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The traveller’s guide to local healthcare in Southeast Asia

Living in Singapore means there are hundreds of nearby islands and bustling cities to explore. But it’s important to do your research on local healthcare systems (as well as Airbnb villas and cheapie flights!) Health insurance experts, Pacific Prime Singapore, gave us the lowdown on the healthcare available in some of Asia-Pacific’s most popular vacation spots, so you won’t get caught out on tour.

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Hong Kong
In terms of the quality of the health system and healthcare, Hong Kong rivals Singapore when it comes to the best medical care in the region. Communication problems are rare as English, Mandarin, and Cantonese are spoken widely by hospital staff in both public and private hospitals.

A flat rate of HK$990 is typically charged for emergency services at a public hospital for those that do not have a Hong Kong ID card (including tourists). Hong Kong’s private hospitals, however, do not have this type of subsidised care. The price of private medical treatment in Hong Kong is the second highest in the world after the United States. Make sure your health insurance provides coverage in Hong Kong to avoid hefty bills.

Don’t speak fluent Mandarin? You might find it tricky to find medical staff that can speak to you in China’s public hospitals. This is especially true outside major cities. Private hospitals, on the other hand, usually employ foreign educated doctors that can speak other languages.

Be warned: private hospitals in China are expensive and they expect payment for treatment to be made in advance before they take any action. For serious emergency treatments, this could easily amount to a small fortune. Since there can be large discrepancies between the cost of treatment between public and private hospitals in China, some insurance plans will only cover treatment in public facilities. Check if your benefits will pay for treatment at any medical facility.

If you find yourself needing medical attention in Indonesia, bear in mind that government subsidies that are provided for locals are not extended to foreigners.

Jakarta is your best bet for good healthcare, as quality can vary outside the capital.

Indonesia’s private hospitals are usually a good choice for expats or travellers. Although costs are quite low compared to a country like the United States, hospitals are likely to expect payment in full upon time of discharge. Make sure you can cover your medical expenses, whether via out-of-pocket payment or with health insurance.

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Japan strictly regulates and controls medical costs in their country, ensuring that prices for treatment are not exorbitant. However, Japan will only rarely accept foreign insurance directly in their hospitals. This means that visitors will have to pay for all medical costs up front first and then obtain reimbursement from their insurer. Some insurance companies outside of Japan also have arrangements with specific hospitals and clinics, so be sure to ask your insurance company if your plan will be accepted at all healthcare providers.

The quality of care in Japan is excellent, but the presence of English speaking staff is not guaranteed. Try to stick to major hospitals in urban areas, as they are where you will be most likely to find a doctor that you can easily communicate with.

Similar to Hong Kong, Macau is a Special Administrative Region of China and has its own local health system separate from its mother state. The city has adequate public hospitals that address most medical needs, but serious medical care will require transfer to nearby Hong Kong and its pricey private hospitals. Visitors do not have access to the public health system so be sure to obtain sufficient medical insurance prior to travelling there. You will likely need to depend on Macau’s private hospital, Hospital Kiang Wu, for treatment.

Macau’s private healthcare sector has expanded quickly, as government subsidies for care in these facilities is dispensed to all permanent residents in the form of vouchers. Of course, these subsidies are not available to visitors so expect to pay full price for treatment there.

Because there’s no local medical school, all doctors in Macau have been trained overseas. Good news if you’re looking for an English speaking doctor!

Larger cities here generally have a higher standard of healthcare. But visitors will have to rely on private healthcare options because public healthcare is only available to locals. Like in Singapore, healthcare is subsidised for locals, while foreigners will have to arrange to cover treatment costs. Some hospitals will even demand a cash down payment before providing any treatment.

Fortunately, English is widely spoken by medical professionals in the Philippines, so communication is usually excellent.

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When it comes to healthcare in Southeast Asia, Thailand is a shining beacon for quality and amenities available to patients. With the excellent value provided by the country’s private health sectors, Thailand is a worldwide leader in medical tourism. People come from all around the world to receive treatment at hospitals that could easily be mistaken for five-star hotels. Of course, not every hospital in Thailand boasts these types of facilities.

The public hospitals, as in many countries, offer lower quality care with sometimes vastly inferior amenities and long waiting times. Communication for non-Thai speakers can also be an issue. Private hospitals on the other hand are often much better, especially those in Bangkok.

When at private hospitals in Vietnam, expect to receive high quality care. Since privatising the medical sector and welcoming foreign investment, medical standards in Vietnam have steadily risen. However, the cost of healthcare in Vietnam’s private health facilities is generally higher than some other neighbouring countries like Thailand. For locals, secondary clinics and hospitals are available with more affordable treatment, but expats or travellers in Vietnam will find that the quality of care and amenities are not on par with standards found in many Western countries.

TIP! When traveling outside of your home country, you may not have access to free public healthcare. Avoid racking up large medical debts while traveling by obtaining an international health insurance plan that will provide you coverage in virtually any country or hospital globally.

Pacific Prime Singapore
China Square Central #09-02A, 18 Cross Street
6536 6173

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