No two countries are alike when it comes to healthcare. Each has its own system, its own unique form of funding, and a particular mix of public and private services.

But which country has the best healthcare system in the world? It’s a tough competition, but the top contenders are Japan, Iceland, and Norway, with countries of all shapes and sizes following closely behind.

In this article we’ll guide you through the nine countries with the best healthcare, and discuss why these systems work better than others, who benefits from their services, and how efficient they are overall.

A view of Mount Fuji in Japan

Expats in Japan can benefit from the world's best healthcare whilst enjoying these incredible views

Methodology

We’ve analysed data from The Lancet’s health coverage index to generate our list of countries with the best healthcare. This study was last published in October 2020.

Once we collected this data, we then checked various government reports for each country to suss out the different features of these healthcare systems, and why they work effectively.

Summary: The countries with the best healthcare

RankCountry
1Japan
2Iceland
3Norway
4Switzerland
5San Marino
6Singapore
7Andorra
8Finland
9Luxembourg

Breakdown

1. Japan

10.7% of GDP spent on healthcare

Japan’s universal healthcare system started back in 1961. As part of this system, all citizens and residents must sign up to the Statutory Health Insurance System (SHIS), including anyone staying in Japan for three months or longer.

To make sure they’re covered for healthcare, workers are provided with Employees' Health Insurance – whereas people who are self-employed, unemployed, or retired receive National Health Insurance from their local region.

Although it’s not free, Japan’s healthcare system is efficient and effective – and the Lancet handed out an overall score of 96 out of a possible 100. The country scored particularly well (getting 100/100 points) for categories like antenatal and postnatal care for babies, as well as breast cancer, uterine, diabetes, and appendicitis treatment.

This top-level care is reflected in Japan’s impressive average life expectancy age of 84.7, which is currently the highest in the world.

2. Iceland

8.6% of GDP spent on healthcare

Iceland’s universal healthcare system is divided into seven local regions, which each have roughly 60 local healthcare centres. And, unlike in most other countries, there are no private hospitals on the island.

Although healthcare in Iceland is among the best, it isn’t free – instead, it is heavily subsidised. The system is funded primarily through taxation – with 85% of all healthcare services covered, and only 15% charging out-of-pocket fees.

Anyone staying in Iceland longer than six months is eligible for state healthcare, and is covered by the country’s public health insurance – as long as they have legal residency.

But what makes Iceland’s healthcare the second best in the world? It mainly comes down to proper funding, good facilities, and high efficiency. Waiting times also tend to be pretty low, thanks to the fact that there are 3.9 doctors per 1,000 people – one of the highest figures in the world.

Iceland’s impressive healthcare is also part of the reason why the country has managed to maintain one of the lowest death rates throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Person hiking in Iceland

Going on an Icelandic adventure? You'll be in safe hands if there are any accidents along the way 

3. Norway

11.3% of GDP spent on healthcare

Another Nordic country doing it right. Norway’s universal healthcare system offers both public and private services, and is primarily funded by taxes and payroll contributions.

Each resident is automatically enrolled into the country's universal healthcare scheme – whether they’re Norwegian or foreign – which covers the cost of some services.

The main reason behind Norway’s healthcare success? Sufficient government funding. This financial support means that Norwegians benefit from some services that other nations don’t. For example, 70% of long-term care recipients in Norway are able to receive care at home.

Finding a doctor is also generally pretty easy. Once residents sign up to the National Registry, they’re assigned to a local doctor, and can choose their general practitioner from an approved list.

Overall, only about 10% of Norway’s population has some kind of private insurance, with about 90% of these policies being paid for by an employer.

4. Switzerland

11.2% of GDP spent on healthcare

Since 1996, Swiss residents have been legally required to take out private insurance through federally approved insurers. These companies offer policies that cover all examinations and treatments, and are obliged by law to supply people with a basic level of healthcare cover – regardless of the person’s age, medical condition, or any other personal attributes.

Like many other countries, the Swiss healthcare system is paid for with public contributions, including taxes, premiums, and copayments (where you pay part of the cost of a medical service).

This system clearly works well for the country – the statistics on Switzerland’s healthcare efficiency speak for themselves. Residents benefit from 4.6 hospital beds per 1,000 people, which is one of the highest figures in the world.

