Healthcare in South Africa

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From public hospitals to private health insurance for expats, learn about how the healthcare system in South Africa works.

South Africa boasts the highest standard of healthcare in Africa. There are over 200 private hospitals across the country, and expats who take out private health insurance can expect the standard of care to be on a par with their home country.

With significant funding and the best specialists going to the private sector, there is a major gap between public and private hospitals in much of the country. This means that while reduced price healthcare is on offer to the lowest earners in the public sector, it’s still highly advisable for expats to take out a private plan.

Public and private healthcare in South Africa

Around 80% of South Africans use public healthcare, but most expats take out private health insurance schemes, which range from basic emergency service cover to full medical plans. The South African government offers co-payments towards healthcare up to a maximum of 40% of the total cost, with the amount you’re entitled to depending on your income.

The skills and funding gap in the South African healthcare system places a burden on the public system, with understaffing and long waiting times a consistent problem. This has resulted in the government encouraging those who can afford it to sign up for private medical insurance.

National Health Insurance in South Africa

In an attempt to narrow the gap between the two sectors, the South African government is trying to phase in a new National Health Insurance system across South Africa, which will promises greater funding for various forms of healthcare.

It’s expected that the first steps in implementing the new system will take place in 2017, with the government hoping that over the next decade it can make better healthcare more readily available to those who can’t afford it.

Healthcare providers in South Africa

You can either sign up for a private healthcare plan from an international provider in your home country or from a local provider in South Africa. Some insurers have their own network of private hospitals, while others instead specify their preferred facilities.

When choosing a healthcare provider in South Africa, you’ll need to think about your personal requirements and ensure you read reviews of the various suppliers - as some come more highly recommended than others. For more information on choosing a provider, check out our full guide on health insurance in South Africa.

How much does healthcare in South Africa cost?

Public healthcare in South Africa is charged based on your income and number of children. Visits to the doctor can cost as little as R 55, but waiting lists can be long, especially when it comes to seeing a specialist.

Healthcare in South Africa has to be paid for up-front, so you’ll need to make sure your insurance covers the fees you’ll be charged and recoup them from your insurer (if applicable) after your visit to the hospital. You can usually pay with cash or credit/debit card, but most places won’t take cheques.

Fees in major cities such as Cape Town are lower that some western countries, which has resulted in an increase in so-called health tourism. To learn more about the processes involved when going to the hospital in South Africa, check out our guide.

Sick pay in South Africa

Over a three-year period, workers in South Africa are entitled to sick pay for the number of days they’d usually work in six weeks.

If you’re in your first six months of employment, however, you’ll only be entitled to one day of paid sick leave for every 26 days you have worked.

Your employer can request a medical certificate to prove you are ill if you’re absent for more than two consecutive days, or more than twice in an eight week period.

South Africa dental care

Under the public healthcare system, co-payments on offer for the lowest earning people also apply to dental care, though these are limited to basic visits and don’t include more complicated procedures. Some private health insurance plans also don’t include dental care as standard.

Two associations, the Dental Therapy Association of South Africa and the South African Dental Association, ensure dental services remain on par with other countries and oversee dental treatment. Take a look at our guide on going to the dentist in South Africa for more information.

Visiting the doctor in South Africa

Major cities in South Africa boast many private healthcare facilities, from day clinics to large medical centres which are affiliated with the private hospitals. As a fee-paying customer, you should be able to see your doctor or a specialist quickly rather than waiting a number of weeks.

For advice on choosing a doctor, check out our full guide on visiting the doctor in South Africa.

Having a baby in South Africa

In private clinics, maternity care in South Africa is very good, and you’ll usually deal with the same specialist right the way through the process.

Having a baby in South Africa isn’t significantly different to elsewhere in the world, but there are a few variations. For example, South Africa has a very high rate of caesarean sections, with around 70% of babies delivered in this manner.

To find out more about maternity care and having a baby in South Africa, check out our full guide.

What to do in an emergency in South Africa

If you need to contact the emergency services, you can call 112 from any mobile phone. Some private healthcare providers also have their own emergency phone numbers.

Visiting the pharmacy in South Africa

Pharmacies in South Africa are accessible in most places and medicines are generally relatively affordable, as prices are fixed by the government.

Pharmacies are run by large chains including Dis-Chem, Clicks and MediRite. Pharmacies can be in shorter supply in rural areas, but mail-order and delivery services are generally available.

Do students need medical insurance in South Africa?

If you’re going to South Africa to study, you’ll need to provide proof that you have medical insurance when you apply for your study visa. Universities in South Africa will usually accept insurance with any private provider, as long as it covers the whole duration you anticipate being in the country.



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