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How to Get Health Insurance in South Africa as an Expat or Local

How To Get Health Insurance In South Africa As An Expat Or Local

avatar - Megan Lewis

Megan Lewis

Commercial Lead

South African private healthcare is among the best on the continent, but getting access can be difficult depending on where you live. Only South Africa’s major cities, like Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria and Johannesburg, offer the most modern medical facilities.

Having international health insurance in South Africa can help you get quality care when you need it most. The right global plan can provide evacuation following a medical emergency, treatment in the best medical centres, and extensive coverage when travelling across borders.

As international insurance experts, we offer private health insurance in South Africa to both expats and locals. In this post, we’ll show you how to get medical insurance in South Africa, how to get a plan with William Russell, and how the South African healthcare system works.

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How to get health insurance in South Africa

As an expat or South African citizen, you have two options to find a private health insurance plan in South Africa:

  • You can go to a broker – Insurance brokers listen to your needs and compare plans from multiple insurance companies. They’ll then advise you on the best insurer for you. Brokers are a popular choice for those who don’t want to spend time researching health insurance plans.
  • You can go straight to an insurance provider – You’ll find that most providers allow you to get a quote online quickly. For instance, it takes less than 2 minutes to get a quick quote online with William Russell. By contacting a provider directly, you can easily follow up on your quote and ask questions you might have about your policy.

How to get health insurance in South Africa with William Russell 

Becoming a William Russell member is easy. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Get a quote. Enter your personal details and select South Africa as the country where you’ll need cover.
  2. See prices for our 4 plan levels: Bronze, SilverLite, Silver, and Gold.
  3. Speak to one of our insurance experts. Our team will make sure you’re happy with your policy and answer any questions you may have.
  4. Apply for a policy. You’ll need to answer a few medical questions. Once we’ve reviewed your application, we’ll send you an Acceptance Invitation, which sets out the terms on which we can offer you cover.

How William Russell helps you get started 

As a specialised international health insurance provider, our aim is to make your experience as stress-free and straightforward as possible.
When it comes to our plans, you have 4 options: Bronze, SilverLite, Silver, and Gold. Here’s what they include:

  • Hospital treatment
  • Local ambulances (including air ambulance)
  • Advanced diagnostic tests
  • Cancer treatment (including genome testing of cancerous cells)
  • Transplants
  • Emergency medical evacuation
  • Access to a 24hr emergency helpline
Only covered in some plans:
Doctor visits and other out-patient care (SilverLite, Silver & Gold)
Routine pregnancy & maternity care (Gold plan only*)
Dental care (different options on SilverLite, Silver & Gold**)
Mental health treatment (Bronze, Silver & Gold)

*Bronze and Silver plans cover complications of pregnancy
**All plans cover emergency restorative dental treatment

You can also customise your areas of insurance cover. With South Africa as your base, you can choose between Zone 1, 2, 4 or 5.

Zones 1 and 2 will give you worldwide coverage (with either limited or no cover in the USA) while Zone 4 will give you full cover in Africa (including South Africa) and the Indian Subcontinent.

With Zone 5, you’ll have no cover in the USA, restricted coverage (only for accident & emergency treatments and up to a maximum of US$100,000) in South Africa and the rest of the world, and full cover for the Indian Subcontinent and the rest of Africa.

Zone 1 Zone 2 Zone 4 Zone 5
Worldwide cover, with restricted cover in the USA Full cover in most countries, with restricted cover where private healthcare is expensive but no cover in the USA Full cover in Africa & Indian Subcontinent, with restricted cover elsewhere but no cover in the USA Full cover in Africa (except South Africa) & Indian Subcontinent, with restricted cover elsewhere but no cover in the USA

Regardless of your chosen plan, you’ll benefit from our clear processes. Here are a few examples:

The claims process

Naturally, all claims are different, but they usually fall into one of three categories:

  1. In-patient claims – This involves a planned or unplanned hospital stay. These medical expenses can be sizeable sums of money, so we pay the hospital directly, and you pay your excess to the hospital.
  2. Out-patient claims – This is a medical treatment without admittance to hospital. You pay for your treatment upfront and we’ll pay you back. We’ll need to see a doctor’s note if your treatment is over US$500.
  3. Emergency claims – The last thing you need in an emergency is worrying about how to pay for your medical evacuation. If we decide you need an emergency medical evacuation, we’ll cover all the costs directly.
What is in-patient and out-patient care?
Our guide explains the difference

The medical evacuation process

While you hopefully never need to use it, medical evacuation coverage is part of every plan at William Russell. The process is simple. If you have a life or limb-threatening condition and treatment isn’t available locally, call us on our 24/7 emergency number.

