Primary Care

How to find a doctor in Singapore

Discover how to access a doctor or specialist in Singapore and understand how to book an appointment, what to expect, and how to pay.

A doctor shows and explains her patient's x-ray, patient's right arm is in a sling

By Kiera Healy

Updated 26-3-2024

Singapore has one of the best healthcare systems in the world, known for its efficiency and excellent services. According to a 2023 Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) study on national pride and identity, Singaporeans rate their country’s healthcare highly.

Therefore, as an expat, you will find a good doctor in Singapore, but it might take you a little time to figure out the ins and outs of the healthcare system. Want to know how to find a general practitioner (GP) or a specialist in Singapore?

Keep reading for all you need to know.

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Doctors in Singapore

The Ministry of Health is in charge of Singapore’s healthcare system. It is designed to offer affordable care, particularly to citizens and permanent residents, who are obliged to pay some of their income into their own Medisave account with the Central Provident Fund. Then, when necessary, they can withdraw this money to pay medical bills.

A patient in consultation with his family doctor
Photo: gahsoon/Getty Images

If you’re not a citizen or a permanent resident, you will have no access to the Central Provident Fund and must pay your medical bills yourself. This leads to many expats opting to go private – with health insurance – rather than relying on the public healthcare system; either way, you’ll have to pay if you do not have health insurance.

With 2.8 doctors for every 1,000 people, Singapore does not have a particularly high doctor-to-patient ratio. The Ministry of Health has been looking at options to improve the number of doctors in the Lion City, including the possibility of opening a new medical school.

Doctors in Singapore often work long hours – exceeding the stipulated 80-hour work week – particularly early in their careers. This can lead to severe burnout, as is common in many other countries.

Consequently, the Ministry of Health has established a national wellness committee to review and improve:

  • Workflow models and work hour norms
  • Career development and training
  • A safe space and work culture to speak up

Depending on their specialty, Singapore’s doctors may operate from GP clinics, hospitals, or polyclinics. Polyclinics are large primary care centers that offer subsidized healthcare to outpatients, including:

  • Outpatient medical treatment
  • Medical follow-ups after discharge from hospital
  • Maternal and child health
  • Immunization
  • Health screening and education
  • Diagnostic and pharmaceutical services

However, their rates for foreigners are not as generous as they are for citizens or permanent residents.

There are around 23 polyclinics and 1,800 GP clinics across the country providing primary care.

Who can access doctors in Singapore?

Anyone in Singapore can go to a doctor. However, costs will be very different depending on your immigration status. There are usually three payment tiers for people using the public healthcare system, for instance:

TierWhoSubsidiesExample: consultation at Singapore General Hospital
1Singaporean citizensHeavily subsidized healthcareS$29.10
2Permanent residentsSubsidized but less than citizensS$72.75
3Foreigners without residency statusNo funding, pay out of pocket/private health insuranceS$151.20

Private patients have separate costs, which are often lower than expats in the public system. Polyclinic fees are generally cheaper, but expats without residency status will still need to pay more.

Finding a doctor in Singapore

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Local expert

Gayatri Bhaumik

Insider tip

In Singapore’s healthcare system, patients have the freedom to select their preferred doctor. If dissatisfied with the service provided by their current GP, they can switch to another healthcare professional.

The Ministry of Health has a handy search tool on its website designed to help you find doctors and other healthcare professionals in your area.

A woman wearing a purple head scarf uses her laptop to find a doctor in Singapore
Photo: Sabrina Romahn/Klaud9 via Getty Images

You’ll find a similar search tool at SingHealth, which allows you to search by area, specific institution, or specialty.

HealthHub lists all the licensed healthcare centers in the country, including public and private hospitals, practices, and clinics.

For Muslim individuals seeking healthcare, the Muslim Healthcare Professionals Association offers a database connecting them with compassionate doctors who respect and adhere to Islamic principles in their services.

It is a good idea to do more research to find the right practitioner for your needs. Check online reviews and ask friends, colleagues, or online expat platforms for advice.

Finding English-speaking or multilingual doctors

There’s some good news for expats: although Singapore has four official languages, English is the country’s lingua franca. That means all doctors speak English, and you won’t need to worry about a language barrier.

In addition, some doctors are also multilingual, which could be useful if your first language is not English. For example, the French embassy in Singapore maintains a list of French-speaking doctors. Check with your country’s embassy as they provide you with more information.

