Expat Healthcare and Private Medical Insurance in the UAE


The authorities had been intending to make medical insurance compulsory for the huge expatriate population, living and working within the United Arab Emirates, but due to the several delays, the process of introducing mandatory cover turned out to be too complicated. The UAE had previously run their medical services with an open-door policy, but by the 1990s, the expat working population was swamping their healthcare system.

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Medical insurance cover is needed for all expatriates across much of Europe, and other parts of the Middle East including Saudi Arabia. Regardless of equivocation in Dubai, the introduction of health insurance for all citizens, as well as expatriates, remains a policy across all the emirate states.

Healthcare to European standards

Medical services are generally up to European standards throughout the United Arab Emirates, where government funded health services and a quickly developing private health sector, have pushed healthcare indicators to respectable levels.

Malaria, measles, and poliomyelitis, once endemic in the UAE, have been eradicated and chronic diseases such as diabetes and coronary heart disease are now the new target. In the UAE, health promotion campaigns are being conducted in order to improve lifestyles.

Accessing healthcare in UAE

Expats are able to purchase their own health insurance and can apply for a health card from the Health Ministry, which gives them access to the state system, in any emergency, where a health card is needed. Residents with private cover may not be welcomed in some state hospitals in the UAE for elective treatment. If you have private insurance, you are expected to use a private hospital and it is advised to know the location and contact details of your nearest private hospital.

Private Health Insurance 

The UAE encourages private health provision as well as private health insurance. The aim is to develop the private sector, within their legal framework, as part of an upgrade of both private and public sectors.

Medication and Drugs               

Certain prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines are not permitted in the United Arab Emirates.The Health Ministry says: “Individuals may bring medicine into the country for their personal use. Up to three months’ supply of a prescription item can be brought into the country by a visitor and 12 months’ supply can be brought by a resident if they can produce a doctor’s letter or a copy of the original prescription. It is advised that visitors should contact the Ministry of Health drug control department, to check whether their medication is on the controlled list, and needs prior permission for importation.

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Common health problems in the UAE

In a location where the temperatures can rise to 50C, a few common health conditions for foreign nationals include heatstroke, dehydration, sunburn and respiratory problems, triggered and aggravated by sand and dust in the air through construction sites. According to the UAE’s Ministry of Health, swine flu still remains a problem and visitors can check for updates on the number of cases in their location, through the Ministry of Health website.

The Dubai system

The Emirates want a licensing system for insurance providers and brokers, as relying on international insurers would not be enough. Dubai’s plans will apply primarily to expatriate workers and it is thought that dependants will be at liberty to purchase additional coverage if they wish. The Dubai system is likely to be administered by residency officials rather than at the point of entry.

People on short working visits would more than likely get by with normal travel insurance but those registered to trade would need a licence. Once the scheme starts, individuals would have to register with a local clinic and hold insurance cover.

Medical Insurance Costs

A good comprehensive medical insurance plan is the way to avoid any unexpected large expenditure bill. If you have sufficient private funding and above-par health, a basic plan insurance plan is a rational option.

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If a test or treatment that is not covered by insurance is needed, the advice is to inquire about the cost as soon as possible. An all in quote is needed if undergoing surgery to ensure that you don’t end up paying for unexpected postoperative complications.

Medical Insurance Premiums

Medical insurers do not distinguish between the seven emirates while setting premiums. Axa PPP is one of the minorities of UK insurers to quote premiums in dirhams (AED), benefits policyholders as Axa prices are generally the lowest, according to the insurance adviser Stephen Walker from Medical Insurance Services.

UAE Health Hazards

Medical advice should be taken into consideration before travelling to the UAE, and expats should ensure vaccinations are up to date; this includes protection against hepatitis A and B, together with tetanus and rabies.

Visitors are not required to undertake a medical examination or carry a medical certificate unless they have been in cholera or yellow fever infected areas, in the last 14 days. However, permanent residents have to undergo an annual medical check for HIV.

The most common infectious diseases across the Emirates include chicken pox, viral hepatitis B and pulmonary tuberculosis.

The UAE Ministry of Health has not yet introduced a requirement for expatriates to provide medical reports when re-entering the country. Although recent statements suggest, that if a passenger appears to be suffering from flu-like symptoms, presenting a medical certificate that states what illness they are suffering from and the medications prescribed, will ease airport procedures.

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