10 important things expats need to know about healthcare in Singapore

By Lee, 07 March, 2017

Singapore offers expats a vibrant mix of city skyscrapers, eco-friendly architectural designs and magnificent beaches. It is also one of the healthiest places to live in the world, with a healthcare system that was ranked first in the world by Bloomberg.

If you are considering making the move to Singapore to live and work, here are 10 things you need to know about the healthcare system before you arrive.

1. Healthcare

Singapore provides excellent healthcare that is based on a system where the responsibility is in the hands of the individual – everybody is required to pay into their own healthcare fund and take ownership of their health. For expats, this means they will be able to enjoy the benefits of the country’s healthcare services, but the onus is on the individual to be proactive in managing their health.

2. Reorganization of the healthcare system

In January 2017, Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) announced that they will be merging the country’s six existing health systems into three integrated groups. The new system will be made up of the National Healthcare Group (NHG) in the central region (blending the current NHG and Alexandra Health System); the Singapore Health Services (SingHealth) in the eastern region (made up of the current SingHealth and the Eastern Health Alliance); and the National University Health System (NUHS) in the western region (made up of the current NUHS and Jurong Health Services). The idea is to combine the capabilities of each region’s polyclinics, doctors and community service providers and thus deliver a better standard of service in more effective and efficient ways.

3. Central Provident Fund (CPF)

The Central Provident Fund (CPF) is a social security savings plan that enables workers in Singapore to put aside provisions for their old age, including finances for healthcare. As members of CPF, employees pay 20 percent of their income into the scheme and their employers pay a further 15 percent. If an expat has gained permanent residency, they will come under the CPF scheme. If not, the employer is still required to pay the Foreign Worker Levy and the Skills Development Levy.

4. Medisave, MediShield Life and MediShield Plus

The three main medical insurance schemes for CPF members are Medisave, MediShield Life and MediShield Plus. Medisave is a national medical savings scheme that enables workers to cover future hospitalization, day surgery and certain outpatient costs. It is compulsory for workers to contribute a portion (about 20 percent) of their CPF savings to a Medisave account. MediShield Life replaced MediShield in 2015, and is a basic health insurance plan that ensures Singapore citizens and permanent residents pay subsidized rates for treatment.

MediShield Plus is a more comprehensive version of MediShield Life, providing patients with higher limits for claims and admittance to private wards within hospitals. The enhanced standard of coverage means that workers pay higher premiums for the plan.

5. A leading medical hub

Due to the high standard of its doctors, facilities, and research Singapore now attracts many foreign nationals looking for medical services, which may not be available in their home country or to the standard they require. Seventeen of Singapore’s hospitals and medical centers have Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation and the country is at the forefront of medical innovation. In 2004, for example, eye surgeons from the Singapore National Eye Centre carried out a revolutionary two-stage ‘tooth-in-eye’ surgery that restored sight to a boy who was blind in both eyes.

6. Costs

Good quality healthcare is generally affordable in Singapore, regardless of whether an expat has medical insurance. Patients can choose between private clinics or polyclinics for basic medical consultations. At polyclinics, for example, they will pay a small fee. Some expats decide to pay for occasional outpatient visits on an as-needed basis and just take out private insurance for inpatient costs, as this can sometimes be more cost-effective.

7. Private healthcare

Due to competition between the public and private healthcare systems, there is generally little difference between the cost of each. Many expats will however opt for personal medical insurance, because it usually offers a better standard of care and quicker treatment times at the 21 private hospitals across Singapore. Before visiting a facility, expats should check with their insurer if their treatment is covered and how payment for it will be settled. Patients may, for example, have to pay any charges up front and make a claim against their policy thereafter.

8. Medicine and pharmacies

There are three classifications of medication in Singapore: prescription-only, pharmacy-only and over-the-counter drugs. If an expat has been prescribed medication in their native country, they will need to consult a local doctor (as well as providing the prescription paperwork) before they can receive their medication. The country’s eight public hospitals each have their own pharmacy, and there are also several chain stores across Singapore that stock some drugs.

9. Health risks

Due to the country’s tropical rainforest climate and high levels of pollution, respiratory problems can be a common complaint among expats in Singapore. Masks can be used to help alleviate this problem. Expats may also decide to seek protection against mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever and chikungunya virus, as well as hand, foot and mouth disease. More information about vaccinations and other health risks in the more remote areas of Singapore, is available in this free guide.

10. Emergencies

The number to dial for the national ambulance service in Singapore is 995. The emergency services are usually very efficient with fast response times, well-equipped ambulances, and expertly trained ambulance staff. It is also possible for expats to call out a private ambulance, using a different telephone number supplied by their healthcare provider.

In summary

Singapore’s innovative approach to healthcare means that it is widely respected by medical professionals and governments around the world. For expats, this means they will enjoy a very good standard of care and have access to a wide range of treatments and surgeries.


Disclaimer: The information included in this article is provided for information purposes only and is not intended to constitute professional advice or replace consultation with a qualified medical practitioner. All information contained herein is subject to change.