad. Students in the past have arranged regular mental health counseling and physical therapy in advance, to name just two possibilities. For more details about what is covered by SOS, see the following document:

3. Vassar students should follow the instructions for their equivalent to Wesleyan’s SOS, On Call International. Vassar students are enrolled in On Call Global Assistance, which provides some travel assistance as well as medical sickness and emergency evacuation benefits to supplement students’ other insurance coverage. It does not cover preventative care. The key to making the best use of your On Call benefits is to contact them in advance for any non-emergency situations. Call: +1 603-952-2665, text (00) +1 603-945-0103, or email: They will explain how to make any necessary appointments. They can also arrange for direct payment to be made for your medical costs when your expenses exceed $500. You can also submit a claim for reimbursement of all eligible expenses, including those under $500. View your ID Card and summary of benefits document linked as a pdf at the end of this subsection. You might also watch this video summary about the plan benefits.

The following outline summarizes how medical care works for students abroad:

     (a) For 24-hour emergency services (including late-night and weekend emergencies), especially after 8pm, you should go to a private hospital (see the Emergency and Other Useful Numbers link for recommendations in Madrid, particularly for late-night emergencies). The assistant director can help you locate a hospital or clinic near your homestay.

     (b) From Monday to Friday until 8pm, you can make an appointment usually on the same day for an in-person consultation with a doctor. Many doctors also offer on-line assistance from Monday through Friday from 8am to 9pm without interruption.

     (c) In the event of a serious accident, you should go to a public hospital. Tell your taxi or ambulance driver to take you to the nearest public hospital. Unlike the US, Spanish public hospitals are the go-to places for round-the-clock emergencies and major interventions.

     (d) Bear in mind that our local Spanish insurance, Adeslas, covers item b above. If you must go to an Emergency Room (Urgencias or UCI) at any time of day, Adeslas does not cover it and you will have to pay. For that reason, if you are not facing an emergency it is important to request a medical appointment (which you can usually get on the same day) to have your symptoms treated as outlined in items (a) and (b) above. These services are covered by Adeslas.

     (e) For anything not covered by Adeslas (for example, a fracture or broken bone, a sprained ankle, an accident that requires a hospital visit even if it´s just a burn or something in your eye that you can´t flush out, or if you have a cut that won´t heal and you need stitches, and certainly if you need some kind of surgery, any hospital will provide medical care. HOWEVER, if you want your American medical insurance to reimburse it or pay for it up-front you must request preauthorization by calling the international telephone numbers for On Call (Vassar) or SOS (Wesleyan). Bear in mind that no one else, not even the director and assistant director, is authorized to make that call for you. In that same call On Call or SOS will tell you which hospital or clinic to go to and how to proceed. They´ll open a file for you at that hospital or clinic and they´ll send the invoice to your insurance provider directly. If you do not seek the preauthorization and follow On Call´s or SOS´s instructions you will have to pay up-front and then follow your American insurance provider´s procedures to submit a claim for reimbursement.

We are awaiting word about whether On Call and SOS will now pay for Covid-related rapid tests and PCRs. Although normally the program, Vassar and Wesleyan, and Adeslas would not cover Covid tests, as a preventive measure we are doing so until we get confirmation that On Call and SOS will pay for them.            

Bear in mind, finally, that any medical expense in Spain that your American insurance provider does not reimburse or that you need to pay up-front for against reimbursement later will cost far less in Spain than in the US (indeed, by several orders of magnitude). The reason for this is that medical care in Spain (as we have seen specifically with respect to prices for and widespread availability of N95 masks, rapid tests, and PCRs) is far more regulated by the government in Spain than is the case in the US. Food for thought as you prepare to vote in future elections.

Student Medications

It is not a good idea to change medications or stop taking them before going abroad, as this is a relatively stressful event (even simple things, at least at first, will seem complicated). Students should bring all the medication they will need for the entire semester. Since our local insurance does not include a pharmaceutical plan, we cannot guarantee that students’ medications would be less costly abroad. Wesleyan’s study abroad health insurance does not cover prescriptions obtained in the US. Students must contact their American insurance company well before departure and request the necessary supply. Insurance companies must normally seek authorization from the student’s doctor and enter an “override” to provide the student upfront with the medications needed for such a long period. Students should bring medications in the original container, in case they need to purchase them in Spain. Finally, if the student’s insurer will only allow the student to bring a partial supply of medication for the semester, the program recommends the student bring a clearly written prescription for the balance to be filled in Spain (but reimbursed by the student’s American insurer). This is preferable to having medications mailed from the U.S. by post, because they can be held up for a week or more at Customs and retrieval can sometimes be difficult (even impossible) and costly. 

