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Health Service

Japan - Health Service

The Health Service In Japan

The average lifespan for residents of Japan is longer than in any other nation on earth. When Expat Focus published the article Why Moving To Japan Will (Probably) Make You Healthier, the healthcare system was cited as one of the major reasons Japanese residents enjoy long and healthy lives. So it’s definitely one of the positive aspects of moving to Japan - but you must know how to pay for your cover.

Healthcare In Japan

It is not possible for migrants to arrive in Japan and receive any healthcare without paying for it.

If you are going on holiday to the country, you should arrange comprehensive travel insurance which includes adequate health cover. Check all exclusions and limits carefully, as you could find yourself facing huge treatment bills if you are hurt doing a sporting or leisure activity for which you aren’t insured.

Declare all pre-existing medical conditions when you take out your policy, and inform the insurer if you develop new ones between taking out the policy and arriving in Japan. Even if you are lying in a critical condition in a hospital emergency ward, the insurance company can cancel the policy with immediate effect if they discover you had an illness or operation in the past which you failed to declare.

When you contact a hospital or family doctor for treatment, you will be asked how your bills are to be paid. Typically, you will pay upfront to reclaim from your insurer or, if the treatment is expensive, you may be asked for a deposit.

While some expats see Japanese medical costs as reasonable, especially those arriving from the United States, migrants from the UK might be surprised by how quickly the costs of treatment add up. You don’t want to receive an unmanageable bill at a time you aren’t well, so always maintain your insurance coverage.

Migrants who live in Japan pay for their medical cover privately or through salary deductions.

Expat Healthcare In Japan

If you will be a resident of Japan for more than 12 months, you have to join the state healthcare insurance system. If your stay is less than 12 months, you have a choice between the state system or private medical insurance.

As is common across many nations, employees pay into the state scheme by having a percentage of their wages deducted from their monthly or weekly salary before it is paid. The employer then pays this amount to the state system, along with another percentage which the employer pays from their own funds.

Membership of this scheme means 70 percent of your medical costs are covered. However, you will be required to pay the other 30 percent yourself out of your own funds.

Many people purchase additional insurance to cover the other 30 percent, whilst others pay more for policies which will cover them for fully private treatment.

As Expat Focus set out in the article Moving To Japan? Here's What You Need To Know Before You Arrive, in addition to your residence card, you must carry your health card with you everywhere you go. An accident or sudden medical emergency can occur at any time and you may be refused treatment if you cannot prove your ability to pay the bill.

The Quality Of Healthcare In Japan

Japan’s health service is staffed by well-trained professionals, working in modern, well-equipped facilities. The services are well thought of by expats living there.

However, the cost of treatment is not cheap, so make sure you are adequately insured, either through salary deductions to the national system, or by purchasing insurance from a private healthcare policy so you can access treatment quickly.

Unfortunately, not many doctors in Japan are fluent in English. It is not a country which attracts many doctors from English-speaking countries because of the language barrier. You might find it a good idea to access medical facilities targeted to the expat community, even if they charge more than other local facilities.

Interestingly, much of the medical training system was developed in conjunction with German doctors. Therefore, many German terms are part of Japanese medical training and practice.

Expat communities in Japan tend to be small but friendly, so if you want to find out which local medical services are recommended by expats in the area of Japan you are heading for, reach out to them via our dedicated forum or by joining hundreds of others on our Facebook group for expats in Japan.

Japanese Hospitals

In Western countries, hospitals are seen as the place you go to when you are seriously ill or have had a bad accident. Alternatively, if your family doctor is concerned about your symptoms and wants them investigated by a specialist, they will make a referral.

In Japan, people will head to the hospital with more minor complaints. Jasmine, a German expat who writes the Zooming Japan blog, was taken to the hospital by her manager the first time she had a temperature in Japan. Some employers see sick leave from work as only being justified if you are ill enough to seek hospital treatment.

As a result, hospital waiting times can be lengthy. Obviously, this will depend on the time of day, day of the week and location of the hospital.

There are a number of cultural differences between the care in Japanese hospitals and that offered by hospitals in the West. Your privacy is less valued, so you may be asked personal medical questions with other staff in the room, or even in a waiting room near other patients. Doctors will be less assertive and may be reserved about touching you. For example, if you are examined by a gynaecologist, a small screen will keep your face hidden.

How To Call For An Ambulance

If you are taken seriously ill or have an accident and cannot get to a hospital yourself, call 119 and ask for an ambulance. This is the same as the number for the fire service.

You can call for emergency police assistance on 110.

Remember to call your insurance company quickly - programme the number into your phone so it’s ready for you when you need it.

Mental Health Issues In Japan

The Japanese workplace has a global reputation for loyalty, efficiency and hard work. Unfortunately, this culture can make it difficult to achieve a good work-life balance; overwork is a health issue in the nation. The rate of suicide, for example, is high by international standards, but through widespread discussion in the media and some official action, numbers are decreasing.

Employees are now legally entitled to 18 days of leave each year, and employers with more than 50 members of staff must undertake regular stress tests. Meanwhile, volunteers patrol areas where suicide attempts are frequently made, and posters showing helpline numbers are also displayed.

Attitudes to mental health are changing in Japanese society. As an expat, you may find feelings of isolation and low mood hard to overcome. If this describes you, do try to take action. Make the most of your adventures, take time out to relax in one of the hot natural springs if there is one nearby or enjoy a relaxing bike ride through the park, and get to know your nearby expats by using a friend finder app such as Panion.

If you need further help with mental health issues, counselling is available. Vickie Skorji talked to Expat Focus about the TELL project, a not-for-profit organisation which provides dedicated support to expats and their families. They are always looking for new volunteers, so perhaps you can help other expats even if you don’t need to use the service yourself.

Read more about this country

Expat Health Insurance Partners

Bupa Global

At Bupa we have been helping individuals and families live longer, healthier, happier lives for over 60 years. We are trusted by expats in 190 different countries and have links with healthcare organisations throughout the world. So whether you're moving abroad for a change of career or a change of scene, with our international private health insurance you will always be in safe hands.


Cigna has worked in international health insurance for more than 30 years. Today, Cigna has over 71 million customer relationships around the world. Looking after them is an international workforce of 31,000 people, plus a network of over 1 million hospitals, physicians, clinics and health and wellness specialists worldwide, meaning you have easy access to treatment.