Healthcare in Dubai for expats

Check how you can get healthcare services in Dubai and what you need for that

Dubai offers a wide range of government and private healthcare services, with clinics, hospitals and specialty centres across the emirate.

Consultations, treatments and medicines must be paid for, and the choice of clinic or hospital is usually determined by the health insurance held. These services are open to all – from locals and expat residents, to visitors and tourists.

Since all health care services must be paid for (by cash or insurance), it is relatively quick and easy to get care especially when compared to other countries. Patients can usually request specific doctors and get appointments on the same day or within the next two days. There is typically some wait time involved even with appointments, especially in the busier clinics.

State-of-the-Art Facilities across Dubai

As the most populated emirate in the United Arab Emirates, Dubai’s healthcare market is quite mature with plenty of existing options when it comes to private clinics and hospitals, and more facilities scheduled to open in the coming years. According to a report by the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), there are currently 3,700 health clinics, over 30 hospitals and 40 government health centres in the emirate.

Patients are spoiled for choice when it comes to GPs, dental services, eye clinics, fertility services, maternity care, plastic surgery and dermatology to name a few. The Dubai government is aware of this, and is spearheading several efforts to improve specialty healthcare services as part of its 50-year vision to provide “A Doctor to Every Citizen”. Initiatives include plans to open an oncology and research centre in Dubai by 2020, ‘telehealth’ projects that connect patients with specialists over mobile platforms, and simplification of visas to attract doctors and specialists to the city.

Residents and visitors can also benefit from free medical checks that are organized by clinics, hospitals, banks and corporates as a way to attract new customers or to create loyalty amongst existing customers and employees.

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Mandatory Insurance for Expat Residents

The government mandates that all residents in Dubai must have insurance. This must be provided by their visa sponsor, which may be an employer, a family member or the individual themselves (as is the case for business owners, entrepreneurs or specialists who are on their own visas). Failure to comply can lead to fines.

Since insurance can be quite expensive for employers to provide, the actual insurance packages can vary drastically. Lower income workers tend to receive the most basic insurance packages that offer low coverage, access to a limited network of facilities and require a GP referral for specialists. High earners can expect the top range of insurance packages and coverage for their dependents. All married female employees are entitled to maternity benefits – though the details vary by insurance package and provider.

A resident visa is a pre-requisite for obtaining insurance and there is a possibility that individuals will not be covered by insurance while their visa is in processing.

Medical insurance typically covers a portion of the consultation, lab tests, medicines etc. with a small co-payment to be made by the patient. This is usually 20% of the consultation or limited to $13-27(AED 50-100), but can vary package. Consultations usually include a free follow up within a week or 10 days, depending on the clinic/hospital.

Finding a Health Insurance Provider

It is common for employees to seek their own health insurance if they are dissatisfied with their benefits, or if they require insurance for their dependents. For those seeking their own insurance, a good place to start is with online comparison sites such as Bayzat and InsuranceMarket. These sites provide instant quotations and overviews of benefits. Some sites offer additional concierge services which may reflect in a higher premium. Residents can also liaise directly with insurance providers. Some of the leading health insurance providers in Dubai include NextCare, AXA, Noor Takaful, MetLife and Oman Insurance.

How to pick the right insurance?

With so many options in terms of providers and packages, it can be quite complicated to identify what makes a good plan. Below is a list of 11 Basic Criteria to consider when looking for health insurance:

  1. Annual coverage - how much AED worth of cover is included in the package?
  2. Network of clinics and hospitals - some hospitals such as the American Hospital, are typically excluded from plans, unless they are specifically requested for
  3. Specific branches of clinics – nearby branches or branches in more affluent neighbourhoods might be excluded
  4. Deductibles/Co-insurance – how much co-pay will the patient need to provide?
  5. Geographic coverage – some insurers offer coverage across the UAE only, across the GCC (ideal for those who travel within the region or to countries like Saudi Arabia frequently), Worldwide, or UAE + the resident’s home country
  6. GP referral policy – some packages mandate that a GP referral is required for access to specialists, making the process of seeing a specialist slightly complex and costly
  7. Maternity wait time – some packages require a wait time of 9-12 months before a patient is eligible for maternity benefits, which can result in a costly unplanned pregnancy
  8. Maternity cover – not all maternity packages are the same: the number of visits, number of scans, coverage, emergency coverage and co-pay can vary significantly. Keep in mind that the maternity coverage may need to include cost of the new-born’s care, until the baby has obtained a passport, resident visa and insurance card (which can be time-consuming)
  9. Dental and Optics - not all packages offer this type of cover; some packages do and can even be used to cover the purchase of glasses at optical stores!
  10. Reimbursement process - some insurers require physical copies of bills to process a reimbursement while others accept scanned copies
  11. Pre-existing conditions – a custom package might be required to include treatment for pre-existing conditions

Public vs. Private Healthcare

Government health centres and hospitals match the quality of private facilities, and can prove cost-effective in some cases, where medium-to-long-term care is required or for child vaccinations.

The key differences are below: • Government hospitals such as Rashid Hospital and Latifa Women and Children Hospital offer quality facilities and care at a more affordable rate. • Government centres and hospitals offer free vaccinations for babies and children. Mandatory vaccinations are covered, and requirements include a resident visa and a DHA health card (which costs $33 (AED 120) per year for expats up to 10 years in age). • Government centres and hospitals have fewer locations than private centres and hospitals. Private clinics and hospitals are spread out across the city. • Government centres allow walk-in visits Sunday through Thursday. They are closed on Fridays and open for ‘half days’ on Saturdays. Private centres allow appointments and are open throughout the week. • Government centres require the following documents from patients: ID proof (passport or Emirates ID) and address proof (tenancy contract or DEWA bill). If the address proof is not in the name of the patient, an authorisation letter would be required. Visitors and tourists can submit the address they are staying at to avail of services.

For short-term and immediate visits, private clinics tend to be much more convenient.

Cost of Consulting with a General Practitioner in Dubai

Be ready to pay at least AED 145 for a medical consultation

Private does not necessary mean more expensive. Below is a general overview of costs of consulting with a GP in government centres and private clinics.

  • Al Barsha Health Centre (Government-run) – $43 (AED 158)
  • Prime Medical Centre (Private) – $40 (AED 150) in most locations, $55 (AED 200) in Jumeirah
  • Aster Clinic (Private) $39,5 (AED 145) in Bur Dubai, $48,5 (AED 178) in Jumeirah Lake Towers
  • Medcare Medical Centre (Private) – $150-166 (AED 550-610)

Importance of Health Insurance in Dubai

Dubai can be a very cost place to fall sick or require serious medical attention, making a good insurance package essential for individuals and families living in the city. There have been numerous incidents where individuals have had to seek loans to cover medical costs and then required assistance from charities, employers, families and friends to repay these loans. The government does occasionally step in and assist the neediest residents, but it’s always better to plan ahead and be vigilant while picking an insurance program.

Visitors and tourists entering the country are not currently required to hold travel insurance. This may change in the near future, as the Dubai Health Authority is considering an insurance package for this audience, to ensure sufficient funds for any necessary treatments.