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Understanding Dubai’s Healthcare System

Tariq Siddiqi

Commercial Director

Get to know Dubai’s healthcare system, in order to ensure that you and your family have access to Dubai’s healthcare. It’s important to familiarise yourself with some of the specific rules and regulations that apply.

Understanding Dubai’s healthcare system

Since Dubai’s Health Authority (DHA) implemented its new healthcare insurance scheme, expats can choose between a wide network of private hospitals and treatment centres. Dubai’s public hospitals are also now starting to accept private health insurance patients for medical treatment, a service that was previously only available to nationals or those holding a DHA health card.

Accessing Dubai’s healthcare system

  • Expats wanting to use public hospitals should apply for a health card from the Department of Health and Medical Services (DOHMS). Even if you have health insurance, the annual DHA health card is still worth applying for, as it entitles all residents to low-cost in-patient and outpatient medical and emergency treatment at public hospitals and clinics. The annual cost for an expat ranges from AED120 (US$33) to AED320 (US$87) depending on age.
  • For primary care, it is not necessary to register to see one of the many GPs located in medical centres, which are often based within hospitals and clinics. While you can visit different doctors, it’s a good idea to stick with the same GP so that they become familiar with your medical history.
  • It’s also advisable to bring copies of your medical history from home. In terms of specialist treatment, referrals from a GP are not generally required but are increasingly encouraged to ensure you receive the correct treatment and that you don’t invalidate your health insurance cover.
  • You can search and make a GP appointment online. Alternatively, the Dubai Healthcare City portal offers a GP and specialist search service. The DHA’s website also allows you to search for doctors and dentists by nationality, although English is widely spoken.

Get to know Dubai’s healthcare system Vital Emergency Numbers in Dubai

  • Police – 999
  • Fire Department – 997
  • Ambulance – 999
  • Electricity – 991
  • Water – 991

Should you need a doctor or paramedic for a home emergency, the Government of Dubai recommends calling 800-DOCTOR (800-362867), which is run by a private company.

Be aware of restrictions of healthcare in Dubai

In terms of access to medication in Dubai, pharmacies are readily available and open 24 hours a day in many hospitals. However, while there are certain items, such as antibiotics, that you can get without a prescription, be aware that certain medications available over the counter at home may require a prescription in Dubai. Additionally, certain drugs – including tranquilisers, anti-depressants and some sleeping tablets – are banned. A list of unauthorised medicines is listed on the government website.

This can be confusing for expats, but important to consider when entering the country if you are currently receiving treatment or normally travel with medication. However, the UAE Ministry of Health says it is possible for visitors to bring up to three months’ supply of a prescribed medication into the country (download guidelines for travellers pdf here) – or 12 months’ supply for a resident – on production of a doctor’s letter or a copy of the original prescription.

Health insurance in Dubai

A key change in recent years is the legal requirement for companies to provide a minimum level of health insurance for all employees. Introduced in 2014 by the DHA, which oversees both public and private healthcare, the change is part of the Dubai Health Strategy (DHS) 2021 which aims to provide sustainable healthcare to all residents. The requirement to have mandatory health insurance in place was rolled out in stages, including any dependents and domestic staff.

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The cost of providing mandatory health insurance cover for anyone who works in Dubai is the responsibility of employers. But, while companies will be encouraged to cover dependants, they will not be obliged to do so. Ultimately, it may therefore be your responsibility to arrange health insurance cover for any family dependants, which includes your employees, such as domestic staff, maids or nannies.

You will need to have the minimum level of health insurance in place to apply for work or residency visas. And those who do not renew insurance for employees or dependants every year will be fined AED500 (US$130) per person per month.

Basic cover is available for residents earning less than AED4,000 (US$1,000) per month through an Essential Benefits Plan (EBP) that provides treatment and emergency care up to an annual limit of AED150,000 (US$40,000). Screening and treatment for breast, colorectal and cervical cancer will be covered beyond this limit. However, individual limits and excesses on other treatments will apply.

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Employee benefits

Employers can, of course, choose to provide enhanced health insurance cover that gives benefits in excess of the minimum legal requirements. Many expatriates working throughout UAE will often enjoy more comprehensive health insurance cover as part of their overall international employee benefits package, which can also extend to immediate family.

Expats will want to ensure that any health insurance they have in place, either through their employer or arranged independently, is realistic in terms of the level of cover and benefits provided. You should also be aware that it’s mandatory for all married women in Dubai to have maternity cover as part of their health insurance plan.

Healthcare in Dubai

A good standard of healthcare, in a city where health and wellbeing are increasingly important, is a big plus for anyone moving to Dubai. When it comes to healthcare in Dubai, it’s vital not to leave anything to chance.

A good understanding of Dubai’s healthcare system, its restrictions and how to access it, are crucial when it comes to taking care of your health and that of your family.

When you know that you and your family can access the care you may need if problems arise, you can relax and make the most of your new life in this beautiful city.

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This article is part of our series of guides to expat life. It’s just for general information, and we don’t provide professional advice on moving abroad (we’re an expat insurance provider). We update this article regularly to keep it useful as possible, but if you want to know more – please seek independent advice.