Healthcare Basics

The healthcare system in Saudi Arabia

This guide to the healthcare system in Saudi Arabia explains all you need to know about options for expats and how to access services.

Saudi Arabia healthcare

Updated 20-5-2024

The healthcare system in Saudi Arabia has developed to provide for the growing population, with both public and private healthcare services in operation.

This helpful guide explains all you need to know as an expat, including the following:

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Overview of healthcare in Saudi Arabia

The healthcare system in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has a mixed public and private healthcare system, both providing good quality services. Furthermore, around 60% of services are publicly provided through the government’s Ministry of Health. These consist of:

  • Primary healthcare centers
  • Hospitals
  • Specialist services
  • Outpatient services
Surgeon in a Saudi Arabian hospital

Some of the key healthcare statistics for Saudi Arabia are:

There are plans to privatize some of the public healthcare services over the next few years. However, the government has said that services will remain free for Saudi citizens.

The Saudi Commission for Health Specialties regulates all healthcare professionals in Saudi Arabia.

Who can access healthcare in Saudi Arabia?

The public healthcare system in Saudi Arabia is open to Saudi citizens and public sector workers. Furthermore, services are free and include:

  • GP services
  • Hospital treatment
  • Dental treatment
  • Prescription medicines

Expats in Saudi Arabia have to access private care through hospitals, clinics, and health centers. Since 2005, non-nationals must have mandatory health insurance, and this should be provided through employers. Additional private policies can also be taken out.

Healthcare costs in Saudi Arabia

The Saudi population has grown in the last 20 years; as a result, there has been an increase in health spending. Furthermore, to help pay for services, the government has sought a closer partnership with the private sector and moved towards an insurance-based system.

Medications in Saudi Arabia

Before 2005, government subsidies funded public healthcare in Saudi Arabia. After that, the government introduced compulsory health insurance for non-nationals and extended it to Saudi private-sector employees in 2016. There are plans to further expand the system to other Saudi nationals. Individual healthcare costs for expats will depend on the nature of their health insurance plan and furthermore, what treatment they seek.

Health insurance in Saudi Arabia

If you move to Saudi Arabia, you will need to have health insurance coverage. Furthermore, your employer should arrange this.

The Council for Cooperative Health Insurance (CCHI) oversees the country’s insurance system. They state that all private sector companies should provide coverage for workers and their dependents. Despite this, there are still many companies not providing this.

There are currently 26 health insurance companies operating in Saudi Arabia. In addition, the average premium is SAR 1,759.

Employer insurance policies may only provide basic coverage (e.g., no dental coverage) so many expat workers top up with more comprehensive private insurance. Providers include APRIL International.

How to register for healthcare as an expat

Expats can’t access public healthcare in Saudi Arabia, therefore there is no standardized registration procedure.

Your employer should register you for private health insurance and you’ll receive a health insurance card once this is done. You can use your health insurance card for private healthcare services and facilities such as doctors, hospitals, and therapy treatments.

Registration procedures vary across different individual providers, however, it is likely you’ll have to provide the following:

  • Passport/valid photo ID
  • Residence permit or visa
  • Proof of address

There is information on the Saudi National Portal about accessing various different heath treatments.

Private healthcare in Saudi Arabia

Private healthcare plays a big role in the Saudi Arabian system. As a result, the government has attracted private-sector investment through a public-private partnership (PPP). Furthermore, it has set a goal to increase private sector healthcare provision to 35% by 2020.

Almoosa Specialist Hospital
Almoosa Specialist Hospital

Expats who can’t access public services use private facilities; in addition, some locals are treated here. However, there is not a great difference in quality between public and private healthcare in Saudi Arabia.

Despite the fact that private care is more expensive, there are a number of benefits including:

  • Shorter waiting times
  • Better access to English-speaking staff
  • Access to some treatments not available elsewhere

Private facilities in Saudi Arabia include:

  • 158 hospitals (around one-third of total hospitals)
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Specialist clinics
  • Outpatient treatment (around 37% of the country’s total)

Doctors and specialists in Saudi Arabia

Finding a doctor or specialist in Saudi Arabia isn’t too hard. In fact, there are approximately 2.4 doctors per 1,000 residents in the country, including many specialists. Some of the more popular specialisms include:

  • Cardiology
  • Orthopedics
  • Ophthalmology
  • Urology
  • Ear, nose, and throat specialists

There are many ways to find a doctor, including:

  • The CCHI website
  • Your country’s embassy
  • Your health insurance provider
  • The UK government website, which has a list of English-speaking services
  • Various website directories

Women’s healthcare in Saudi Arabia

Above all, the quality of women’s healthcare facilities in Saudi Arabia is good. However, women have historically been treated as second-class citizens in Saudi Arabia. Until fairly recently, husbands were classified as legal guardians; as a result, they had to give permission before their wives could receive certain treatments.

