Expatriate health insurance in Dubai and the UAE

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Understanding Health Insurance in Dubai

For most long-term visas, local law requires that you have local health insurance. Visa sponsors provide minimum insurance coverage, which won’t satisfy expats, as coverage costs are very high. International health insurance can be purchased to fill in any coverage gaps for any visas that don’t require local coverage.


Key Dubai health insurance figures

Key Dubai health insurance figures
Healthcare expenditure per capita €1250
Annual indexing of health expenses 8%
Hospitalization reimbursement rate for expats abroad 31%
Number of insurance companies making offers 10
Annual hospitalization coverage premium for 30-year-old patients €660
Annual hospitalization coverage premium for 50-year-old patients €1068

The healthcare system in the UAE

Special rules in Dubai and Abu Dhabi

The United Arab Emirates are made up of seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Sharjah, Fujairah, Ras el Khaimah, and Umm al Qaiwain.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi have their own mandatory health insurance regulations. There are two health systems in Dubai: the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and the Dubai Health Care City (DHCC). In Abu Dhabi, the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD) regulates health care. In the other emirates, the health care system is managed by the Ministry of Health, and the choice of insurance is unrestricted.

The hospital system in Dubai and Abu Dhabi is modern and meets international standards. It also has an international medical staff (including French-speaking physicians). Public facilities are on par with those in the private sector, and emergency rooms are only available in the public sector. There will be no problems with overcrowding or long waiting times. However, for certain specializations, expatriates who can afford it should return to their country of origin or to a country with expertise in that area.

Ninety percent of the population of Dubai and Abu Dhabi is made up of foreign residents, who account for 75% of patients at public hospitals and 100% at private hospitals. The two emirates have therefore implemented compulsory insurance to avoid burdening the financial system with healthcare costs.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi have made it mandatory for all residents to have health insurance. Anyone who fails to comply with the rule is subject to a fine (about 500 AED per month) and may be denied residency status altogether. Abu Dhabi was the first to implement this rule in 2008, followed in 2014 by Dubai. The latter required all companies to cover their employees.

Mandatory coverage – MEC (Minimum Health Coverage), whether you are an employee or not – must include hospitalization, emergency, routine medical, and maternity fees. Only vision/dental coverage is not required. Beyond the mandatory coverage criteria, the health insurance intermediary must be underwritten by a locally approved health insurance provider.

While local regulations compel companies to provide a minimum health coverage, this basic coverage will rarely meet an expatriate's needs, and will have many limitations – such as restrictive coverage limits, co-payments, and especially a limited network of practitioners. Expatriate health insurance is the best alternative to make up for the shortcomings of the mandatory "MEC-compliant" insurances, offering full reimbursement of the rates charged in the private sector.

Local rules you should know

Beyond the mandatory nature of health insurance, there are two other more confusing legal elements in Dubai and Abu Dhabi healthcare.

The first is that, to obtain your residence visa, you will be required to present a certificate proving you are not HIV positive. Note that HIV tests are not available locally for tourists. You also will be denied a residence visa if you are positive for hepatitis B or tuberculosis.

The second rule concerns medication. Some simply aren’t allowed in the country, and their consumption or importation is prohibited, even if you have a prescription. Dubai and Abu Dhabi have zero tolerance on this matter! So beware of tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and anti-depressants. An exhaustive list can be found at www.mohap.gov.ae.

There is more to add to the list: local cultural rules, for example, mandate that couples be married to be allowed to take out a contract together or to receive maternity coverage (or simply get an appointment with a gynecologist). Adopted children are not recognized and also may not be covered by some local insurance policies. International expatriate coverage will compensate for these local limitations.

Healthcare costs in Dubai

Healthcare costs are very high in Dubai, in both the public and private sectors. This is the price of high-end service. The level of service at some hospitals and clinics can be compared to that of luxury hotels rather than to classic healthcare services. It’s important to choose the right insurance if you want to reduce your healthcare expenses.

A consultation with a general practitioner generally costs between €50 and €110. But a house call by a French-speaking physician costs around €150. A specialist will cost you the equivalent of €95 to €250, depending on the practitioner and the location. And the costs of hospitalization can grow exponentially.

Dental care costs are relatively affordable, due to strong competition between the many practitioners who have settled in Dubai. Dentists are highly trained and many have their own prosthesis-manufacturing facilities.

Maternity fees in Dubai range from 4,000 to 7,000 AED for pregnancy monitoring and childbirth in the public sector. If you add the cost of a private room and various services in private facilities, the costs of delivery can easily reach 24,000 AED.

