For members


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. 




Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Do I have to take most of my annual leave in August in Spain?

Many Spanish companies still expect their workers to take their holidays at specific times of the year, primarily in August, right in the height of summer when many hotels are fully booked. So what are your rights, are you obliged to take your vacation in one particular month?

Do I have to take most of my annual leave in August in Spain?

While it’s your right as an employee to be able to take holiday days, do you have to take them when your company wants you to take them, or are you able to choose and have more flexibility?

Despite August being one of the hottest months in Spain and the one month of the year when many official companies and offices shut up shop, not everyone necessarily wants to take their break at the same time as everyone else.

Taking your holidays in August means less availability in hotels, overcrowding and more expensive transport and accommodation. If you don’t have children who are off from school during the summer months, then you may wish to take your vacation days at another time of the year, when it’s less busy and cheaper.

To answer the question it’s important to know the details about what the law says about how paid time off is taken, requested, imposed, or granted.

What laws or regulations dictate the rules about paid holiday time?

There are three different sets of rules and regulations, which are responsible for regulating the laws on vacation time in Spain. 

Firstly, you need to look at the Spanish Workers’ Statute, which includes rights, duties and obligations applicable to all salaried workers in Spain.

Secondly, you need to be aware of the collective sector and/or company agreements, which may dictate the rules for a particular industry for example.

Thirdly, you need to look at the contract, which you signed with your employer when you started working for them. This sets out your individual circumstances and the rules you must abide by.   

Workers Statute

As a general rule, all employees are subject to the Workers’ Statute. Holidays are part of this and are the subject of article 38. These conditions can never be contradicted by individual companies and are set as a guaranteed minimum. 

The minimum number of holidays in Spain is 30 calendar days per year. This equals two and a half days per month worked, in the case of temporary contracts. The statute states that vacations must be taken between January 1st and December 31st in separate periods, but one of them must be for at least two weeks. They are always paid and cannot be exchanged for financial compensation.

The period when you can take them is set by a common agreement between the employer and the worker, in accordance with what is established in the collective agreements on annual vacation planning. If there is disagreement, the social jurisdiction is resorted to.

At a minimum, the company must offer vacation days at least two months before the beginning of the holiday period, so that the employee has time to organise and book.   

When the planned time to take vacations coincides with a temporary disability, pregnancy, or childbirth, you have the right to enjoy the vacations at another time, even after the calendar year is over.

Collective agreements on vacations  

Your sector’s collective agreements may also help to answer this question. These aim to improve upon the basic and general rights that are included in the Workers’ Statute. They seek to adapt the rules to each type of industry or company. They could, for example, set out extra vacation days, which are greater than the standard 30 calendar days. 

You will need to find out what your specific sector or company’s collective agreement is. There is a possibility that your sector or company has mandatory summer vacations for the month of August and in that case, you can choose vacation dates, but only within this month.

Your work contract 

Lastly, you will need to consult your individual contract which you signed with the company when you were hired.  As well as the minimum conditions set out in the Workers’ Statute, your contract sets out your particular agreement with your employer in terms of holiday duration, the work calendar and other details.

Therefore, you should state in your contract whether you have to take your holidays during August, or if you’re free to take them at other times of the year.

If after consulting these three sets of regulations and there are still in doubt or in disagreement with your company about vacations, such as having to take them during the month of August, you should consult a lawyer specialising in labor law. They should be able to give you an answer specific to your situation.  

Can I appeal or disagree and what are the consequences? 

To appeal or express disagreement with what is proposed by the company, there is a period of 20 business days from when the vacation schedule is sent out, after which time you don’t have the right to show that you disagree.  

Companies can proceed to disciplinary dismissals due to abandonment of the job if you decide to take vacations that have not been granted or agreed upon with your employer. To avoid this type of problem, always make sure you have a record in writing of your request for vacation time and subsequent approval by the company.