The healthcare system in the United Arab Emirates is of fundamental importance to the country. So much so, the government has a vision for healthcare to improve the already state of the art facilities by 2021.
Healthcare in the UAE is so good that there were 337,011 medical tourists last year – and that’s only for Dubai. This guide explains healthcare throughout the UAE for expats, and includes the following topics:
- Overview of healthcare in the UAE
- Cost of healthcare in the UAE
- Health insurance in the UAE
- How to register for healthcare in the UAE as an expat
- Private healthcare in the UAE
- Doctors and specialists in the UAE
- Women’s Healthcare in the UAE
- Children’s healthcare in the UAE
- Dentists in the UAE
- Hospitals in UAE
- Pharmacies in the UAE
- Mental healthcare in the UAE
- What to do in an emergency in the UAE
- Useful resources
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COVID-19 in the UAE
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone. Many expats find themselves separated from family and loved ones in their home countries. As a foreigner, it is also sometimes difficult to find critical information regarding coronavirus infection rates, local measures and restrictions, and now, thankfully, vaccinations.
For general coronavirus health information in the UAE, including vaccination schedules and locations and the latest updates, visit the UAE’s official COVID-19 online dashboard.
Overview of healthcare in the UAE
Healthcare in the UAE is known to be among some of the finest in the world. In fact, there are 181 doctors per 100,000 residents. Furthermore, in 2018 there was AED 12.1 million worth of medical sales in the country; that’s an increase of 5.5% in one year.
The top areas for medical tourism include orthopedics, sports medicine, dermatology, dentistry, and fertility treatment. Healthcare is provided both by the state and privately, but the cost of this depends on your immigration status.
The healthcare system in the UAE
The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP) is responsible for overseeing healthcare in the country; however, healthcare is usually dealt with by a health authority in each Emirate. The provision of healthcare has grown quickly. In fact, the latest statistics (gathered between 2012–2017) show that the number of physicians and dentists almost doubled, and pharmacists quadrupled.
As a result of the growing healthcare provision, there are new state-of-the-art centers and facilities. In addition, quality healthcare workers have arrived in the UAE from all around the world to provide top-notch care. The high quality of healthcare is probably why medical tourism is thriving in the country. Take Dubai for example; by 2020, 500,000 people will travel to Dubai for healthcare each year.
Expats tend to prefer private healthcare over public. Here, medical professionals tend to all speak English. In fact, many of them are expats themselves after completing their training in their home nations.
Who can access healthcare in the UAE?
Anyone can access healthcare in the UAE, but if you’re not a citizen, private healthcare is costly. Expats may apply for the national public health card through MOHAP, affording them the same 50% discount on healthcare services as UAE nationals. However, this costs AED 500 and only allows treatment at a small number of facilities.
Cost of healthcare in the UAE
Healthcare is regulated by both the federal and emirate level governments. In 2018, healthcare expenditure was AED 50.3 billion (3.4% of GDP) and it’s expected to rise to AED 53 billion. This is funded through taxes collected (although there’s no income tax in the UAE).
There are four different regulatory bodies for healthcare throughout the United Arab Emirates:
- The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP)
- Emirates Health Authority (EHA)
- Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD)
- The Dubai Health Authority (DHA)
Health insurance in the UAE
Health insurance is necessary for anyone living in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but this is not currently the case for the northern emirates.
Your health insurance coverage will depend on your financial situation, where you live and your job – and of course, what kind of coverage you desire. The following are international health insurance providers currently operating in the United Arab Emirates:
How to register for healthcare in the UAE as an expat
Healthcare is provided privately for expats in the UAE. They are unable to obtain access to public facilities unless they hold a public health card – or in the case of an emergency. However, you must register with MOHAP if you wish to obtain a health card.
The assisting documents necessary are:
- A personal photo on a white background
- Copy of valid passport
- EIDA Application/EIDA copy
- Family book copy for UAE citizen
- Valid residence visa or entry residence visa
- Those working in foreign consulates will need to provide a copy of their diplomatic passport, the card issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a letter stating they work at the consulate
Employers are required by law (and face steep fines if they don’t comply) to provide health insurance for their employees. So, depending on your emirate, it could be up to you to find additional insurance for your dependents.