For example, the maternity package at the American Hospital in Dubai, which includes a two-day stay, costs 12,000 AED (not including anesthesiologist fees, vaccinations, and neonatal care). Be aware that local practitioners often refer patients for a Caesarean section. Do not hesitate to ask your physician for advice.

In a country with high healthcare costs, where expat residents pay rates on a different scale than citizens, expat health insurance will cover not only your hospitalization expenses but also your full running healthcare costs and vision/dental expenses with minimum constraints.

Healthcare quality in the public and private sector

Public sector healthcare quality is on par with the private sector in Dubai. The costs will therefore be almost equally high in both sectors of care.

Equipment is state of the art, quality meets high international standards, staff is highly qualified and largely foreign trained, and care is top-notch. Waiting times are reasonable in the public sector and short in the private sector.

The country has made healthcare an economic asset. Dubai attracts physicians and investors in large numbers. It is now a recognized destination for medical tourism.

Established in 2002, Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC) is one of the largest free healthcare zones, and concentrates more than 150 specialtizations in one location.

How do you choose a physician?

There are lists of trusted physicians, hospitals, and clinics for expatriates. These lists are available at the consulates, including the French Consulate General, and on specialized expat websites.

It’s easier to find a physician who speaks good English in the private sector than other languages. This is also the sector where the best foreign-trained physicians are found and sought after by expatriates.

There are specialized medical centers for a number of nationalities. The German Medical Center is certainly the most famous. The British may prefer the King's College Hospital, and for a French physician you can go to The French Clinic of the DHCC, which gathers general practitioners, pediatricians, obstetricians, and other specialized medical professionals (including psychologists) who are for the most part members of the French or European Medical Council (tel: 04 429 8450).

Almost all expatriate insurers offer access to an online consultation platform for basic health issues as well as a second medical opinion service.

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Find out more about how expatriate and foreign insurances differ

Expat coverage and local insurance in Dubai

French public healthcare and coverage in Dubai

There is no public healthcare agreement between France and the United Arab Emirates. There is also none with the United Kingdom or Germany, nor have we found any with other countries.

Generally, healthcare coverage from your country of origin will cover only tourist stays of less than three months, for urgent care without any out-of-pocket expenses. But it will not cover long-term temporary residents or permanent residents in the UAE.

Living without health insurance can be very expensive in Dubai. Neither your embassy nor your consulate will be able to help you with your medical expenses or any repatriation requests.

The Fund for French Nationals Abroad

CFE (the Fund for French Nationals Abroad) or other private health insurance is essential in Dubai, if you’re looking for more than limited local coverage, and in particular for access to private sector healthcare without going broke.

CFE health insurance will reimburse all your expenses – general, surgical, hospital, dental, vision, laboratory, and more – within the limits of the rates and fees applied in zone 4 of CFE coverage. The CFE will cover your expenses in Dubai at a basic level of reimbursement.

For example, the rate of reimbursement for pharmacy bills is 45% (the regulation on generic drugs does not apply), and for blood tests it is 20%. It’s clear that complementary international health insurance will be necessary to fill in the gaps in CFE reimbursement.

Note that, since 2019, the CFE offers a “EmiratExpat Health” package in response to local regulations, to offer a more realistic level of reimbursement for expats in the country. The package works in partnership with a local insurer recognized by the authorities. Take note: this package offers guarantees similar to local healthcare plans, especially in terms of limitations and limits of coverage.

Other experiments of this type have been tried since 2016 by French insurers in partnership with the same local insurer. Both have failed. After three years of high rate increases, the contracts were stopped and policy holders were left without insurance.

Local public healthcare coverage

There is no government-sponsored healthcare coverage for expats in the UAE. Citizens are covered free of charge in the public sector. All other residents are subject to the mandatory minimum insurance requirements in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and must purchase an approved health insurance policy (MEC) for this purpose.

For employees, this is their hiring company’s responsibility. The company generally offers basic plans and is not obliged to cover dependents, so be sure to ask. Please note that, if you employ domestic staff, a driver, or any other service personnel, their compulsory insurance will be at your expense.

Resident visas give you access to the public healthcare network for basic medical care at a low cost (but never free for expatriates). When you arrive, you must ask for a health card to benefit from it. You will need to present the following documents: your Emirati identity card (issued after you have your resident visa), your passport, and your employment certificate. It will cost 320 AED for an adult and 120 AED for children under 10. However, you will need to present proof of the compulsory minimum health-insurance coverage to obtain a resident visa.

As an expatriate without permanent residency, there is no access to free or reduced-cost healthcare. Healthcare costs are as high in the public as in the private sector, so it is more than recommended to have a good health insurance. Be careful: always make sure you have the mandatory basic insurance in addition to your expatriate health insurance (which will not be recognized by the authorities). As local coverage is very limited, rates aren’t overly expensive, which allows you to add your desired expatriate healthcare plan on the side.

