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An Expat Guide To Healthcare In Chile

Chile’s healthcare system has been voted one of the best in Latin America. Medical care is available to both Chilean people and expats at affordable rates. The Chilean healthcare system is divided between public and private medical institutions, and your insurance plan and income level will determine where you go for treatment.The World Health Organization ranks Chile as 33rd out of 190 Latin American countries with a topnotch healthcare setup. In addition, the Chilean medical system not only meets international standards, it also ranks higher than that of North America, especially in terms of its private health institutions. You will need health insurance to access to both private and public medical care whether you are a Chilean native or a migrant.

Public Healthcare

All public hospitals in Chile are funded by the government under the insurance scheme Fondo Nacional de Salud or FONASA. Non-resident expats will need to apply for residency in order to access public healthcare. In addition, one has to hold a tax identification card to qualify for the insurance which is used to access public medical care.

There are two types of tax identification cards expats can apply for. These are the RUT card for expat foreigners, and the RUN card for native Chileans and expats with residency. Expats who hold an international insurance policy are also eligible to receive medical care while in Chile.

Private Healthcare

Private healthcare is in the form of clinics run by private insurance companies. All private medical institutions in Chile are managed by the insurance umbrella ISAPRE or Instituciones de Salud Previsional. ISAPRE clinics are widely found in major cities like Santiago and concentrated in areas where expat communities live. Medical care provided in private clinics is of a higher standard compared to public hospitals.

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Similarly, one will need a RUN or RUT tax card to access medical care in private health institutions. If you hold international health insurance cover, you won’t need to obtain Chilean insurance health cover. However, a taxation identification card is mandatory to facilitate appropriate billing of medical services received.

Doctor Appointments

Always carry your RUT or RUT card when going to see a doctor in Chile. For expats with international health insurance, a passport will do. In addition, it is important to know that Chile does not have specialized hospitals. All medical specialists work together under one roof and will charge differently for their services.

Therefore, it is important to first check if the medical center in question has a doctor who can treat your specific ailment. Also, find out if your insurance policy will cover the bill for consulting with a specialist. Failure to do this may result in having to dip into your own pocket to pay for the medical bills, which can be expensive.

The language barrier may be an issue when visiting Chilean hospitals. Although there is an abundance of doctors in Chile, not many of them are bilingual. Fortunately, most private clinics have a doctor or two who speaks English. Hospitals established near expat communities may also employ a bilingual doctor and nurse to treat migrants.

Once in Chile, other expats will be able to help you find bilingual doctors. You can also find useful contacts from the embassies of English speaking countries such as Canada, Britain and the USA. It is also worth knowing that most English-speaking doctors tend to work in urban cities like Santiago.

Expat patients are required to fill in a medical form on arrival. This provides proof that you are able to cover your medical expenses. Keep all medical receipts and expense records received from your hospital for reimbursement from your insurance company.

Pharmacies And Prescriptions

For expats with a pre-existing medical condition, it is advisable to carry your prescription drugs with you before arriving in Chile. Ensure your medication is in its original or properly labeled containers, issued directly by a registered pharmaceutical. Also, note that some medicines that you are used to buying in your native country may not be available in the same brand while in Chile. Therefore, ask your physician to write a prescription for the specific condition you have. This will help the pharmacist find you what you need with less hassle.

Only pharmacies in Chile are allowed to sell medication over the counter. You will not find medicines in malls or local shops. Chilean pharmacies are stocked with all kinds of modern drugs to suit all your needs. It is also possible to get medication that is otherwise not prescribed in your country. However, it’s always safest to only buy such medication when clearly instructed by your physician to do so.


Expats traveling to Chile are advised to get vaccinated against a range of diseases. This includes hepatitis A, tetanus, typhoid, measles, rubella and mumps. Consult the Chilean embassy of your country for an updated report of necessary vaccinations. You can also consult a physician in your home country about required vaccine shots. Most physicians are abreast with most of the vaccinations required in certain countries.

If you are going to work closely with animals or travel to the outskirts of the country, a rabies shot is recommended. Consult with a clinic or hospital once you arrive in Chile to be sure.

Food And Drink

Generally, 95 percent of the water supplied for domestic use in Chile is safe for drinking. However, the same cannot be said for water supply in remote rural areas. Carry a water bottle with you if you will be venturing away from the city centers.

Food safety is also a concern for expats traveling to Chile. To be on the safe side, only buy food from hotels and restaurants in the big cities. It possible to experience traveler’s diarrhea as your body adjusts to the new cuisine. In addition, be cautious about dairy products or snacks from food kiosks along the street. It may be worth asking local people to recommend safe places to eat.

Have you lived in Chile? Share your experiences in the comments below, or answer the questions here to be featured in an interview!

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