Research reveals the cost of private health care for expats in Asia Pacific

by Ray Clancy on June 19, 2015

For working expats, particularly those in the Asia Pacific region, private health insurance can be a costly business, but research reveals it is still not as expensive as the United States.

Hong Kong has the highest average health insurance premiums of popular expat countries in the region at an average cost of US$10,391, but the report from Pacific Prime says this is to be expected, largely because of the extremely high cost of living, the increasingly costly health care, and the high volume of insurance plans purchased in the city.

Hong Kong has the highest cost for private healthcare at US$10,391 per year

The second most expensive is China at US$10,194, followed by Singapore at US$9,050, then the United Arab Emirates at US$7,927 and Thailand at US$7,680. This compares with an average cost in the UK of US$8,332.

The report points out that while these numbers all seem high they do reflect a wide variety of premiums and plans which run from as cheap as US$1,884 in Thailand to over US$24,000 in Hong Kong. In fact, when all plans and all countries are compared, the average standard deviation is US$4,135.

What expats can expect in each country is outlined. Hong Kong has a large expat population of between 300,000 and has a strong public health system with over 40 public hospitals and 70+ public clinics. However, while English is widely spoken, many of the public hospitals cater to the local population which speaks mainly Cantonese and Mandarin and this has led to a language barrier, which when combined with significant wait times, makes it feel like it’s hard for expats to access the proper care they need from the public system, and often sees them turning to private establishments.

In China, the expat population was around 240,000 in 2012 and while there is a generally acceptable public health care system in place in the larger cities, the report says that many expats struggle to navigate it largely due to the fact that English and other languages beyond Mandarin or Cantonese are not spoken by staff and doctors. This language barrier and sometimes lack of specific care being available means almost all expats turn to private and international hospitals, which can be very costly.

Almost 40% of the population in Singapore are foreigners and this has resulted in strong demand for individual international health insurance. English is the main language spoken in facilities and Singapore is one of the most advanced cities in the region when it comes to health care.

In the UAE, expats and foreigners make up the majority of the population. The government has been investing in improving and building new hospitals, including a number of state of the art facilities. This has resulted in a high standard of health care, the highest in the region.

In Thailand the actual number of expats is hard to accurately pin down, but it is estimated to be anywhere from 200,000 to over 400,000 with a large percentage of them being ‘high net worth’ expats.

With over 1,000 hospitals, 9,700 health facilities, and 316 private hospitals or facilities, the health care system in Thailand is well developed and the private facilities are commonly seen to be among the most popular in the world for medical tourism.

The report points out that the private hospitals are more costly than the public system, but are preferred by expats and foreigners because of the low waiting times, better facilities, and staff who speak multiple languages. And the lower cost of living in Thailand has kept prices at all facilities lower, though some, especially those in Bangkok, are starting to see marked increases in prices.

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