Local insurance

As we’ve discussed, the minimum mandatory healthcare coverage (MEC) is generally covered by your employer. If you aren’t an employee, you will need to take out individual insurance with an insurance company that offers compliant plans. Some international insurers may offer some approved plans in partnership with local insurers. Do not hesitate to ask your health insurance adviser about this.

Again, government-mandated health insurance plans are generally very limited. Even though some companies may cover 100% of basic costs, most insurance companies offer annual flat-rate coverage that rapidly reaches its limit.

It is not uncommon to have a co-payment of between 5 and 20% of the cost. The co-payment is an amount you have to pay that will not be reimbursed. Finally, it’s rare to have vision or dental coverage with these plans.

The cost of a basic MEC plan is about 180 AED per month, for regional coverage only, and with many limitations, including a very limited network. For example, a budget of €600 per year gives you an annual coverage limit of 150,000 AED, with a 1,500 AED limit for pharmacy expenses (including 30% co-insurance). Preexisting medical conditions are rarely covered.

One also shouldn’t forget all the restrictions specific to local cultural rules (access to a gynecologist, maternity benefits only for married couples, etc.). An expatriate insurance policy will compensate for all these constraints.


Expat health insurance in Dubai

Why sign up?

All the limitations described above lead most expats to choose an international health insurance plan, with higher guarantees – corresponding to local healthcare habits and the rates charged in the private sector – and extended coverage beyond what’s offered by the country of residence.

Supplemental expatriate health insurance policies can be taken out on their own or in addition to the CFE. Regardless expat insurance scheme chosen, their hospitalization coverage will cover 100% of the costs. You can then choose the rest of your plan à la carte, with routine medical, maternity, and vision/dental coverage.

Expatriate health insurance also offers the following benefits:
- Teleconsultation and second medical opinion services,
- Easy repatriation in case of need,
- Possible assistance with all your legal and medical procedures.

Which plan should I choose?

Given the cost of healthcare in the UAE, a more comprehensive plan is recommended if you want a good level of reimbursement.

For those on a tight budget, we recommend:
- An economical plan including hospitalization and routine expenses, with a deductible of either a flat rate or 10%-20% on routine expenses, and no vision or dental coverage. This will fully reimburse hospitalization and very adequately cover examination and pharmacy expenses.
- For smaller budgets, hospitalization coverage only, as this is the necessary minimum to avoid finding yourself in serious financial trouble.

Do I have to pay up front?

Using a local affiliate, your DHA resident health card gives you access to consultations, surgery, maternity care, emergencies, and examinations in Dubai's public hospitals (Dubai, Rashid, Latifa, and Hatta) at a preferential price (or even free of charge in certain cases).

With expat insurance, if you are hospitalized for more than 24 hours, the insurer will organize direct payment to the hospital/clinic. Routine medical and vision/dental expenses must be paid up front.

Reimbursement requests are easy to do online (no more snail mail). The insurers all offer online customer service platforms, and sometimes mobile applications, to manage your reimbursements.

When and how to sign up?

Signing up for expatriate health insurance is more complex than for traditional health insurance, so it is advisable to apply about 30 days before your departure or desired effective date.

It’s possible to sign up for an expat health insurance plan from the United Arab Emirates. However, we advise you to do so before you leave, so that you can benefit from the coverage immediately upon your arrival.

Our website lets you request a quote online and compare coverage options. An adviser can then help you with the entire sign-up process.

Additional coverage

Repatriation assistance

Repatriation assistance can be a useful option for residents in the UAE, even if you are located in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, and even more so if:
- You travel regularly in Africa and/or the Middle East;
- You want to be repatriated to France in the case of a major health problem.

It also allows you to benefit from more extensive services (the presence of a relative, a second medical opinion, etc.), which are highly appreciated in the case of a serious incident.

Remember that neither the embassy nor the consulate are responsible for your repatriation in the case of a medical emergency.

The medical emergency number is 999, and it is 997 for firefighters and 998 for ambulances. For emergency healthcare in Dubai call: +971, and in Abu Dhabi: +971

Civil liability insurance and legal protection

This covers all material and immaterial damages that an expatriate or a member of their family could cause to a third party.

Civil liability insurance does&espace¬ apply when driving a motor vehicle; check with your car insurance company for options there.

Life and disability insurance

As an employee, your company may be able to offer you this coverage. Make sure you understand the conditions of the contract. In particular, find out whether you can continue to receive a pension even if you have left the country.

In general, it is recommended that you take out private health insurance or one of the CFE options to be fully covered.

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Advice is essential, due to local regulations and prices.

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