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Healthcare in Saudi Arabia is highly regarded around the world and in many cases offers facilities on par with the USA and Western Europe. As a result, expats visiting Saudi Arabia are unlikely to want for much in terms of health care.
As might be expected, medical facilities are particularly strong in major urban areas such as Riyadh.
In such areas many of the doctors and nurses are expats themselves, lured to the country by generous salaries. As a result expats will find that many doctors are fluent in English, which can be reassuring should you need medical assistance while abroad.
In the past Saudi Arabia offered free healthcare for nationals and expats alike. However as expat numbers began to grow it became increasingly clear that such a policy was unsustainable.
These days health insurance is mandatory for all non-nationals entering the country in order to help maintain the existing healthcare infrastructure. Note that the provision of health insurance is generally a necessity before visas or work permits will be granted.
There are generally two forms of insurance enjoyed by expats; employer-provided care and/or private expat health insurance.
Many expats moving to Saudi Arabia for work will be provided with a health insurance policy by their employer. This is generally accepted as being the most cost-effective solution, however there are a few caveats to be aware of.
Firstly, the care provided by many Saudi hospitals is best described as a co-payment system meaning that even with employer-provided insurance the individual will still normally need to pay a subsidized fee for care or prescriptions.
Secondly, expats should carefully inspect the fine-print of any employer-provided health insurance policy for Saudi Arabia. The reason for this is that you should be certain to understand what procedures are, and are not, covered by such a policy.
The reality is that many such employer-provided policies provide only basic care. As a result many expats opt to make use of private expat health insurance for Saudi Arabia in order to extend their coverage.
While the standards of care in Saudi Arabia are generally to be applauded, there is much to be said for private health insurance while in the kingdom.
Firstly expats should be aware that even some Saudi’s opt to travel abroad in the case of serious medical situations, often travelling as far afield as the UK or South Africa. As a result many expats take heed and opt for a policy offering medical repatriation should it be required.
In addition to the benefits of repatriation most expat healthcare policies for Saudi Arabia will also grant cost-effective entry to the many private medical facilities present in the kingdom.
While dental care in Saudi Arabia is of an equally high quality, it too can be expensive. While many employer-provider insurance policies fail to include this for budgetry reasons, many private insurers will include such a service as standard.
Besides the medical aspects that such a private insurance policy can offer some expats also opt for emergency evacuation cover should situations of political turmoil arise. While Saudi Arabia is generally a quiet and law-abiding country, serious short-term problems have been experienced in the past, and many expats in such situations were grateful for their additional coverage.
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Under some circumstances it may be possible to negotiate private medical insurance for Saudi Arabia as part of your expat remuneration package. Due to the costs of such policies this is generally advisable wherever possible.
Whichever option you eventually opt for, there are two further recommendations to make for speedy and reliable healthcare in Saudi Arabia. Firstly, expats should aim to keep their insurance card on them at all times, should it be necessary to present this to hospital in the case of an emergency.
Just as wise, many expats opt to pre-register with a medical facility of their choosing. Under such circumstances the hospital will be able to set up an account and confirm insurance coverage in plenty of time. Thus, should emergency care become required all the necessary form-filling will already be complete, which can result in swifter medical intervention.
In the past, Saudi Arabia gained something of a reputation for its lack of emergency medical care facilities. These days the situation is rather different, with an ever-improving nationwide ambulance service in operation. In case of emergency an ambulance may be summoned by dialling 997.
That said, expats visiting Saudi Arabia should be aware that the ambulance service may not be up to your expectations either in response times or on-board facilities.
There are two potential solutions to this situation.
Firstly, many expats select a local hospital on arrival in Saudi Arabia, each of which operates its own ambulance service. In case of emergency many expats claim it is quicker to call your chosen hospital directly knowing that an ambulance will be dispatched from nearby.
Alternatively, particularly in more outlying areas, it may actually be quicker to find your way to hospital, such as by using taxi or private vehicle.
When travelling abroad many authorities recommend taking with you a suitable supply of any prescription medications you require. However the situation can perhaps be rather more problematic in Saudi Arabia. You will find there are strict rules pertaining to which drugs can and cannot be brought into the country, the volumes that may be imported and the conditions of this importation.
Broadly speaking sleeping pills and anti-depressants are banned in Saudi Arabia except in the most extreme of medical situations. It is against the law to attempt to bring such items into the country.
In terms of other medications, it is only permitted to bring into the country one month’s supply so don’t stock up in advance of your relocation to Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, in order to avoid medications being confiscated on immigration note that you will need to be able to produce a medical report or prescription for the medications being brought in. Such paperwork must be recent (issued within the last 6 months) and include:
Note that in Saudi Arabia drugs may be sold under different names so it is critical to have a full understanding of the generic names for the medications you will require, in case it is necessary to visit a Saudi doctor for further supplies.
Generally speaking Saudi Arabia has few infectious diseases or unpleasant parasites thanks to its hot, dry climate. Malaria, for example, is only found in small pockets along the border with Yemen; the rest of the country is considered malaria-free at present.
The following vaccinations are considered essential for all visitors:
In some cases, depending of lifestyle and career choices, the following vaccinations may also be recommended by your doctor:
For up-to-date information on vaccination recommendations please see: http://travelhealthpro.org.uk/locations/saudiarabia/#Vaccine_recommendations
Saudi Arabia has an impressive line-up of high quality hospitals capable of dealing with most medical issues. The following list of hospitals in Saudi Arabia, while admittedly not exhaustive, will hopefully provide a useful jumping-off point for expats moving to the Saudi kingdom.
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Expatriate Group & Expatriate Healthcare are trading styles of Strategic Insurance Services Limited who is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). FCA Firm reference Number is 307133. Strategic Insurance Services Limited is authorised to carry on Regulated Activities in accordance with the permissions granted by the FCA under PART IV of the Financial Services and Markets ACT 2000.