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How expats access local healthcare

When arranging expat healthcare, understanding the impact of local regulations for you and your family will prove vital for both peace of mind and your bank balance.

While international health insurance is the cornerstone of any expat cover, it is chiefly designed for acute conditions or emergencies, sitting alongside any state-funded or private healthcare provision that you have in place for your day-to-day needs.

Working cover

If you’re heading into a job, your new employer may offer to arrange some form of private healthcare. This would typically comprise a list of medical facilities and specialists available to you for particular services – with details of any charges you will be expected to meet.

‘Having healthcare in place (either through an international or local provider) is often a pre-requisite for any non-working expats looking to head abroad.’

Dubai has now followed Abu Dhabi, and has made healthcare compulsory for expats working for any Dubai-registered company. The most basic standard of cover is the Essential Benefits Plan (EBP). From 2017, all government hospitals will be required to accept health insurance cards from expats.

Female doctor discussing with man over MRIs in hospital

This obligation does not extend to a worker’s dependants, so it is important to check in advance if your employer intends to offer insurance for any family members. If not, the onus would be on you to make sure they are covered.

Resident plans

Having healthcare in place (either through an international or local provider) is often a pre-requisite for any non-working expats looking to head abroad.

European citizens, however, do have the option of an S1 form – the habitual residency version of the temporary European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). The S1 can be used by some pensioners, posted workers and their dependants.

It is important to note that an S1 form is not intended to replace international health insurance, but offer cardholders and their families the same right to everyday services as ordinary citizens – either for free or on a co-pay basis.

Public vs private

In Thailand, expats may enter the public system by paying 5% of their monthly salary into the social security system. This entitles them to free consultations and medicines, but is limited to certain hospitals and doctors – as well as generic medications. With excellent healthcare on offer at an affordable price, most expats tend to opt for private care.

This also holds true in Hong Kong – a city renowned for the quality of its public healthcare treatment. However, due to long waiting periods and restrictions on treatment centres, many residents pay for consultations instead.

Co-payments for healthcare

In most countries, some level of fee is charged for state-funded healthcare, known as cost sharing or co-paying. Private insurance is often held to cover these costs. Such contributions to state-funded healthcare may be shared through matched contributions from employees and employers.

Pre-existing conditions

While access to excellent healthcare facilities means that there is little to prevent people heading abroad these days, if you are a regular user of medication you will need to research whether your current prescription (or an acceptable alternative) will be available to you.

The UAE is a key example of this, with some prescription and over-the-counter medicines prohibited. If your medication features on the Ministry of Health & Prevention’s controlled list(which is updated monthly), you will need to gain permission before bringing it into the UAE. You can request specific rules pertaining to your prescription by contacting the email address drugreg.csc@moh.gov.ae.

Healthcare checklist

  • Research how healthcare works in your chosen country in advance
  • Look at how your international health insurance ties in with the options available to you
  • Familiarise yourself with the relevant care clinics/procedures as soon as you arrive
  • Ask other expats for their advice
  • Make sure your dependants are covered
  • Investigate what resources/medication will be available to you in the case of any pre-existing condition
  • Always double-check pricing before you undertake any appointments

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