If you’re planning on moving to Japan, おめでとう! (congratulations!) This gorgeous country is packed with culture, delicious food, and historical wonders befitting its status as one of the world’s oldest nations.

But before you throw your lot in with the 2.93 million expats enjoying life in Japan, you’ll want to make sure you know what kind of healthcare you’ll have access to once you arrive.

And if you want to join all the people in Japan who have private health insurance, we recommend Cigna.

The company helps more than 95 million customers all over the world, and has the know-how to get you the right cover too.

Start building a customised plan with a free quote to protect your most important assets – you and your family.

Japanese healthcare: key stats

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    average life expectancy
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    doctors per 10,000 people
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    % of Japan’s GDP is spent on public healthcare
Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle is one of many gorgeous landmarks in Japan

How does the Japanese healthcare system work?

Japan established a system of universal healthcare in 1961, after starting the ball rolling with the 1922 Health Insurance Act, which offered state-run insurance to all workers.

All citizens and residents must sign up to the Statutory Health Insurance System (SHIS) – and if you have a visa allowing you to stay in Japan for three months or longer, that includes you.

If you’re employed, you’ll be provided with Employees’ Health Insurance, which covers around 59% of the population.

If you’re self-employed, unemployed, or retired, you’ll receive National Health Insurance from your local region (or ‘prefecture’). Each of Japan’s 47 prefectures has its own insurance plan.

Once you’re insured, you’ll be covered for:

  • Doctor’s consultations
  • Medications
  • Medical tests and treatments
  • Dental consultations and procedures
  • Hospital admissions
  • Surgeries

There is a mandatory copayment, which you can find out more about in the section below.

You will also be given a lump sum of ¥420,000 (£2,950) after you give birth, and a funeral fee of ¥50,000 (£350) will be paid to your next of kin after your death.

Is healthcare free in Japan?

No. If you have public health insurance in Japan, the government will pay for at least 70% of your medical services, but you must contribute too, in the form of a copayment.

The copayment structure looks like this:

AgeCopayment
75+10%
70-7420%
6-6930%
0-520%

However, there are exceptions – for instance, those with a working-level income pay 30%, even if they’re 70 or over.

The government also places a cap on copayments, depending on your income and age. It reimburses and subsidises those on lower incomes, to ensure that the system is as egalitarian as possible.

And don’t worry – you won’t have to pay the copayment out of pocket. You’ll either be provided with insurance by your employer, or you’ll be able to purchase private insurance to cover these unexpected costs.

Quality of healthcare in Japan

Japan is 12th in the world for the percentage of its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) it spends on healthcare – and its approach seems to be working.

For 1% more of its GDP than the UK, the country has created the 12th-best healthcare system in the world, according to a 2018 study published in The Lancet and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. That’s 11 places above the UK.

Japan has the second-highest life expectancy in the world, after Hong Kong. It also has the second-lowest post-stroke 30-day mortality rate in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), as well as a high five-year cancer survival rate.

It’s also home to 13 hospital beds per 1,000 people – the fifth-highest rate in the world. Japan is only ranked below sparsely populated territories – like Greenland and the Virgin Islands – and North Korea, whose data is generally questionable.

Japan’s maternal mortality rate is also one of the lowest in the world.

The country’s approach to mental health has come on in leaps and bounds over recent decades too, though its suicide rates are still the 14th-highest in the world, and psychotherapy isn’t covered by national health insurance.

Healthcare in Japan for foreigners

If you’re visiting Japan on holiday, you should absolutely get private cover. In an emergency, you’ll be liable for every expense after the ambulance drops you off at the hospital.

If you’re staying in the country for longer than three months, you must register for national health insurance, just like every other resident and citizen.

You should also consider getting private insurance. More than 70% of people in Japan have private cover – though only specifically to guard against serious long-term conditions.

It’s usually seen as a supplement to life insurance, and will protect you financially if the worst happens.

If that sounds good to you, we recommend Cigna – and you can start building a customised plan now, complete with a free quote.

Do I need health insurance in Japan?

Legally, you have to get public insurance.

If you don’t sign up within two weeks of qualifying for it, you can be charged back payments.

Whether or not you get private cover usually depends on the extent to which you want to protect yourself and your loved ones against the costs incurred by serious illness and injury.

You’re not legally required to take out private health insurance, and the public system will cover you for most eventualities – but a private policy can lessen the burden when and if disaster hits.

Benefits of private medical cover in Japan

If you have a private policy, you’ll be able to charge your copayment – which, as stated above, is 30% for most people – to your insurance company.

If you anticipate needing medical treatment more than most people – for a chronic condition, or otherwise – it may well be worth it to get some cover for your copayments.

However, the main benefits you would expect to receive from private health insurance are missing in Japan.

Many countries offer special treatment to privately insured patients – like private rooms, for example – but not Japan, where hospitals must legally be run on a non-profit basis.

If you want to get a private policy on top of your public cover, be aware that many public hospitals won’t accept private insurance, so you may have to pay the costs upfront and then claim your money back later.

But going private is still worth it if you expect to regularly need medical care, as this will ensure that repeated copayment charges cause you less financial strain.

How much does health insurance cost in Japan?

For an individual

If you’re going to Japan by yourself, and want to be covered against the steep costs you can incur through repeated trips to the hospital, you can get private coverage for around £75 per month.

If this is less than you expect to part with in copayments, you should strongly consider taking the leap and purchasing a private policy.

For a family

You should expect to pay around £250 per month to cover a family of four for private healthcare in the UK and Japan, which could be a great deal, depending on your living situation and health needs.

If you want to protect yourself and your family with private medical insurance in Japan, we recommend Cigna.

With four levels of annual cover to choose from and extra modules for more flexibility, Cigna will sort you out with a plan that suits your needs. Start building a customised plan today, complete with a free quote.