Woman undergoing a scan for breast cancer

However, these laws have been relaxed in recent years. Furthermore, a woman’s right to choose and consent to procedures is now being recognized. Despite this, women’s healthcare facilities in Saudi Arabia are not as advanced as those in neighboring Gulf countries.

While contraception and female hygiene products are available to purchase from pharmacies and other stores, some things are not accessible. For instance, the morning after pill is banned in Saudi Arabia.

Fertility treatment is becoming more available, however, being unmarried and pregnant is illegal. In fact, this is punishable by imprisonment – or deportation for expats. Furthermore, abortion is only permitted in rare circumstances.

Children’s healthcare in Saudi Arabia

The Ministry of Public Health promotes a child health program that includes areas such as:

  • healthy eating and growth
  • breastfeeding
  • dental hygiene
  • disease prevention

Expats can find pediatricians and child health specialists at private hospitals and clinics across the country.

Furthermore, there is a national immunization schedule that offers vaccines to prevent 15 diseases, including:

  • tuberculosis
  • hepatitis A and B
  • polio
  • whooping cough
  • measles
  • mumps
  • rubella
  • chickenpox

Dentists in Saudi Arabia

Dentistry is a growing profession in Saudi Arabia. In fact, many dental colleges have opened in recent years; there are currently nearly 17,000 licensed dentists working in the country. Due to the growing demand, nearly three-quarters of these are foreign dentists, many of whom provide private treatment available to expats.

The quality of private-sector dental care in Saudi Arabia is considered high. Furthermore, the following specialist treatments are available:

  • orthodontics
  • periodontics
  • implantology

Many Saudi nationals opt for private treatment if they can afford it; cities such as Riyadh and Jeddah experience dental tourism. Unfortunately, not all private health insurance policies cover dental treatment, therefore you will need to check with your provider first.

Hospitals in Saudi Arabia

There are over 450 hospitals in Saudi Arabia. These include:

  • 58% public facilities
  • 33% private facilities
  • 9% military hospitals
King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh

The service provision in public and private hospitals is very similar. The private sector offers a more extensive range of treatments, however, this comes at a cost; therefore expats need to get insurance.

Public hospitals provide free treatment for Saudi citizens. Additionally, there are many specialist public and private hospitals, including the King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital. This is one of the world’s largest eye hospitals.

General hospitals in Saudi Arabia have emergency wards, maternity wards, and specialist wards. All patients admitted for emergency care will be treated. Those without insurance, however, will be charged.

Pharmacies in Saudi Arabia

Medicines are widely available at pharmacies across Saudi Arabia. Most are sold without prescriptions and are affordably priced due to government subsidies.

However, some medications are either banned or highly controlled in the country. As a result of this, anti-depressants and sleeping pills cannot be purchased. Therefore, if you are bringing medication into Saudi Arabia, check first to see if there are any restrictions.

Most pharmacies in Saudi Arabia are open from 09:00 – 13:00 and then from 16:30 – 22:30. In addition, you can find 24-hour pharmacies in the big cities and in many hospitals.

Mental healthcare in Saudi Arabia

The level of services for mental healthcare in Saudi Arabia has developed over the past 30 years. In addition, the country created a national Mental Health Policy in 2006.

Psychiatrist with patient

Those with mental health problems are treated at primary care level through health centers in the first instance. Serious or persistent problems, on the other hand, are referred to psychiatric hospitals, community residential facilities or outpatient treatment.

Citizens can also self-refer or choose to pay for the more extensive private facilities available. Furthermore, these private facilities include:

  • clinics offering psychotherapy
  • rehabilitation services
  • psychotropic drugs
  • addiction services
  • speech therapy

Healthcare provision is improving, however, there are still many gaps. For instance, there are high rates of misdiagnosis, stigma surrounding issues, and an over-reliance on family care. Furthermore, research has found that:

  • 39% showed signs of depression, according to a 2013 study;
  • a study of young people found that 41% had experienced depression and 49% anxiety

There are around 17 beds in mental hospitals per 100,000 of the population in Saudi Arabia. This is about the same as the global average.

Other forms of healthcare available in Saudi Arabia

You can find alternative and complementary therapies practiced across Saudi Arabia. These are often referred to locally as Islamic Medicine.

Alternative medicine is fairly popular. In fact, studies have found that around 60-75% of the local population uses it. Licensed practitioners perform treatments, including the following:

  • acupuncture
  • osteopathy
  • chiropractic
  • naturopathy

What to do in an emergency in Saudi Arabia

The general emergency numbers in Saudi Arabia are 999 and 991. However, to call for an ambulance directly, you need to call 997. Ambulance response times can vary, and therefore, if possible it is advisable to drive directly to the nearest hospital.

Ambulance in Riyadh

Hospitals in Saudi Arabia are equipped to deal with most medical emergencies and will treat anyone. In addition, most emergencies are covered by basic insurance packages.