Dubai Expat Health Insurance Guide
If you’re moving to Dubai then it’s critical that you fully understand how the healthcare system works. Read on for our complete guide to health insurance in Dubai…
Dubai is one of the most popular expat destinations in the world. It is estimated that, at present, the population of Dubai stands at 9.2 million people, with 7.8 million of those being foreign-born workers. That means that almost 90% of the population in Dubai are expats.
Unsurprisingly, as expat numbers have begun to swell, so the cost implications of medical care have also begun to spiral. This is especially so in a country known for its extreme summer heat, which may be felt in the form of heatstroke, dehydration, and sunburn.
Over the years expat healthcare in Dubai has therefore changed considerably. These days it is critical that expats and travellers alike fully understand health insurance in Dubai if they are to receive the care they need. This is especially so when you consider the cost of care in the UAE.
Dubai Healthcare at a Glance
These days Dubai offers internationally-renowned hospitals which provide state-of-the-art facilities, but at a cost. Many of the better-known hospitals are impressive buildings in their own right, more-closely resembling spotlessly-clean hotels than medical establishments.
Of course all this luxury comes at a cost; and it is for this reason that expatriate medical insurance should be considered by visitors; anyone expecting to pay out of pocket or “risk it” and assume all will be fine with their health could be in for a nasty surprise.
In general life expectancies in Dubai are comparable with the United Kingdom and other Western nations, which reflects the high standards of care to be expected here. The only caveat to be aware of is that some more specialist treatment may require care in another country.
While hospitals in Dubai provide either free or significantly subsidized care to locals, expats are unlikely to benefit from these services. Instead you will need to rely on one of two types of health insurance in Dubai.
Public Health Insurance in Dubai
Due to the growing costs of providing health services for expats, the local government is slowly introducing mandatory health insurance for all employees. At the time of writing this has yet to cover all expat workers, however this is promised in the coming months.
The insurance provided grants discounted healthcare at public facilities, though be aware that the levels of care covered by many employer-provided policies is meagre at best. Many will omit services which many consider essential – such as dental care or cover for family members.
If you are lucky enough to be offered such a policy, therefore, be certain to check the fine print so that you understand fully what is and is not covered by your policy. Also, you may need to keep a healthy balance in your bank account in order to cover dental work if and when required; remember that the UAE is a “no debt” country so relying on credit cards is generally not the best options.
Furthermore it is important to keep your health insurance card with you at all times to prove coverage, lest treatment should be needed at short notice.
Private Health Insurance in Dubai
As an alternative to public health insurance many expats opt for private medical insurance.
Such policies normally offer greater levels of cover and a range of services not covered by the state-run system.
That said, be aware that individuals with private health insurance in Dubai will often be turned away from public facilities. As a result, should you opt for such a policy it makes sense to take note of your local private hospital so you know who to contact in the case of an emergency.
Short-term visitors to Dubai should not rely on paying out-of-pocket for medical care, which can be very expensive. Instead, travellers should also investigate options for private health insurance in order to ensure affordable and timely standards of care.
Increasingly some form of health insurance – whether that’s through an employer or purchased privately – is a pre-requisite before you are granted a visa to enter the country so be sure to do your research in plenty of time before your arrival.
Prescriptions in Dubai
Visitors and expats alike should be aware that prescriptions in Dubai may be rather different to what you are used to. Firstly, some of the drugs you may be familiar with may be difficult to encounter in Dubai, while some may be banned altogether.
For example, as in many other Gulf States, sleeping pills and anti-depressants are generally banned in all but the most extreme cases, and a letter from your own doctor may be required before you are prescribed any.
On the other hand, there are plenty of pharmacies in Dubai and many of them are open 24 hours a day, so if you have a prescription you should have no problems accessing your medication. Like other parts of the UAE healthcare system, however, prescription medications can be expensive in Dubai so plan ahead.
Visitors are allowed to bring up to three months-worth of prescription drugs with them, while residents can being up to a year’s supply with them. Note that the original prescription and/or a letter from your doctor may be required to prove their authenticity and that they are purely intended for personal consumption.
Thinking of Moving to Dubai?
This information is provided to offer guidance to those seeking to live and work overseas. Whilst this information has been compiled by the UK FCO and is therefore aimed at UK nationals, the advice may be appropriate to many nationalities looking to find additional information on a particular country.
An increasing number of Brits are more generally showing an interest in buying a property in Dubai and in the rest of the United Arab Emirates. It’s easy to see why, as there are many reasons to live or have a second home in the UAE:
- If you like the sun the climate is great for much of the year. Yes, the summers seem long with the temperatures hitting the mid to late 40s but this doesn’t put everyone off. Over the past couple of years hotels have seen a rise in the number of visitors travelling here over the summer months.
