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National Health Service for Expats in the United Arab Emirates

Submitted: December 2013

Regarding healthcare, think of the UAE as a free market country, without much redistribution. It’s therefore on a “user pays” basis. As an expat, you are unlikely to get much help from the Government, but there is simply no tax to pay given the size of oil revenues. The only meaningful redistributive effect in the UAE is that the Government redistributes part of its oil revenues to Emirati citizens. In practice, however, even foreign nationals can benefit from some public services.

Healthcare services at public hospitals/GP surgeries are supposed to be provided free of charge to Emirati citizens only. Subsidised treatment is sometimes extended to foreign nationals resident in the UAE, but public hospitals may (or may not) refuse foreign patients because the matter is not urgent enough. A public hospital is even more likely to reject you if you have private health insurance.

There are about 40 public hospitals in the UAE, which is for roughly 150 private clinics. A list of Government hospitals can be found here.

Whenever you think that a public hospital is likely to refuse you, you had better go private in the first place to avoid disappointment.

Funding

The public healthcare system is financed through the general Government budget. As the UAE is an oil-rich country, it does not need raise further taxes on its residents at the moment.

Health cards/Insurance cards

All expatriates need to sign up for a health card (an “insurance card” in Dubai) in order to get a 50% discount on medical services at public hospitals and clinics. The cost of this health card is generally AED 500 upon issue or renewal.

Two reasons may explain why the price is that low:

  • public hospitals only accept foreign nationals for urgent care, unless they have no private health insurance, and
  • the 50% discount may apply only on certain medically necessary services.

Mandatory health screening

Any foreign national looking for work in the UAE is now required to undertake a health examination. No visa may be issued unless this health screening was completed and the outcome is satisfactory. The purpose is not only about maintaining public health and denying entry to HIV-positive migrants. It’s also about reducing the strain on UAE hospitals.

To be more specific, the health screening must test:

  • Hepatitis B
  • HIV
  • Syphilis
  • Pulmonary TB, and
  • Pregnancy test (housemaids and nannies only)

The health screening must be made both in your home country and in the UAE. In fact, this dual requirement has been introduced to remove incentives to bribe doctors, which was previously common practice.

 

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