So you’re thinking of moving to Brazil? Well, get ready to swap your worn out umbrella for a bottle of factor 50, your local park for acres of exotic jungle, and cosy English towns for vibrant, bustling cities.

But before you consider packing your bags, it’s wise to look into the healthcare options available to expats in Brazil. Luckily for you, we have all the information you’ll need waiting further down the page.

If you’ve already decided that private health insurance is right for you, we recommend Cigna. Helping more than 95 million customers all over the world, Cigna has the experience and expertise to get you just the right cover. Start building a customised plan with a free quote to protect your most important assets – you and your family.

view of Brazilian beach

Glorious views of Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Brazilian healthcare: key statistics

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    % of people with private health insurance
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    Average life expectancy
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    Healthcare system ranking/100

How does Brazil’s healthcare system work?

The Brazilian healthcare system – known as SUS (Sistema Único de Saúde) – has a similar structure to the UK’s NHS.

The universal public health system is funded by tax revenues, as well as contributions from federal, state, and municipal governments. It focuses on three main principles, including:

  • The universal right to comprehensive healthcare at primary, secondary, and tertiary (complex) levels
  • Decentralisation – responsibilities are given to the three levels of government: federal, state, and municipal
  • Social participation – including monitoring how health policies are being implemented through federal, state, and municipal health councils

But healthcare in Brazil hasn’t always been universal – or, in fact, effective. This shift to ‘healthcare for all’ was only introduced in 1990, and has expanded across the country ever since.

Is healthcare free in Brazil?

Expats will be pleased to know that all residents and visitors – including undocumented individuals – can access free, comprehensive services from the SUS. Similar to the NHS, there are no premiums, patient surcharges, or additional fees for services in the Brazilian healthcare system.

The broad spectrum of health services available free of charge include:

  • Preventive services, including immunisations
  • Primary health care
  • Outpatient speciality care
  • Hospital care
  • Maternity care
  • Mental health services
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Physical therapy
  • Dental care
  • Optometry and other vision care
  • Durable medical equipment, including wheelchairs
  • Hearing aids
  • Home care
  • Organ transplant
  • Oncology services
  • Renal dialysis
  • Blood therapy

Quality of healthcare in Brazil

The Lancet’s annual healthcare review scores Brazil 65 out of a total 100 points – not necessarily terrible, but there’s certainly room for improvement.

Unfortunately, the standards of SUS facilities are often far below what some expats are used to in their home countries. The UK government even warns Brits that public hospitals in Brazil – especially in major cities – tend to be overcrowded, and that they can expect long waiting times for hospital beds and medication.

This overcrowding also means privacy is a luxury in most state hospitals, since you’ll likely be in a room with several other people.

The standard of care varies from place to place – especially since the distribution of doctors is more concentrated in larger and wealthier cities. In 2018, in municipalities with fewer than 5,000 residents, there was only one physician for every 3,000 individuals. Compare this with municipalities with more than 500,000 residents, where there was one physician per 230 individuals.

To make matters worse, experts are concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic has left the Brazilian healthcare system ‘on the brink of collapse’. Over a year on from the country’s first case of the virus, it now has the second-highest death toll in the world, with intensive care wards more than 80% full in 18 of the nation’s 26 states.

It’s not all bad, though. Since many SUS doctors also work in the private sector, over half of all procedures carried out in public hospitals are performed by private doctors, who are then reimbursed by the State.

This suggests that the problem with the SUS is typically not the quality of the care itself, but gaining access to it.

Healthcare in Brazil for foreigners

Good news for expats – all legal residents, whether Brazilian or foreign, can benefit from access to healthcare facilities.

Once registered as a resident, expats will just need to get their hands on an SUS card to receive care – which has recently been upgraded to an electronic National Health identification card system. The new National Health Identification Card now includes a personal identification number, which allows access to the patient’s health record from any public or private hospital.

Despite the new name, the National Health Identification Card is still commonly referred to as ‘an SUS card’.

 

How to apply for an SUS card

The SUS card is issued free of charge and can be ordered online. Alternatively, you can apply for the card the old fashioned way by filling out a few forms at your local municipal office, hospital, clinic, or health centre.

To qualify for an SUS card, you’ll need to bring the following with you to the appointment:

  • A Brazilian identity card – also called a cartão/carteira de identidade, a cédula de identidade, or ‘RG’ (General Registry, Registro Geral) – or a birth certificate
  • Proof of residence
  • Individual Tax Payers Number (Cadastro de Pessoa Física)
  • Marriage certificate or divorce certificate, if applicable
Painted houses in Brazil

The Favela Painting: Rio de Janeiro’s colourful corner, created by locals with two Dutch artists

Do I need health insurance in Brazil?

The Government of Brazil no longer requires foreign travellers to present proof of valid health insurance in order to enter, as of 2 October 2020 – it is, however, highly recommended.

In contrast to the public healthcare system, private healthcare in Brazil offers high quality care, with a fraction of the waiting time – which is why nearly 22% of Brazilians currently have private health insurance. Not only will you have access to an excellent healthcare service, but won’t have to worry about unexpectedly forking out a few hundred pounds, either.

Some employers might also offer locally sourced private insurance as part of an employee compensation programme – so it’s worth seeing if you can benefit from this.

However, if your employer doesn’t offer any private health insurance, or if you’re going to be self-employed or retired in Brazil, it might be worth considering taking out some private medical cover of your own. That’s why we’ve partnered with Cigna for private medical insurance in Brazil – to help sort you out with a plan that suits your needs. Start building a customised plan today!

Benefits of private medical cover in Brazil

  • Many doctors in the private sector are trained in the US – which means you’re less likely to encounter language barriers
  • Access to state-of-the-art equipment
  • Shorter waiting times
  • No nasty financial surprises
  • High doctor-to-patient ratio
  • Freedom to choose your doctor or medical centre

How much does health insurance cost in Brazil?

When it comes to health insurance, there isn’t one set price tag. The cost of each insurance plan will vary from person to person, depending on:

  • The provider
  • The plan/level of coverage
  • The region you’re moving to
  • Whether you’re male or female
  • Whether you have any preexisting conditions

To give you an idea of how much you can expect to pay, the medical provider UniMed quotes £76.92 (R$600) for full coverage for a family of three. Although you’ll have to pay this fee each month, it can help you avoid unexpected payments, which may be a lot steeper.

Plus, by investing in medical insurance, you can avoid the following charges:

Brasilia: 

  • A consultation with a GP: R$120 – R$500  (£15 – £64)
  • A routine surgical procedure with no complications: R$7,600 – R$18,000 (£975 – £2,311)
  • A day in the hospital: roughly R$9,000 (£1,155)

Sao Paulo: 

  • A consultation with a GP: R$210 – R$280 (£26 – £35)
  • A routine surgical procedure with no complications: R$17,133 – R$34,033 (£2,200 – £4,370)
  • A day in the hospital: R$2,842 – R$5,685 (£365 – £730)

We would recommend taking these numbers with a pinch of salt, as they can vary greatly based on the slightest change of circumstance.

If you’d like to find out how much medical insurance will cost you and your family, you can get a personalised quote by building a customised plan with Cigna.

Advice for people moving to Brazil

 

Moving to Brazil will undoubtedly be an adventure to remember. And hopefully, after reading this article, you’re feeling more clued up on the country’s healthcare system.

Once you’ve worked out whether to stick with public healthcare or go for private insurance, you can look forward to sunning yourself on the beach, exploring the dramatic landscapes, or just soaking in the vibrant culture.

Why not check out some of our other articles on Brazil to get in the swing of things?