- Emiratis are a friendly people who show tolerance and an open minded approach to visitors in their country provided that their culture and values are respected. This welcoming attitude has resulted in a melting pot of nationalities and cultures. Indeed, 88% of the population is now expatriate (including 100,000 British residents and over 1 million British visitors each year) and your life as a resident is enhanced by these numerous influences. When eating out or shopping the choice is amazing. But if you like to stick to what you know there is always Waitrose to make you feel at home!
- Most expats enjoy a high quality of life. English is widely spoken and so you avoid a lot of the challenges that are found in other overseas property markets.
- Due largely to the global recession, prices have dropped dramatically in Dubai since their peak in 2008. Some Real Estate agents suggest that prices have bottomed and that now might be a good time to buy. Indeed, some areas have seen a price rise in the last quarter. The market in Abu Dhabi is more mixed with some prices on some property falling whilst others have continued to rise.
- To help make it more attractive, the UAE government has recently announced the introduction of a three year visa for those investing in property.
Buying a property is a huge undertaking financially wherever you are in the world. The UAE is no exception. It is vital that you exercise care and attention, taking the same precautions you would if you were in the UK. And as with any investment there is an element of risk attached. Ensure you have some contingency funds in case things don’t go exactly to plan. Remember, buy with CARE: go into it with Caution, make sure you seek Advice – local laws can be complex and unclear, do your own Research then Evaluate on the basis of that before you proceed.
Do your Homework
The culture in the UAE is very different to that in the UK. It is a very polite society and the rules on behaviour in public, driving and alcohol are not the same as in the UK. You should check the British Embassy website for tips on understanding the UAE:www.ukinuae.fco.gov.uk.
Visit the Dubai Real Estate Agency (RERA) website www.rpdubai.com or the Abu Dhabi Municipal Affairs website www.abudhabi.aefor guidance on government fees that may be charged. For the other Emirates, you should contact their local municipality office for their latest information. Find an International Estate Agent that is registered with the Dubai Land Department www.dubailand.gov.ae or listed on the Abu Dhabi Real Estate Centre www.adrec.ae.
Seek Legal Advice
There is no legal requirement to instruct a lawyer. But most people will agree that it is vital to get professional help to ensure you have get accurate and experienced legal advice before making any commitments.
A clear written sales and purchase agreement is fundamental to protecting your rights. If you are buying off plan make sure you have a firm date for completion and know what will happen if for some reason the build does not go ahead as anticipated. Will you be given your money back or offered alternative property?
Consider Drafting a Will
The law on inheritance, in relation to property in the UAE, is based on Sharia principles. It is advisable to have a will compliant with the requirements on your home country. Again, sound legal advice should be taken.
Look into Healthcare Options
Facilities in the UAE are generally comparable with those of the UK, but visitors may be prevented from using them without travel insurance or without the means to settle any charges incurred themselves. The UAE currently requires expatriates to be tested for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and Hepatitis B. If your test results are positive, you will be deported. There is no appeal system against this process. Taking a blood test shortly before travelling to the UAE would therefore be advisable. Find out more on Health Insurance in Dubai here.
Local Laws and Customs in Dubai
There is zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol. Possession of even the smallest amount of illegal drugs can lead to a minimum four-year jail sentence. You should take care over the import of prescription drugs and some over-the-counter drugs.
Residents can obtain liquor licences to consume alcohol in private homes. These licences permit the holder to purchase or consume alcohol only in the Emirate that issued the licence; a permit issued in Abu Dhabi, for example, is not valid in Dubai. Alcoholic drinks are served in licensed hotels and clubs, but it is a punishable offence to drink, or to be drunk, in public.
Some prescribed and over the counter medicines that are available in the UK are considered controlled substances in the UAE. To bring in any such medication, you need prior permission from the UAE Ministry of Health. If you arrive without permission and the required documentation, the medication will not be allowed into the UAE and the person may be subject to prosecution under UAE law.
Fraud, including bouncing cheques and the non-payment of bills (including hotel bills), is regarded seriously in the UAE and can often result in imprisonment and/or a fine. Bail is generally not available to non-residents of the UAE who are arrested for crimes involving fraud or financial crime. Convicted debtors will not generally be released from jail until the debt is paid or waived.
The British Embassy website www.ukinuae.fco.gov.uk gives advice on what happens if you decide to proceed with a purchase and on tax implications. There is also a list of lawyers operating in the UAE. However you should be aware that if things go wrong we cannot intervene. The FCO does not have the legal powers or the resources to get involved in individual cases. If you do run into difficulties we advise you to consider getting independent legal advice and also consider contacting RERA to register a complaint.
For general tips and information on starting your new life abroad, including some of the issues you should consider before you go, visit www.fco.gov.uk/livingabroad.
Of course, if you’re planning on travelling to Dubai please ensure you have adequate expat travel insurance.