OBJECTIVES: To compare satisfaction with, and expectations of, health care of people in rural and urban areas of Scotland. METHODS: Questions were included in the 2002 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (SSAS). The Scottish House-hold Survey urban-rural classification was used to categorize locations. A random sample of 2707 people was contacted to participate in a face-to-face interview and a self-completion questionnaire survey. SPSS (v.10) was used to analyse the data. Relationships between location category and responses were explored using logistic regression analysis. RESULTS: In all, 1665 (61.5%) interviews were conducted and 1507 (56.0%) respondents returned self-completion questionnaires. Satisfaction with local doctors and hospital services was higher in rural locations. While around 40% of those living in remote areas thought A&E services too distant, this did not rank as a top priority for health service improvement. This could be due to expectations that general practitioners would assist in out-of-hours emergencies. Most Scots thought services should be good in rural areas even if this was costly, and that older people should not be discouraged from moving to rural areas because of their likely health care needs. In all, 79% of respondents thought that care should be as good in rural as urban areas. Responses to many questions were independently significantly affected by rural/urban location. CONCLUSIONS: Most Scots want rural health care to continue to be good, but the new UK National Health Service (NHS) general practitioner contract and service redesign will impact on provision. Current high satisfaction, likely to be due to access and expectations about local help, could be affected. This study provides baseline data on attitudes and expectations before potential service redesign, which should be monitored at intervals in future.