Private healthcare in the UAE
The UAE, and especially Dubai, is selling itself as the place to go for quality private healthcare. With this in mind, the price tag matches the quality, and the cost of healthcare has been rising approximately 13% annually.
In fact, it’s easier than ever to come to Dubai for medical purposes – medical tourists are now able to book their entire medical trip online with Dubai Health Experience.
There are currently three healthcare cities in the UAE. Within these is a range of clinics that serve all healthcare needs. They are also popular with medical tourists:
- Sheikh Khalifa Medical City
- Dubai Healthcare City
- Sharjah City
Doctors and specialists in the UAE
Finding a doctor or specialist is relatively simple in the UAE. The UAE is a country of expats, so it makes sense that this follows for medical professionals too. In fact, most embassies hold records of the doctors from that nation practicing in the UAE.
Finding a specialist
The doctors you choose depend on the insurance you have; but many companies give you a wide range of centers and hospitals to choose from. However, when it comes to specialists, you do not need a referral from your GP first, even though they may have good recommendations to pick from in your health insurance network.
Women’s healthcare in the UAE
The state-of-the-art facilities in the United Arab Emirates also extend to women’s healthcare. There are health centers for females that only employ women. So, it’s never a problem to see a female doctor if that is what you are most comfortable with.
Access to contraception is widely available. You don’t need a prescription to get contraceptive pills (although you should speak to a doctor beforehand). However, it should be noted that the morning-after pill is not available in the UAE.
Proof of marriage
Having a baby in the UAE is pretty simple – if you can prove that you are married. For example, you’ll need proof of marriage to access pregnancy care and fertility treatments, and even to give birth. Abortions, however, are illegal in the UAE, and will only be administered in the cases of a fatal genetic condition in the womb or if the woman’s life is at risk.
Children’s healthcare in the UAE
You will be able to find a great list of pediatricians on the directories for Abu Dhabi and Dubai. There are even healthcare facilities in the country catering to children only, such as Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital in Dubai.
The UAE mandates vaccinations from birth until your kids reach Grade 11. So, if you’re a resident of the UAE you can access these for free at a government hospital or clinic. See our guide to vaccinations, which explains in detail which vaccinations children need.
Dentists in the UAE
As with other medical professionals, the dentists in the UAE are superb. Because there are so many, there’s stiff competition between them. As a result of this, their prices aren’t extortionate. Dental care can be included in your health insurance; however, it’s often not, so that’s something to keep in mind when looking for coverage.
Surgeries are generally open 09:00–13:00 and 16:00–20:00, Saturday to Thursday but there are many dental facilities that provide around-the-clock care. It should never be a problem to get an emergency dentist.
Hospitals in UAE
There are public and private hospitals in the UAE. If you’re an expat, you’ll be using private hospitals, unless it’s an emergency. You can arrange to see a specialist of your choosing at any hospital, as long as it’s covered under your health insurance.
Public healthcare facilities will always treat you free of charge; therefore, you don’t need to worry about going to a public hospital to receive emergency treatment. However, for further treatment or care, you may have to move to a facility that is covered by your health insurance.
Pharmacies in the UAE
Pharmacies in the UAE are plentiful, and many are open 24 hours a day. However, most are open from Saturday to Thursday, 09:00-21:00.
Beware of the prescription drugs you bring into the UAE – many standard prescribed drugs from other countries are in fact illegal in the UAE, and you could face severe consequences. MOHAP has a comprehensive list of unauthorized medicines.
See our article on drugs and alcohol in the United Arab Emirates for more information.
Mental healthcare in the UAE
The population boom of the UAE was not immediately followed up with proportionate spending on mental healthcare. At the start of 2019, experts stated that more mental health specialists were needed in Dubai to cover the demand in services. The data suggested that one-third of Dubai (around 1.3 million people) were in need of mental health help.
Attitudes towards mental health
In the UAE, it may be difficult to discuss a mental health issue with close friends or family members. This is because of the shame that is traditionally associated with mental health illness in Arab culture. There are mental health specialists in the UAE, but access is limited, and often your health insurance won’t cover it.
What to do in an emergency in the UAE
An ambulance can be called at 998 from anywhere within the UAE. As previously mentioned, the hospitals are well equipped to deal with any emergency situation. After initial treatment, the patient may be transferred to a more specialized clinic or unit. In the case of an emergency, treatment to stabilize the patient and the condition is free of charge.