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The Singaporean Healthcare System for Expats

Singapore has the 6th best health care system in the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) back in the year 2000. It came behind the likes of France and Italy but was ranked number one in the Asia-Pacific region.

Singapore is well-known for having performed world class, successful and complicated surgical procedures and breakthrough medical surgery (such as separation of conjoined twins).

With such a high global reputation for its safe and leading healthcare, one could assume that this level of healthcare comes at a high price, but the Singapore system is made affordable to all. The Government fund some of the nation’s healthcare but individuals and employers fund the majority.An interesting point is that the Singapore Government requires all medical institutions to submit their healthcare costs/bills according to the standard of conditions and the class of the ward, which promotes openness and transparency. The healthy competition among medical institutions helps raise health standards, cleanliness and efficiency.

There are a number of pharmacies dotted around the city, which offer free consultations. Pharmacies require a prescription issued by a local registered doctor, so if an expat moves to the country with an existing prescription, it needs approving by a local, registered doctor. It is worth registering with a local doctor and having an initial appointment on landing in Singapore.

The set-up of healthcare institutions is similar to many parts of the world. 20% of the primary healthcare in Singapore is made up of polyclinics, which are located across the country and provide most outpatient care, such as screenings, immunizations and post-operative check-ups. The polyclinics are state-run medical centers and are affordable and accessible. There are concessions for children and pensioners.

When looking into health insurance as an expat, it is sometimes worth omitting outpatient care from the list of things covered, as the costs for a consultation in a polyclinic is reasonable enough to afford without claiming on an insurance policy.

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The country boasts 15 public hospitals and medical centers, including specialist centers for children or for particular parts of the body or illnesses (such as specialist cancer centers). These hospitals are public sector but operate as private limited companies. This ensures that they act with quality and excellent levels of service. They set the bar high, which means that private hospitals have an even more exceptional standard of care to rise above the public sector.

The cost of care for an expat does not differ greatly between the public sector and private, so it is advisable to take the private care option, which offers shorter waiting times, more individualized care plans and excellent standards of care, cleanliness and efficiency.

The people of Singapore (as well as permanent residents) are entitled to medical subsidy through a compulsory national saving scheme – CPF. The Central Provident Fund assists individuals to save for later in life by paying instalments each month in their wage packets, which are further boosted by employer contributions.

Expats are exempt from CPF contributions and do not qualify for subsidies and so it is crucial to have a good health insurance policy, which at least covers Inpatient care and critical illness. Health insurance is often a minefield of information, but many large international insurance companies will be able to offer competitive packages and advice.

There are two categories of international health insurance coverage: Standard (inpatient) and Comprehensive (in and outpatient) and it is imperative that you choose based on your needs and financial situation. If you are able to afford the low cost of outpatient check-ups etc., a Standard policy may be sufficient to meet your medical needs. It is the personal responsibility of the expat to ensure that their health insurance package offers extensive care and is up-to-date for the whole family.

For Singaporean nationals there are a number of plans to help them, including buying medical insurance through state scheme Medisave (tax free and interest earner), Medishield which is an additional top-up insurance plan from the state for chronic diseases and Medifund, a benefits system (means-tested), for those in financial hardship. While care for local residents is high, it is important that expats understand the importance of health insurance.

For expats to take advantage and access the excellent and competitive level of care offered in Singapore, which is the envy of other parts of the globe, a good insurance policy is of paramount importance.