From there, we’ll assess whether you’ll need an emergency evacuation. If you can’t get the right medical care locally, we’ll arrange for evacuation – by air if necessary. We’ll evacuate you to the nearest suitable medical centre, whether that’s in South Africa or beyond. If you live in a rural area in South Africa, we’ll likely evacuate you to Johannesburg, Pretoria, or Cape Town.

If you need repatriation back to your home country, we’ll cover your transport costs (and for one companion if you have Medevac Plus on your plan).

Wondering how much our insurance plans cost?
Get a quick quote online to see prices

Why choose William Russell?

If you’ve been researching the best options for health insurance in Africa, you’ve probably noticed there are a lot of insurers out there. Fundamentally, they all work the same. You pay a premium (typically either monthly or yearly), then claim if you need health coverage.

You might be wondering what makes William Russell any different? Here are a few reasons our members stay with us year after year:

1/ We’re specialists in international insurance

Many larger providers offer international coverage, but it’s typically not their area of expertise. Domestic insurance cover is the main area for most providers. We’ve been around since 1992 and are international insurance experts on covering expats living abroad.

2/ Option to add life insurance and income protection

On top of your international health insurance, we can start an international life insurance or income protection policy. This would have the same dedicated policy manager as your health insurance – meaning you can easily manage all your products through one person. 

3/ Coverage that comes with you 

While you might be setting up a base in South Africa, we understand you might want the freedom to explore the continent (and the rest of the world). This makes our policies ideal for those who travel a lot for work or who simply like to explore.

4/ Jargon-free insurance policies 

Insurance policies are often full of business jargon that is hard to understand. We pride ourselves on keeping our policies in plain English so you know exactly what you’re signing up for. We’ll even assign one of our team to contact you before you become a member to ensure you’re happy with your plan.

You don’t even need a quote to see our easy-to-read policies
Check out our plan agreements today

5/ Personalised claim handling

We don’t use call centres. This means you’ll speak to only a handful of people when you make a claim, including a dedicated policy manager who will handle most aspects of your plan. No more repeating yourself to call centre handlers. We aim to assess most claims within 10 days. 

6/ Specialised team for complex claims

When you need support for a complex health condition, knowing that the team members handling your case have the right expertise is important. We have a specially trained team to manage special claims (cancer, emergency, and maternity). This way you’ll know someone who knows the ins and outs of your treatments is handling your claim and will proactively contact you when the time is right.

7/ Emergency helpline available 24/7

Being in an emergency situation while living away from home can be scary. All our members have our 24/7 emergency helpline to call. If you get in trouble and need medical attention, simply call us. We’ll first try to source help locally, but if that’s not possible, we’ll evacuate you even by air and across borders, if necessary. 

8/ Cover for individuals, families, and groups 

We can provide international health insurance in South Africa for individuals, families, or even employees. We can customise the cover of groups, too, so you can have different levels of coverage for different people on your plan. 

9/ Great for locals and expats alike

If you want to spend at least 6 months living in South Africa, you’re a great fit for our insurance coverage. William Russell members include retirees, students, expats, employees working in South Africa, and more. We also cover South African locals who are looking for comprehensive health insurance.

Want to find out more about who we can cover?
Get in touch to find out how we can help you

How the healthcare system works in South Africa

The 2020 Global Healthcare Index ranks South Africa as the best healthcare system in Africa (and 49th overall in the world). Around 80% of the population uses the public healthcare system. 

However, there are also some drawbacks. Public healthcare in South Africa suffers from long waiting times, old infrastructure, and a lack of specialist care. The country faces a shortage of healthcare professionals, especially in rural areas. And HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) are prevalent, putting a strain on the healthcare system.