Students with Special Medical Needs

Mobility International USA (MIUSA) is an organization dedicated to facilitating an international experience for students with special medical needs. Before leaving home, such students should consult this organization’s website at:

Behavioral Health Resources

(1) Counseling Service: Wendy Freedman, Director (, tel. 845-437-5700 8:30-5:00 EST,
 (2) Sexual Assault Violence Prevention Program: Charlotte Strauss Swanson, SAP Coordinator (, tel. 845-437-7863 8:30-5:00 EST, 845-437-7333 after hours,
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS, The Director is Jennifer D’Andrea (  If students abroad need emergency support outside of the usual work hours (9am-5pm Monday-Friday), they should call Public Safety at (860) 685-2345 to reach a dean on call. Students are encouraged to seek on site support through Adeslas or International SOS.


Madrid is a very safe city. But as in any unfamiliar urban environment or tourist destination, travelers confront special risks. Major European cities are more liable to suffer from petty crime (such as pickpocketing) than violent crime. It is crucial that students understand the potential risks in Madrid or in any other major city they might visit.The following measures should help ensure your safety and minimize the likelihood of trouble. We strongly urge you to abide by them. Before you depart:

  • Make two photocopies of all of your personal documents (passport, visa, identification cards, insurance cards, credit and debit cards).
  • Keep the photocopies in a safe location, one set at home in the US and another at home in Spain, readily available for consultation (and reporting purposes) in case of theft or loss.

While in Madrid:

  • Track any travel and health alerts on the consular website of the U.S. Embassy in Madrid ( and consider (although it´s NOT required) signing up for any bulletins for American citizens.
  • Keep your family and the program staff apprised of your whereabouts. When you travel, be sure that someone knows where you are and how to reach you.
  • Be wary of pickpockets in crowded areas frequented by tourists (discos, subways, buses, small streets or plazas in downtown areas).
  • Carry only as much money and as many bank or credit cards as you absolutely need, in an inside coat or shirt or pants pocket rather than in an outside pocket or backpack; in a small purse zipped closed and well-controlled; or in a money belt (not in a large bag or purse that you carry on your back or to your side).
  • Leave unnecessary valuables, cash, and credit, bank, and ID cards at home (in Spain).
  • Carry a photocopy of your passport at all times while in Madrid. The actual passport is necessary for any official business (at border-crossings, in the event of a police check, in banks when you need to change currency or withdraw money, or, sometimes, when you want to use a credit card) and when traveling outside of Madrid.
  • Carry your student ID card
  • Carry your emergency contact numbers at all times and keep a hand-written copy of your name and cell phone in your wallet. A stolen purse or wallet with this information inside is often returned to the program office or turned into the police. If you include your cell-phone information in your wallet you may find yourself getting a call within days of a theft or loss explaining where you can pick up your wallet and all its precious contents (minus the cash).
  • Learn from locals what behavior might put you at risk. Be alert to your surroundings and the people with whom you have contact.
  • Be wary of people who seem overly friendly or interested in you. Be cautious with new acquaintances – do not give out your address or phone number and do not provide personal information regarding other students. Report unusual activity near your classes or home to the program staff.
  • Avoid drawing unnecessary attention to yourself. Be discreet in your dress or conduct. Speak Spanish as much as possible and try to associate with Spaniards in small groups.
  • Avoid going to big clubs (like Capital and Barceló) on your own or separating from your group without notifying them about it. Do not receive any beverages from strangers and try to avoid alcoholic consumption in these spaces altogether. The Madrid Police has reported some instances of people using predator drugs to rob or attack others in these places. Always check-in on your friends and stick together.
  • Do not hitchhike, even if the locals do.
  • If your wallet is lost or stolen
    • cancel your credit cards immediately (that is why you make photocopies in advance and keep a list of toll-free numbers handy so you know whom to call and what your credit card number is)
    • file a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where it was lost/stolen. This is a must in case of your passport—your embassy will require it to issue a new passport.
    • Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and SS#. The numbers are:  Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742; Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
    • Call the Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271
Identification While in Madrid

Everyone is required by law in Spain (and Europe) to carry official identification on them at all times: for Americans, the only legitimate i.d. is the passport.

In accord with recommendations of the U.S. Embassy, for security reasons the VWM program staff recommends that students carry a clear, color photocopy of their passport on them and that they leave the passport itself at home or, while traveling, in their hotel room. Keep in mind that the photocopy has no legal status, but it is better than carrying no passport at all or losing the passport. Most businesses (e.g., restaurants) will accept the photocopy for credit-card purchases and law-enforcement officers will look a little more benignly on it than carrying nothing at all. However, for any official business with the bank or with the police, students will be required to carry (or retrieve) their passport.

Students should always travel with their passport when leaving Madrid for longer than a day trip. And they should carry other forms of ID, such as their student card from the UC3M as well.