There are also 17.5 nurses and midwives in Switzerland per 1,000 people, which is more than double the UK’s 8.2 figure.

5. San Marino

6.4% of GDP spent on healthcare

With a population of almost 35,000 people, San Marino has an easier job of looking after its people than larger countries – but that’s not the only reason it's on this list. San Marino’s state-funded healthcare system provides low-cost services to residents through its network of clinics, along with its one hospital.

Here, all residents are entitled to universal healthcare services. To make this possible, both employers and workers need to register with the National Health Insurance Fund and pay contributions, which are automatically deducted from salaries.

But how effective is this system? According to The Lancet, very effective. It scored San Marino 93 out of 100 in its annual index – and the country performed particularly well (getting 100/100) in areas such as lower respiratory tract, diarrhoea, and lymphoma treatments.

6. Singapore

4% of GDP spent on healthcare

Singapore’s universal healthcare system is funded by both the government and the public, and consists of three main sections: MediSave, MediShield Life, and MediFund.

MediFund is for citizens only, while MediSave and MediShield Life are open to permanent residents and their spouses, children, and parents.

Although medical services aren’t free through Singapore’s healthcare system, they’re heavily subsidised. Despite this, two-thirds of people in Singapore have private health insurance – which makes sense, since permanent residents can combine their private policy with their MediSave and MediShield Life to form an Integrated Shield Plan.

This efficient system has landed Singaporeans with some of the best healthcare in the world.

The Lancet scores the country 92 out of 100, and Singapore performs especially well (100/100, in fact) in areas like antenatal and postnatal services, as well as stroke, diabetes, and appendicitis treatments.

Views of Singapore

Thinking of moving to Singapore? You'll benefit from the sixth-best healthcare system in the world 

7. Andorra

6.7% of GDP spent on healthcare

Like most European countries, Andorra has compulsory public healthcare with the option to go private if people are willing to pay the fees.

Andorra’s Social Security system, known as Caixa Andorrana de Seguretat Social (CASS for short), funds the healthcare system to ensure the cost of services are kept to a minimum.

Created as a social health insurance system in 1968, CASS is now mandatory for salaried workers and covers roughly 92% of Andorra’s residents.

Considering Andorra’s size, its network of facilities is impressive. The country also has one of the world's highest pharmacy rates per capita, with more than 50 dotted between its borders.

8. Finland 

9.1% of GDP spent on healthcare

Healthcare in Finland is mostly funded by the central government, which divides funds between local authorities, employers, and private medical institutions. Together, these form Finland’s National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme, which provides a range of health services at subsidised rates.

There are also multiple compensation schemes available in Iceland for people with disabilities, people seeking rehabilitation, and anyone who loses their income due to an illness.

As well as offering public healthcare, Finland also hosts a number of private facilities, which is why 21% of people here have private health insurance.

One of the key reasons behind Finland's healthcare success is the money it injects into its services. For context, Finland’s healthcare spending comes to €3,036 ($3,615) per person – much more than the European Union’s average of €2,884.

As a result, Finns have an average life expectancy of 81 years, and have the joint-lowest infant mortality rate on Earth.

9. Luxembourg

5.3% of GDP spent on healthcare

Luxembourg has one of the best state-funded healthcare systems in Europe, providing all citizens with basic medical coverage and giving them the option to choose their doctor, specialist, and hospital.

This highly efficient healthcare system is mainly financed through employee contributions, which all workers legally have to pay. Employees contribute on average 5.4% of their income (with a maximum contribution of €6,225) to the National Insurance Scheme, also known as the Caisse de Maladie.

Vulnerable groups, on the other hand, don’t have to pay any charges but can still receive state medical services. This includes students, unemployed people, and anyone under the age of 27.

Although 99% of the population is covered by the state healthcare system, private healthcare is also available. In fact, about 75% of the population currently take out private cover.

What's the verdict?

There you have it – the best healthcare systems in the world.

Whilst all healthcare systems differ in their own unique ways, there is one underlying similarity between them all: funding.

Whether it’s through taxation, social insurance, premiums, or copayments, all of the best healthcare systems are backed up by a lot of funding, which can improve the quality and effectiveness of the service. If we want to address key issues in world health, many other countries around the globe need to follow suit.