Public healthcare isn’t free and is subsidised for residents. How much you need to pay depends on various factors, such as your income and how many children you have. Many South African residents opt for private health insurance to access care at some of the top private hospitals in South Africa, including:

  • Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town
  • Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital, Cape Town
  • Ahmed Kathrada Private Hospital, Johannesburg
  • Mediclinic Morningside, Sandton, Johannesburg
  • Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital, Pinelands, Cape Town

These medical centres offer a much higher standard of care, but the cost can be astronomical if you use them pay-as-you-go. By taking out an international health insurance plan, you can ensure you’ll get coverage in the best hospitals if you need it.

If you’re located in a rural area, can’t get treatment locally, and suffer from a sudden limb or life-threatening injury or illness, William Russell can evacuate you to a private hospital like the ones above. 

Curious to know how we can help you in an emergency?
Find out more about how we organise medevacs in Africa

Top 3 tips on staying safe in South Africa

Like most places, South Africa has a few things you ought to be aware of to keep yourself safe:

1/ Get your vaccinations

According to the CDC and UK government, you should vaccinate for the following before heading to South Africa (not including routine vaccinations):

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Typhoid
  • Rabies
  • Yellow fever (required if you’re coming from a country with risk of yellow fever)

2/ Take malaria precautions

Some parts of South Africa, including the northeastern part of Limpopo, Kruger National Park, and northern KwaZulu-Natal, have a high risk of malaria. Consult with a healthcare provider about prevention strategies. 

3/ Stay safe in the cities

Crime rates in South Africa (especially Johannesburg and Cape Town) are high. Be particularly cautious in isolated areas after dark and avoid displaying cash or valuable possessions. Using reliable transportation services is key – always inform someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. 


Health insurance plans’ cost depends on factors like your age, overall health, and what kind of coverage you’re looking for. Typically, you might expect to pay anywhere from around US$100 to US$500 a month for global health insurance coverage. 

Here are average monthly premiums* for plans from William Russell: 

Bronze SilverLite Silver Gold
Age 30 US$98 US$140 US$180 US$324
Age 35 US$103 US$147 US$189 US$333
Age 40 US$114 US$164 US$211 US$376
Age 45 US$146 US$200 US$257 US$450
Age 50 US$199 US$251 US$322 US$573

*All prices in the table above are monthly and are based on the US$250 per annum excess and Zone 2, with the plan starting in 2023.

Get a quick quote online

If you’re moving to South Africa from another country, you can get private health insurance there. Many people choose to take out international health insurance before they move.

This type of insurance can cover you in many countries, which is helpful if you travel a lot. At William Russell, we offer 4 different areas of cover on our plans if you’re living in South Africa.

Wondering how much it will cost? Get a quote

Foreign nationals who have a valid passport and a working or residence visa can sign up for a medical aid scheme in South Africa.

There are two types of medical aid schemes — open schemes (that anyone can join), and closed schemes (typically reserved for a professional membership body, or a specific employer).

These schemes function similarly to health insurance – you pay a monthly contribution, and you’re covered for medical conditions if you have to go to hospital. 

Medical aid schemes charge the same fee for all members. Because insurance pricing is risk-related, the cost of international health insurance can often work out cheaper than if you joined a medical aid scheme, and many expats choose to opt for international health insurance instead. 

Some schemes might require you to wait a certain amount of time before you can use some benefits, and they’re generally designed to only work in South Africa. Some private health insurance providers give you the choice of having multiple areas of coverage. For instance, William Russell can cover you across the entirety of Africa, or even worldwide – and we can get your plan up and running in just a few working days. 

As a self-employed expat or digital nomad living in South Africa, you may want to get private health insurance to cover medical issues for you and your family.

You can get a plan with William Russell if you’ll be living in South Africa for six months or more. 

The best insurance really depends on what you’re looking for. Some people might want a plan covering a wide range of private healthcare services, while others might want to keep costs down. With a health insurance provider like William Russell, you’ll find a variety of plans to fit your needs.

Choose William Russell for your health insurance in South Africa

With over 30 years of experience providing international insurance for expats and locals, we’re committed to providing stress-free and personalised health insurance. With insurance cover from William Russell, you can have the peace of mind to fully enjoy your life in South Africa.

Plan your international health insurance in South Africa today

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