Healthcare options in the UAE - an expat’s guide

When emigrating to another country for work purposes, whether long term or short term, it’s important to think about healthcare and health insurance as a priority. This is especially important when moving with family, particularly young children, as healthcare in other parts of the world can be very different to what is offered in the UK.
The United Arab Emirates is known for having an excellent healthcare system – it ranks as 18th in the world for Health in the HSBC Expat Explorer Survey 2016 – with modern hospitals and advanced medical facilities. There is a large expat community, especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where many of the medical staff may themselves be expats. For example, finding an English-speaking doctor in private hospitals is easier, which can be reassuring in emergency situations and understanding certain medical conditions.

Mandatory medical insurance

Across the UAE, health insurance is mandatory. Abu Dhabi introduced a ‘Basic Plan’ in 2009. This applies not just to the employee themselves, but any dependents who are also emigrating to the country. Health insurance is a requirement for obtaining a residence visa and so is passing a health assessment.
Dubai has more recently implemented a mandatory healthcare system – the ‘Essential Benefits Plan’ (EBP) – which started in January 2014 when the new law first came into effect. This law dictated that businesses must ensure that expat employees are provided with adequate health insurance. It was introduced in three stages, targeting larger companies first, but as of 30th June 2016, it now applies to any size of business. The law also says that all dependents, including any domestic workers, must be covered for basic health insurance from this date. The mandatory Essential Benefits Plan covers essential healthcare needs and access to treatment for all workers, non-working residents, children and domestic help.

Dependents and level of cover

While companies are obliged to cover the cost of health insurance for its expat employees, dependants are not always automatically covered. In Abu Dhabi, dependants’ health insurance should be covered by the company but in Dubai there is no such requirement. This is to ensure that companies don’t exclusively hire single executives to save costs and thus, continue to encourage workers to relocate with families. Therefore, it’s important to determine who is covered by health insurance by an employer and make sure that relevant health insurance is put in place for the whole family.
Another consideration is to check what the provided healthcare plan covers. Employers often provide over and above the minimum requirements, but not always. If only basic cover is included, this may not cover travel around the rest of the country. Also, the law stipulates that companies need only provide a maximum cover per person per annum of Dh150,000 (Dubai) or Dh250,000 (Abu Dhabi), which can easily be used up if emergency or regular medical treatment is required. For example, a recent article in The National showed that the basic cover may not be enough to cover treatment for breast cancer patients. Basic cover may also have excesses to pay on things like outpatient treatment and maternity services, plus there are caps on the cost of medicine. There is additionally a waiting period of six months for those with pre-existing conditions to be able to claim if they’ve not previously had cover in the UAE.
Taking this into consideration, it’s worth looking at taking out a more comprehensive medical package if only the basic cover is offered, to help cover more conditions and treatment for the whole family. Private healthcare is very expensive, so it’s a significant cost that needs to be factored into the finances when moving, but it is cheaper in the long run to pay a higher monthly premium than it is to pay for private, emergency treatment not covered by insurance
Information correct at the time of publication
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