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Last update on September 15, 2021

Hopefully, you won’t need the help of one of the doctors in South Africa, but in case you do, here’s a guide on how to find a registered doctor in South Africa, what to do when visiting one and how South African doctors prescribe medicine.

Learn how to register with one of the doctors in South Africa, how medical schemes work and the difference between public and private options.

If you have suitable medical insurance, the process of visiting a South African doctor is unlikely to be significantly different to that in your home country.

It’s easy to register your family with a doctor, and you should be able to get an appointment quickly. If, however, you’re relying on the South African healthcare system, you could face poor conditions and long waiting times.

In this guide, we explain how to find a doctor when you move to South Africa and look at the difference between seeing the doctor in the public or private healthcare sector. 

COVID-19 in South Africa

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 South Africa, including vaccination schedules and the latest government restrictions, visit the official South African COVID-19 online resource center.

Doctors in South Africa – how to find one

If you have private medical insurance, your provider will usually have a network of preferred doctors, hospitals and clinics. For full information on the range of doctors in South Africa and specialists in your area, you can visit the MEDpages website – an online directory of professionals in your local area. 

Visiting one of the South African doctors

You’ll usually see a general practitioner (GP) for any medical checkups and minor issues. As in many other countries, GPs usually operate either as part of larger surgeries or in individual offices. A GP visit is necessary before receiving a referral for a specialist.

Doctors are often assigned to private healthcare groups who have a network of clinics and hospitals around the country. This means you could take out a plan to cover you for all eventualities. When choosing a healthcare provider, selecting one with a large network can save you time further down the line.

Registered doctors in South Africa

GP consultations in South Africa are often lengthy, perhaps longer than you’re used to. Expect a somewhat more personal service with the opportunity to ask questions. You should also be provided with an out-of-hours contact for any important queries. Despite this quality service, consultations can be fairly cheap – around R 350 to R 400 for a basic appointment. 

Signing up with one of the registered doctors in South Africa

Signing up at a doctor’s surgery in South Africa is fairly easy. There is much less paperwork necessary in the registration process.

Before you have your first appointment with your doctor, you’ll need to fill out a new patient form. If you’re signing up on behalf of your children too, you should only need to provide their birth dates.

As choosing a doctor is a long-term decision, do your research about the best clinic for you. Check if your doctor is signed up with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. This is a regulatory body that ensures standards remain high across the industry.

Private doctors in South Africa

Specialists work as part of individual hospitals. According to the World Health Organization, South Africa dedicates 52% of its healthcare budget to the private sector. This is despite the fact that less than 20% of the country has private health insurance.

If you have a healthcare plan in place, you’ll need to ensure it covers whichever treatment you’re having. You’ll usually need to pay at the surgery on the day and then recoup the charges back from the insurance company afterwards.

With visits to the doctor for basic checkups and minor issues being relatively low-cost, some expats choose to pay for these themselves to cut down on their medical premiums, instead choosing health insurance packages that only cover hospital visits and surgical treatment.

Private health insurance to cover doctors’ fees

There are many private health insurance firms to choose from if you want to opt for private healthcare in South Africa. Some of the largest international companies include:

Visiting one of the specialist doctors in South Africa

South african doctors

As in many other countries, you’ll usually need to be referred to a specialist by your GP. Specialists usually work with one healthcare group or set of hospitals, and their bills can be expensive.

If you’re signed up to one of the larger healthcare insurance providers, you should be able to see a specialist quickly. Although specialist services are available in state hospitals, waiting times can be prohibitive.

Public doctors in South Africa

If you don’t have private health insurance, you’ll be entitled to co-payments from the South African government of up to 40% of the cost of your treatment. This depends on how much you earn.

As with other areas of healthcare, seeing a GP through the state healthcare system can be a waiting game. Surgeries are significantly oversubscribed in some areas.

South Africa also struggles with a lack of doctors in the public health service. Figures from 2015 show that the country has less than one doctor available for every 1,000 people. With skilled staff gravitating towards the private sector, there remains a skills gap between private and public sectors and urban and rural areas.

Medicine in South Africa

The South African government regulates medicine prices. The single exit price (SEP) rules govern the maximum prices for medicine.

In addition to the medicine charge, you might have to pay a dispensing fee on top. In some cases, more than one version of a medicine is available; a brand name one and a generic one. Oftentimes, the latter is usually more affordable.

  • Medicine cost below R 107.15 – max. dispensing fee R 11 + 46% of the SEP
  • If the medicine costs below R 285.80 – max. dispensing fee R 24.30 + 33% of the SEP
  • Medicine costs below R 1000.32, max. dispensing fee R 74.00 + 15% of the SEP
  • When medicine costs R1000.32 (or above) – max. dispensing fee R 173.00 + 5% of the SEP