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TOURISM

Imserso: Everything to know about Spain’s cheap holiday scheme for pensioners

Here's how foreign pensioners in Spain can benefit from the Imserso programme, where they can travel to, who can apply and how much it will cost them.

Imserso: Everything to know about Spain's cheap holiday scheme for pensioners
How pensioners can get cheap holidays in Spain. Photo: JAIME REINA / AFP

What is the Imserso programme?

Imserso is a social scheme offering holidays to the elderly. It aims to offer subsidised trips to pensioners in order to help them improve their quality of life and health, as well as to reduce their dependency on others.

It also contributes to the maintenance of employment and economic activity, alleviating employment issues in the tourism sector during low season. 

Which foreigners can access Spain’s Imserso scheme?

Foreigners residing in Spain who meet any of the following requirements may participate in the Imserso tourism programme:

  • A person who is retired and part of the Spanish public pension system.
  • A widow’s or widower’s pensioner who is 55 or older.
  • A recipient of unemployment benefits or subsidies, aged 60 or older.
  • A holder or beneficiary of Spain’s Social Security System, aged 65 or older.

How and when can I apply?

The best way to apply is online via the Imserso website which you can access here

You will need your [email protected], digital certificate or NIE in order to apply this way.

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You can also apply in person at the offices of the Imserso Tourism Programme. Find out from your local town hall where they are in your region, or you can also check under the Atención Presencial category here. Under the section Documentos you will be able to download the application form. 

You will need to provide documentation and proof of your identity, residency status in Spain and details of your Spanish pension and social security payments, so make sure to have them to hand when you’re filling out the form.

Applications for the scheme must be presented each summer, the deadline for this year is between June 27th and July 19th 2022. 

How does it work?

Acceptance to the Imserso programme depends on various factors. Those who are older, have small financial resources, are part of a large family, have a degree of disability or who have never participated in the scheme before, will be given priority.

Applicants who haven’t been on a holiday in a while and those who are willing to travel in low season, will also be given priority.

People who apply may be accompanied by their spouse or, where appropriate, by a common-law partner or person with whom a stable and living union is established, without the need for them to meet the requirements of age or pension.

You may also be accompanied by children with disabilities as long as they travel with you and stay in the same room or if not, you will be required to pay a supplement for additional rooms.

How much will it cost me?

The Imserso programme is designed to subsidise holidays for pensioners and allow you to travel very cheaply. Depending on the dates you go and the type of accommodation you stay in, you will usually have to pay between €115 and €405 for the trip.

This will include your accommodation on either a full or half board basis, as well as transportation (except to provincial capitals), group insurance policy and a socio-cultural programme.

It should be noted that prices may be reduced for people who have economic resources equal to or less than the amount of non-contributory retirement and disability pensions in social security.

What type of holidays can I go on and where?

There are several different types of holidays you can choose as part of the programme. These include:

  • Coastal areas on mainland Spain: Stays of between eight to 10 days in either Catalonia, Andalusia, Murcia or Valencia regions.
  • Spain’s islands: Stays of between eight to 10 days in the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands.
  • Spain’s interior: Stays of four, five or six days in the interior of Spain, following the themes of culture, nature or provincial capitals.
  • The cities of Ceuta and Melilla.

There’s also a hydrotherapy Imserso programme, allowing the elderly access to spas around the country. The same requisites apply as in the regular programme. 

READ ALSO: Healthcare in Spain: the steps to apply for the S1 form for UK state pensioners

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For members

MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

WindTre

WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Vodafone

Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.

TIM

TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.

Iliad

Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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