Private Medical Insurance for Expats Living in Brazil

Although Brazil is enjoying a rapidly growing economy, a large proportion of its people live under conditions of extreme poverty. In general, the private health care within Brazil is considered reasonable but the public health care system that is managed by SUS, through National Insurance contributions, is not comparable with European and North American standards.

Emergencies are handled in hospitals, as normal, but the quality of nursing care is unlikely to meet the standard found in the UK. This is especially true outside the main cities, as care in these areas will vary widely in quality.

Health Care in Brazil

Just like the NHS of the UK, the health care system in Brazil is funded by the government and is available for all, free at point of use. However, the system does rely quite heavily on the private sector, certainly to a much greater extent than the UK. Private hospitals and some which are non-profit making are used by government to help support the public system and they receive government compensated for doing this. This allows more complicated medical procedures to be conducted within the system.


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These arrangements have been in place since 1988, with government funding coming from the social security budget (taxes and contributions taken from people’s wages together with a share of profits from business). This money is then dispersed across the 26 regions in Brazil, with health care being organised through independent health boards which will each set out their own rules.

Dealing with Emergencies

Private hospitals and clinics are often relied upon by expats when they need emergency treatment or for ambulance services that the better private hospitals can provide.
Normal ambulances can be directly called for anyone who needs emergency help but where Expats use them, they may need to accept that they could be taken to one of the public hospitals for treatment.

Expats must be aware that public hospitals do not provide treatment for general existing illnesses or for on-going care services, after being discharged and you may find that the public hospitals are frequently over crowded, particularly in the bigger cities.

Private Insurance in Brazil

The majority of Brazil’s citizens, living in the major cities, have invested in private medical insurance, with some obtaining membership through health care management organisations. The amount of Brazil’s GDP, which is spent on health care, is reasonably comparable with European countries but this doesn’t mean that standards are the same.

Individuals who go to private hospitals may be expected to make initial payments during their admission process, either by cash, bank cheque or credit card, and it should also be noted that family doctors usually prefer to receive cash for their services. You will also need a valid health insurance card, to be shown on admission. These are generally given when purchasing your health insurance plan and will help you obtain compensation for your hospital charges and your admission fees.

Steep price rise in charges

Since 2009 private hospitals that have been providing care to American and European standards, have generally increased their prices and this has led to strong protests from both patients and health insurers. Within Latin America, Brazil has become the most costly country in which to source private health care and costs are 20-30% above those of its neighbouring countries and are now approaching the levels found in the US.
Costs for in-patient stays, overnight stays, admission charges and ancillary fees have all increased, which has led to some weakening in the private healthcare market. However, there is a positive factor to this, in that Brazil’s costs for primary care have remained reasonably stable with the level of care being to a reasonably good standard.

Compulsory Insurance requirements for Expats

It is compulsory for expats to have health insurance when in the country. Individuals, who have not taken out international health insurance, prior to arriving, should make sure that they get good holiday cover lasting for at least two months from date of arrival. This should be arranged through the best insurance companies that you can find.

Those who are moving to take up work in Brazil can choose to join the Sistema Unico de Saude (SUS), which is the country’s publicly funded health care system.
Brazil nationals do not need to register for the SUS and generally, anyone in Brazil will be able to obtain free medical care at the majority of public hospitals, if they have joined SUS.


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Premium tariffs & restrictions

Brazil differs from most other countries in the region, as generally there is no disparity in the premiums quoted by the major UK insurers. However, allowances should be made for differences in the benefits offered, such as cash limits on claims and restrictions on the cover provided in your policy.

Language Barriers

If you are going for treatment in general hospitals, clinics or private hospitals, you will find that the receptionists have very limited English, as will most of the staff, including doctors, who unusually like to be called by their first names.

Dental Care

The quality of dental care you will receive in Brazil is very dependent on the location where you are based. In Sao Paulo or Rio, you will have access to first-rate dental services and the good reputations, of both locations, have encouraged growth in medical tourism, with some patients coming from as far as Europe and America

Visas Requirements

Tourists are not required to have a visa when visiting Brazil but individuals must ensure that their passport will remain valid for six months after arrival, and they must be able to show that they have a valid, return ticket, to their home country. Those who intend to reside in Brazil will be expected to have found work before moving to the country, where your employer will then apply for a work or temporary residence visa, on your behalf, through the Labour Ministry.

Yellow Fever Outbreaks

If you are coming from a country which is recognised for having outbreaks of yellow fever, a vaccination certificate for yellow fever will need to be shown as proof that precautions to avoid the disease have been taken.

Health Risks in Brazil

During the months of December through to March, there is usually a marked increase in the number of Dengue Fever being recorded. During this time, temperatures are quite high with a lot of rain, which provides an ideal breeding ground for mosquitos. If infected, the fever will usually start to show itself in between 7-10 days, after a mosquito bite.

Some of the symptoms of Dengue fever include:

  • Headaches
  • Aching bones
  • Sudden, high fever
  • Vomiting
  • Rash on the skin
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • enlarged lymph nodes

Anyone who has, or notices any of these symptoms must refer to a doctor immediately. The second stage of symptoms will show a high fever temperature with skin rashes, and the patient will start to feel weak and become very ill, very soon after.


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Regrettably, there is no inoculation for this is available and it is highly advisable to use mosquito nets while sleeping and mosquito repellents generally. You are also advised to wear long sleeve tops and trousers, which will help to avoid mosquito bites.