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Coughs, colds and flu: What to say and do if you fall sick in Spain

Winter in Spain brings all sorts of wonderful things, cocidos and skiing to name but a few. But it also brings various winter lurgies.

Coughs, colds and flu: What to say and do if you fall sick in Spain
Photo: halfpoint/Depositphotos

Here's the vocab you need to deal with colds and flu in Spain and the procedures you’ll need to follow if you fall victim to them.

It’s the time of year when people start suffering from all sorts of winter malaise. So if you are feeling poorly, here's the Spanish words you need to get help.

Gripe :This word is slightly problematic to English speakers because it is used to describe either end of the scale of the most common winter ailment from a bad cold to a full on nasty dose of the flu.  

So “tengo gripe” can refer to “I have a bad cold” or “I have the flu”.

Photo: Depositphotos

Resfriado: you will also here this term referring to “a cold” but it tends to be used to describe “a chill”, say after a day spent out walking in the rain, rather than a full on “cold”.

Constipado: Don’t be fooled by this false friend in Spain, as it describes having a head cold (blocked nose) rather than constipation in the bowel area (which by the way is estreñimientoin Spanish)…

Los síntomas: 

You will need to describe your symptoms, either to a pharmacist if you want over the counter medicine or to the doctor if you require a day off sick.

Fiebre: The presence of a fever probably means you are suffering from the flu rather tan a common cold.

Photo: Depositphotos

Tos: A cough. If you have one of these you will likely need one of the various jarabes (cough syrup) on offer.  There is a wide range of jarabes antitusivos, mucolíticos and expectorantes available over the counter depending on whether you are suffering from una tos seca (dry cough) or are bringing up flema (phlegm).

You may also want “pastillas para chupar” throat lozenges or cough drops to help ease the symptoms.

Dolores musculares / mialgiasA bout of the flu often brings muscle aches or joint pains and possibly even dolor de cabeza / cefalea. These words describe a headache, which often accompanies the flu, and can be treated with pastillas (pills) such as aspirina, ibuprofeno or naproxeno.

Estornudos: Sneezing in Spain is met with the refrain “Jesús!” or “Salud!” in place of “Bless you!” and is often accompanied by secreción nasal (a runny nose) otherwise known as moco (snot).


Dolor de garganta. A sore throat often accompanies colds and flu or could be caused by inflamación de las amígdalas (inflammation of the tonsils) which may require antibióticos, available only with una receta médica (doctor’s prescription).


Your first point of call should always be the Pharmacy where you will find a huge selection of medicines available over the counter. Pharmacists in Spain do recieve extensive medical training so are able to provide consultations and advice on a range of minor illnesses.

Calling in Sick

If you are too sick to go into work then you may be required to go to a doctor to get a “baja” – a signed sick note – which must be provided to the employer within three days of the first day of sickness, delivered either in person, by a colleague or via email.

If it’s a short-term illness (such as the flu) then this may be accompanied by an “alta” (fit for work document) so as not to require a repeat visit to be given the all clear a few days later.

If a sickness last beyond seven days then a repeat visit to the doctor and a repeat baja must be signed.

You must be back at work the day after the alta is signed which must be presented at work within 24hours. 




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For members


‘Hard to stay afloat’: Is working for an English language academy in Spain worth it?

It's the go-to work option for countless anglophones in Spain, but is teaching at an English language academy still enough to pay the bills in a climate of rising prices, stagnant wages and a shift to online learning platforms?

'Hard to stay afloat': Is working for an English language academy in Spain worth it?

Traditionally seen as a type of gap-year experience for recent graduates and/or those seeking adventure before settling down to a more traditional career path, English language teaching in Spain has becoming increasingly popular as a long-term career.

A high quality of life, a more favourable climate and generally lower living costs have always made Spain a popular destination for English language teachers, with Spain posting the highest number of job advertisements for teachers among European countries.

As a result, many of those working in the industry see it as somewhere to further both their professional and personal lives.

However, poor job security, stagnant salaries and issues surrounding the long-term sustainability of language academies have plagued the sector for years.

The recent impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the current rise in inflation has further compounded these issues, with many teachers considering their long-term careers in Spain.

Teachers working for private language academies in large cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla can expect to earn between €800 to €1,400 a month after tax for about 20 to 30 hours of class time per week.

One teacher told The Local Spain that despite working as a profesor de inglés for almost a decade, his academy salary had gone down dramatically in real wage terms, following a salary cut during the pandemic which made it “hard to keep my head above water”.

“I was working as a teacher for nine years but felt the need to leave the profession as the hours I needed to work were affecting my mental health. During my first three years in Spain, I was able to get by on my salary. Since then, I have increased the number of private classes gradually, I save the same a month as I did when I first moved here, but have to work an extra eight hours a week to be in that situation”.

READ ALSO: The pros and cons of being an English language assistant in Spain

As of 2022, the minimum monthly salary stands at €1,166 gross for a 40-hour working week, meaning that someone working as an English teacher can expect to earn more or less the minimum wage based on their contact hours, with many opting to teach privately in order to supplement their income.

In addition to this, most teachers are hired on short-term indefinido contracts, meaning that they only earn a monthly salary for nine months of the year, resulting in many taking on summer work to maintain a year-round monthly income.

While short-term informal contracts and a relatively manageable monthly salary may have appealed to single, twenty-somethings seeking a few years of fun and adventure in Spain, for those looking to support a family or get on the property ladder the precarious economic reality of English language teaching has seen many reconsider their long-term career goals.

“I rented when I initially moved here but now I’m paying off a mortgage which has gone up due to interest rate rises,” another English teacher told The Local Spain. 

A traditionally in-person industry, the pandemic forced many academies online and, due to increased competition from online language learning platforms along with a paradigm shift in terms of hybrid and remote study and work, academies have struggled to replace students lost to this new language learning environment.

As a result of this, some teachers have seen their weekly teaching hours reduced as academies simply cannot guarantee a full schedule, putting further financial pressure on teachers.

teaching english spain

Poor job security, stagnant salaries and issues surrounding the long-term sustainability of language academies have been plaguing the industry for years in Spain. Photo: Thirdman/Pexels

One teacher with over seven years working experience for a large English academy in Madrid told The Local that “a few years ago our company began the long process of trying to cut our supplements and basic wage”.

“We were backed up by our comité, (representative group) but after about a year of negotiations, reductions (and redundancies) were made. At the time it cut about €250 from my meagre wages.”

As is the case across Europe, the level of inflation in Spain has risen sharply to about 10.5 percent as of September 2022. Combined with rising energy prices, more and more teachers are finding it increasingly difficult to live off a salary in some cases of just over €1,000 a month.

With the average cost of renting a room ranging from €400 to €500 in large cities, some teachers are choosing to cut costs in terms of their living standards to make their salaries stretch further.

Another teacher told The Local how “while I still go out at the weekend and buy the food I want at supermarkets, the increase in rental prices has meant that I’ve stayed in a less-than-ideal room, rather than finding a better room – due to not wanting to pay significantly more in rent”.

While the challenges facing English teachers in Spain are not unique to their line of work, this latest set of drawbacks should be factored in by anyone considering making a move here or teaching long-term.

Such economic realities are difficult to ignore, but that’s not to say there isn’t a lot English teaching can offer someone looking to gain some valuable work and life experience while also enjoying the hustle and bustle of life in Spain.

Article by Cormac Breen