Registering with a doctor in Singapore

Historically, Singaporeans used polyclinics for their primary care; they didn’t usually register with a particular doctor. Now, citizens and permanent residents can enroll with a family doctor using the government’s Healthier SG scheme, a program that emphasizes accessing preventative medicine through your GP. This new initiative is not currently available to expats without permanent resident status.

Patients report to the doctors' reception
Photo: Edwin Tan/E+ via Getty Images

Still, you don’t need to register with a doctor in Singapore to make an appointment. However, it is best if you want an ongoing relationship with the same doctor.

Expats who want to register with a doctor should head to the clinic of their choice, complete the necessary forms, and provide:

  • An identification document
  • Details of medical insurance

The clinic may also request your health records from abroad, and if these are not in English, you need to have them professionally translated with a service like lingoking.

How do you make a doctor’s appointment in Singapore?

You can call your clinic to make an appointment or, if you prefer, use an online tool such as SingHealth’s Health Buddy app or the government’s Health Appointment System. If you have a Singpass, the official Singaporean online ID, making an appointment will be quick and easy; without it, you’ll need to enter all your information manually.

Private clinics in Singapore tend to be open from Monday to Friday, 09:00 to 17:00. So, if you’re working regular office hours, you’ll need to take time off to go to the doctor. GPs and family doctors have walk-in clinics that operate on a first-come, first-served basis.

What to expect when visiting a doctor

As a walk-in patient, you’ll just show up and ask for an appointment time at reception and then wait. It’s always a good idea to bring an ID with you, but you don’t have to show a specific health card. Also, provide details of your medical insurance on your first visit, as the clinic will keep a record after you register as a patient.

A doctor takes his patient's blood pressure measurement
Photo: gahsoon/Getty Images

Appointments are first come, first served, so you will not be treated in order of severity of illness. Wait times in polyclinics are around 15 to 30 minutes on average but can occasionally be over two hours if they are busy. To cut down on wait times, the Jalan Besar district has introduced telemedicine kiosks as an alternative. It allows the patient to:

  • Buy over-the-counter medicines from vending machines (24/7)
  • Consult doctors from Ninkatec’s Charazoi Medical Clinic virtually and obtain prescription-only medicines (Monday to Friday, 09:00–12:00, 14:00–17:00)

This is a new initiative (November 2023) which may or may not be copied in other parts of the country.

Some other innovative alternatives for patients who don’t want to wait in line at clinics can use apps for a virtual consultation; these include:

Speedoc lets you request a same-day or advance house call from a doctor or nurse. You won’t even need to leave the house to pick up your prescription medication; a courier will bring it to you a couple of hours after the doctor leaves.

Doctors in Singapore are likely to be polite and professional and will prescribe medication or antibiotics, depending on their diagnosis. You’ll find a pharmacy on the premises if you’re at a polyclinic.

Medical specialists in Singapore

Singapore has close to 7,000 specialist doctors. About two-thirds operate in the public system, while the rest work privately. Specialists do not usually have walk-in clinics, so you’ll need to make an appointment.

Finding a specialist

Search online databases from the Singapore Medical Council or SingHealth to find a specialist. As part of your research, asking around is always a good idea. That’s particularly true if you’re looking for a doctor you’ll be seeing for something specific; for example, if you’re having a baby, ask other new mothers in an expat forum to recommend an OB/GYN.

Visiting a specialist

There are two ways to get an appointment with a specialist.

The first, more reliable option is to get a referral from your GP or polyclinic doctor. Alternatively, you can attempt to self-refer. In this case, you might not see your choice of specialist, and you could even be given a GP appointment first.

Cost of doctors and specialists in Singapore

The Ministry of Health provides a treatment fee guide, which it regularly updates. However, medical costs vary significantly according to your immigration status in Singapore.

As mentioned before, Singaporean citizens pay the least, permanent residents pay more, and non-permanent international residents pay the most. Expats working in Singapore will often benefit from their employer’s health insurance, while international students can get covered by their institution’s medical insurance.

A patient wearing a face mask makes a payment at the doctor's appointment with her mobile phone.
Photo: Mint Images/Getty Images

If you don’t fit into either of these categories, you might want to take out private health insurance.

You would usually be billed and have to pay at the cashier before you leave the clinic. Some clinics and hospitals no longer accept cash, and cheques are being phased out nationwide. You can still pay over the counter with a card, but there are also several convenient high-tech options to save you time.

For example, you can use any of these payment systems:

Do you need health insurance in Singapore?

