• Expat Interview: Doctor Mariana in Barcelona

    Posted by Dannielle Noonan


    Doctor Mariana Calleja is a 33-years young Costa Rican medical professional, traveller and writer currently based in Barcelona. Her blog, TravelThirst, is about experiencing the world through all of your senses. Mariana also runs Travelthy, her medical blog. As a trained medical professional who travels, Mariana understands the importance of international medical insurance. Here, the Medibroker team asked her a few questions about living in Barcelona and her experiences with healthcare.

    What made you start travelling, and where have you been so far?

    I believe my love for travel began at very early age. My parents lived in Europe when they were younger and their stories were always a delight to my imagination. We always did family trips when I was younger but at the age of 27 I decided to take off on my own adventure, one that I kept dreaming about and wanted to make a reality. Barcelona was my first stop, searching for my family roots. I loved the place so much that I decided to make it my home base for a while, travelling around from here, as it’s a great base spot for travellers, in my opinion. 

    Soon, I'll leave Barcelona for a while in order to travel full time while working on my own start-up medical business, Travelthy.com. I want to interact with other entrepreneurs around the world, exchanging ideas and inspiration, but also focusing on my life's fuel: healing and travel.


    Do you work around the world? How do you go about finding jobs, accommodation etc?

    I currently work part-time in Barcelona while dedicating my other time to my writing career, both medical and travel. It now feels necessary to take the leap and become my own boss, which is my aim in addition to helping others through medicine around the world. I'm fortunate enough to have Spanish citizenship as well, which made it easier for me to get into the job landscape after arrival in 2010, right before the recession went thick in this country. I had to deal with the usual bureaucracy just like any other citizen, except that I had no idea about it because I was still a foreigner in my mind! 

    I'm working still today, despite the recession. Everything else that I work on worldwide is mostly online, which is ideal for the traveller soul. Opportunities are everywhere and good people are too. While moving around, you get to meet incredible people, share ideas, connect and even create things together. Travelling as a freelancer is probably one of the most amazing things that can happen to a creative mind. It never stops rewarding and teaching you. There's always something to work at while helping others too.


    What drew you to the Barcelona, your current city?

     It was a mix between my passion for travel and my family roots. My grandmother on my dad's side was born in Barcelona in 1914. My great great grandparents on my mum's side made a journey all the way from the Scottish highlands down to the tropics, way back in time.

    My great grandparents left Barcelona to study abroad and they met in Costa Rica. They fell in love. After several attempts at coming back to their families in Barcelona, they finally decided to stay in Costa Rica and raise their family there (that's where I come from). My curiosity about everything that was on this side of the pond was overwhelming.  I always wanted to live in Barcelona since I was a child and I finally made it happen. Going abroad and actually living far from everything you've ever known is one of the most intense and splendid things I've done in my life. Of course, travel was always inside me. Who knows, maybe it was in my genes since the time of my great grandparents!


    What was the most difficult aspect of the transition?

    During the first year in Barcelona, I had two jobs. The first of them was in a public healthcare institution. I've work in public healthcare back in my home country but here, it was a different story. Barcelona is Catalonia's main city and Catalonia is a province quite diverse from the rest of Spain. They have strong feelings of independence which is admirable, but which can also get in the way of adaptation when coming to live here for the first time. Mostly because in places such as municipal institutions, the mind-set is not quite welcoming at first (in my experience), even more so if you don’t learn the language straight away. I was determined to learn but because the Catalan are proud of their culture, they were impatient. That was probably the most difficult part for me. After my first year, when I learned lots about Catalan culture, everything got better. I felt a lot more comfortable at work and within the city.


    As a medical practitioner, do you have any words of advice about fellow travellers and expats getting international health insurance?

     Definitely. Insurance is something we can't just ignore from our to-do list before travelling. We can't ignore the fact that something could happen abroad and it might be seriously threatening. When in a foreign country, we usually have no idea about local healthcare other than very basics in case an emergency happens. We should be better informed before arriving in a new place. But also, we should never move without insurance. If we get a tiny cut at home, we already tend to worry. Now imagine that anxiety multiplied by thousands when in a foreign country, maybe one where language makes it difficult to be understood or one where no vast health services can be found within reach. 

    As I always say, travel health insurance is the peace of mind we need during an emergency, no matter how big or small it is. Travelling is wonderful. Having health emergencies abroad is not. We should never underestimate the fact that we are travellers in lands unknown to us, no matter how much we think we know the place.


    How would you advise companies interested in looking after their staff’s health?

    Health insurance for employees is certainly an important basic asset to offer. It offers huge peace of mind that anyone will be thankful for when being hired at any kind of company, no matter the risk level of getting hurt. People want to have a steady income but at the same time they want to have better options for themselves and their families. Health is and will always be one of our greatest assets. From the corporate side of things: it might seem like a large amount of money, but it must be seen as an investment. Accidents could happen anywhere and anytime. Employee health insurance also offers peace of mind for the boss and the company. It's a win-win decision for everyone, but more than that: it's a smart decision. Why not prevent instead of waiting until undesired situations arise. It will prevent future situations, including legal ones.


    Companies should use a broker to help them select the best health plan for their staff’s needs. Depending on the country, there can always be access to the public health security system. But an additional health insurance plan must always be considered as well.

    How is the healthcare in Barcelona? 

    Healthcare in Barcelona is actually very good, the same as in all of Spain. It is a public healthcare system in which you pay the fee via your monthly pay check from work or voluntarily, if you are a freelancer or business owner, for example. In emergency cases, attention will never be denied and you'll get proper medical assistance. You can always pay private insurance plans which is something lots of Spanish citizens and expats in Spain do in order to have access to simple tests, consultation and annual controls. The public healthcare system is robust but it can be swamped at times.

    Do you need international health insurance for Spain or elsewhere? The expert team at Medibroker can help - contact us today and we will assess the insurance marketplace with your needs in mind. We are regulated in the UK by the FCA and by using our free service, you pay the same price for medical insurance as you would going direct to the insurer. Why say no to free expert advice?

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