Medical is a major concern for the relocating expat, but rest assured that Singapore has one of the best, if not the best, healthcare in Asia. You will, however, need to be insured, as subsidized public healthcare is only available to Singaporeans and PRs.
Singaporeans and PRs pay for subsidized public health through compulsory CPF (Central Provident Fund) contributions. Expats in Singapore are exempt from paying CPF, but the downside is that healthcare for foreigners is not subsidized, except in the case of emergency care. Therefore, expats need either a privately funded or employer-provided health insurance package.
The costs of routine medical care are largely affordable (especially in comparison with many Western countries), and many expats choose to pay for outpatient services from their own pockets. However, a lengthy hospital stay or treatment for a serious illness can be extremely expensive, and there is not an enormous difference in the charges made by private and public hospitals for non-subsidized patients. Medical insurance is definitely recommended and if your employer does not provide a scheme, it is a worthwhile investment to take out insurance privately.
It is possible to opt for insurance plans that cover only inpatient services, or schemes that also cover outpatient treatment and consultation fees. International medical insurance is a highly competitive market and if you are taking out your own insurance, it is worthwhile to shop around. Some useful things to consider:
- are all members of my family covered?
- are existing conditions covered?
- is there provision for repatriation?
Singapore is abundantly provided for in terms of hospitals, with no less than 17 world-class hospitals being accredited by the Joint Commission International, a global healthcare accreditation service based in the US. Most doctors and hospital staff speak excellent English, and all hospitals and medical centers operate to Western standards.
There are 25 hospitals in Singapore – 15 government run and 10 privately operated – and around 11,000 hospital beds, with public hospitals tending to be larger than their private counterparts. Most expats in Singapore generally choose private hospitals as most international health insurance plans cover them. Some of these are extremely luxurious, providing levels of comfort more akin to staying in a resort or hotel.
GPs and Dental
For regular visits to the doctor for coughs, colds and the like, most neighborhoods, particularly those populated by expats, are abundantly provided for in terms of primary healthcare. There are 18 government-run polyclinics and about 2,400 privately operated medical centers throughout Singapore. There are also 13 government-operated and over 420 privately-run dental clinics around the country. Polyclinics and medical centers provide a range of services, including:
- primary medical treatment
- dental treatment
- preventive healthcare
- health education
- outpatient care
- pharmaceutical services
Prescriptions issued abroad will not be valid in Singapore. Therefore, if you require prescription medication, you should aim to bring a reasonable supply with you until you are able to register with a local doctor, who can then write you a valid prescription.
Singapore tap water is absolutely safe to drink. Bottled water is relatively cheap, although hotels and the like overcharge mercilessly.
Food safety is of an extremely high standard in Singapore, which has one of the lowest rates of food-borne disease outbreaks in the world. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), the national food safety authority, has in place a rigorous food safety system, consistent with international standards, to ensure food is safe for consumption. The authority’s website has some useful advice for food safety, but there are no particular precautions that need to be taken in Singapore that go beyond maintaining good food hygiene and using common sense with regards to things like eating street food (most of which is still pretty safe).
Fire and Ambulance
The Emergency Ambulance Service (EAS) is operated by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and provides an immediate response to patients in life-threatening situations. The service is free in the case of a genuine emergency, but there is a fee of SGD$198 if an emergency ambulance is called to a non life-threatening situation. When medical assistance is required but it is not an emergency the number to call is 1777.
Am emergency ambulance will take you to the nearest hospital, not the hospital of your choice. On arrival at the nearest Accident and Emergency department, you will be assessed by the medical staff and all cases are treated in order of urgency, irrespective of whether a patient arrives by ambulance or not.
Procedure when calling 995 for an emergency ambulance
To facilitate a faster response, when calling 995 you should do the following:
- identify yourself and provide a telephone contact number
- provide the specific location of the patient
- try to keep details to a minimum; describe the patient’s signs and symptoms briefly e.g. male, American, age 47 years, having severe chest pain for two minutes, breathless and sweating
- if you do not know what to say, it will be more helpful for you to listen to the Control Room Operator and answer his questions as best you can
- do not hang up until the Control Room Operator does so. He may need additional information or directions and may have some instructions for you to follow before the ambulance arrives
- send somebody to wait for the ambulance crew e.g. by holding the lift if necessary, and directing the ambulance crew to the patient
- standby to assist if required