Doctors won’t turn away patients without health insurance; however, treatment costs can add up if you’re uninsured, particularly if you need to stay in a hospital. Expats often joke that it’s cheaper to die than fall ill in the Lion City.

As an international worker or student, your company or university might provide coverage. If not, you’ll have to purchase private health insurance. Premiums are often higher for expats than for locals, and they tend to increase sharply with age. If you have any pre-existing medical conditions, your insurer will also take them into account when setting your premiums. You’ll need to be over the age of 18 to get your own insurance, but you can also choose a family package to cover your children.

It is wise to compare different plans to find one that suits your situation and budget, but two reputable companies in Singapore include:

If you are only visiting Singapore, it may also be a good idea to take out travel insurance like Allianz Assistance to cover any unexpected medical costs.

Private doctors and specialists in Singapore

Singapore has both public and private healthcare available. In the private system, you’ll often pay more for shorter wait times and more comfortable facilities.

However, the public medical services and expertise are equally good. Therefore, even Singaporeans with health insurance for private care usually opt to use the public system, especially when it comes to hospitalization.

Use the Singhealth search tool to find a private GP, or try the Ministry of Health database.

Doctor prescriptions in Singapore

Patients must pay for their own prescriptions in Singapore. The Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore maintains a price list of medications; however, savvy Singaporeans know that they can pay less if they go to the right institution for healthcare.

Close up of pharmacist's hands choosing medication to fill a prescription
Photo: MJ_Prototype/Getty Images

Prescriptions are cheaper at polyclinics, which have their own subsidized on-site pharmacies. Of course, if you go to a private doctor and regular pharmacy, you’ll pay the full price.

Doctors in the private system have been criticized for overprescribing medications patients may not need. The government has debated this issue; however, they have yet to make any policies to stop this from happening.

Medical tests in Singapore

Singaporean health professionals use numerous medical tests at hospitals, polyclinics, GP clinics, and other specialized healthcare facilities for preventative and diagnostic purposes. The types of tests may include:

  • Primary health assessments: blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood glucose levels, and body mass index (BMI) measurements
  • Blood tests: for example, complete blood count (CBC), lipid profile, liver function, kidney function, and blood glucose levels
  • Cancer screenings: for example, mammograms, pap smears, and colonoscopies
  • Assess heart health: electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), stress tests, and echocardiograms
  • Imaging studies: X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, and ultrasound scans
  • Genetic testing: for someone with a family history of serious conditions
  • Other testing and monitoring: sexually transmitted infections (STIs), diabetes, allergies

The Screen for Life program offers hefty subsidies to encourage people to get screened against a number of diseases. You can use their online tool based on your age and gender to find out what health checks you should be doing. However, it is only available for Singaporean citizens, who’ll pay no more than S$5 for their screening.

Expats’ private health insurance will often cover one annual check-up; otherwise, health screenings for foreigners can cost several hundred dollars.

Emergency doctors in Singapore

In case of a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate attention, you should call 995 to request an ambulance.

If your situation is urgent, but you do not need an ambulance, you can visit a hospital’s Accident and Emergency (A&E) department or one of the 24-hour clinics across the island. You can just show up for treatment, as they operate on the same first come, first served principles as regular GP practices. An ER department would triage patients in order of the seriousness of the complaint.

It’s a bit cheaper to attend an out-of-hours clinic than to go to the ER, so if you’re not in urgent need of medical attention, you may prefer to see a clinic doctor.

You don’t need health insurance to visit an out-of-hours clinic, but you will be issued a bill. The amount that you pay will usually vary depending on the time of your appointment; there’s a surcharge for patients who go to the doctor after midnight.

Typical costs may include:

A&EConsultation, diagnostics, treatment, and up to seven days worth of medicationS$120–160
Clinic – business hoursConsultation only S$80–130
Clinic – after midnightConsultation only S$100 plus

How do you make a complaint about doctors or specialists?

The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) is the country’s governing body for doctors. It has a specific process for complaints. The first step is generally to try to resolve the issue yourself with the doctor or clinic concerned. If that doesn’t work, you can escalate the matter to the SMC.

You’ll need to write a formal complaint letter in English and send it to the SMC, accompanied by a Statutory Declaration. You may also want to add some supporting documents that help illustrate your case.

After that, you’ll need to be patient: it can take up to six months for the SMC to investigate and resolve the matter. If that period of time is not long enough, the High Court may also permit an extension.

Useful resources