If you’re looking at moving to Turkey, tebrikler! (Congratulations!) You’ll never stop discovering new treasures in this historic, culturally fascinating country – and the food’s pretty great too.

Before you join the tens of thousands of British expats who call Turkey home, you’ll want to make sure you know what kind of healthcare you’ll have once you arrive.

And if you want to join the 1.6 million people in Turkey who have private health insurance, we recommend Cigna.

The company helps more than 95 million customers all over the world, and they have 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.

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An overview of the Turkish healthcare system

Whether you choose to go public or private, you are legally compelled to have some form of health coverage in Turkey, unless you’re older than 65.

This was made easier in 2006, when the Turkish government launched Genel Sağlık Sigortası (GSS), a universal healthcare system which provides a range of medical services to all residents, and all children regardless of the status their parents have.

If you attend a public hospital after registering with GSS, you can get treated for free in the following situations:

  • Childbirth
  • Emergencies
  • Extraordinary events (e.g. injuries from war or a natural disaster)
  • Fertility treatment (if you’re younger than 39)
  • Infectious diseases
  • Medically necessary cosmetic surgery
  • Preventive health services (e.g. drug and alcohol addiction)
  • Work-related accidents and illnesses

 

Some public hospitals even offer dental services, though you’ll usually have to go to a private facility.

You’ll also have to partially cover the cost of some prescription drugs and outpatient services if you use the GSS.

Just 2% of people in the country have private health insurance, but a large proportion of private spending is out-of-pocket. Don’t fall into that trap – save money by getting cover instead.

Ortakoy cami, Turkey

The stunning Ortaköy Mosque in Istanbul

Is healthcare free in Turkey?

Yes, to the extent that a universal healthcare system ever is. The Turkish government pays for healthcare through taxation, and it covers all the scenarios and treatments listed above.

If you’re a resident with a job, your employer will even pay your insurance premiums.

If you aren’t in work, your insurance premiums will be analysed on a means-tested basis.

The government will pay your premiums if your income, when divided by the number of people in your household, is less than one-third of the gross minimum wage.

If your income is higher, you’ll pay premiums on a sliding scale.

Children can use the public healthcare system for free, and can continue to do so if they enter higher education after they turn 18.

There are still some out-of-pocket expenses – you’ll have to pay part of the cost of prescription drugs and outpatient services, for instance – but most healthcare spending in Turkey comes from taxation.

In all, 77.5% of health expenditure is government-funded, with the rest paid by the public, either through private insurance or out-of-pocket expenses, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TSI).

Healthcare in Turkey for expats

You won’t be able to access the public healthcare system in Turkey until you’ve lived in the country for a year as a resident, unless your spouse is a policyholder. 

And if you’re a British national who’ll receive a UK state pension while in Turkey, you won’t be able to register for public healthcare even in this scenario.

If you’re unable to attain public insurance during this period, the law obliges you to purchase private coverage, unless you’re over 65.

After a year of living in Turkey as a resident, you can apply to register with the Social Security Institution and start receiving public healthcare, if you want to.

However, many expats choose to continue with their private policy, as it’s extremely affordable and allows you to use the best healthcare facilities in the country.

Quality of healthcare in Turkey vs the world

Turkey’s health system has improved considerably over the past couple of decades.

However, it still has plenty of room for improvement. A 2018 study published in The Lancet and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ranked Turkey’s healthcare 60th in the world.

This put the Eurasian country 37 places below the UK, and lower than comparatively poorer countries like Macedonia, Lithuania, and Bermuda.

Turkey still has some way to go in several areas, for instance in raising the number of physicians in the country. There are currently 18 doctors per 10,000 people, according to the World Bank – less than nearby Cyprus, or war-torn Libya.

6.9% of people over the age of 15 in Turkey also have unmet health needs, according to Eurostat, which is a fifth higher than the UK’s 5.8%.

This shortfall in quality can be largely explained by the fact that Turkey spends just 4.22% of its GDP on healthcare, according to the World Bank.

This is far below the UK’s 9.63%, and lower even than developing countries like Yemen, Zambia, and Chad.

Three-quarters of that figure comes from government spending, with the rest funded by the public – and public spending is on the rise, increasing 19.4% in 2018, according to the TSI.

However, out-of-pocket expenditure still isn’t scandalously high, currently standing at 17.38%, according to the World Bank. This is only slightly higher than the UK, and below many nations with a higher GDP, including Australia, China, and Italy.

Turkey also has 2.81 hospital beds per 1,000 people, which is very respectable. It’s more than the UK, US, or New Zealand.

And individuals spend an average of ₺2,030 (£190) on healthcare each year, according to the TSI, which employed expats should be able to easily afford.

This may all explain why patient satisfaction is 90%, according to the Ministry of Health – though take that figure with a pinch of salt.

Much of Turkish news reporting is fabricated to reflect well on the government, whose leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – “a dictator in all but name”, according to The Guardian – has been in power since 2003.

Mountains of Cappadocia, Turkey

The mountains of Cappadocia are famous for these “fairy chimneys”

Health insurance in Turkey

Do I need private medical cover in Turkey?

Almost definitely. If you’re not a dependent spouse or a resident, you’ll need private health insurance until you’ve been a resident of Turkey for a year.

And past that point, you should still seriously consider keeping your access to private healthcare, as it’s a cut above the public system.

With all of this in mind, you’ll likely need to invest in a private plan. If that sounds good to you, we recommend Cigna – and you can start building a customised plan now, with a free quote.

Benefits of private health insurance

  • Shorter waiting times
  • Peace of mind
  • You’ll receive the highest level of care possible
  • It should be extremely affordable for you
  • Fewer unexpected out-of-pocket expenses means being able to budget your healthcare in advance
  • Private physicians are more likely to speak English
  • If you’re not a resident or a dependant spouse, you’re legally compelled to go private unless you’re over 65

Cost of private health insurance in Turkey

For an individual

The lowest average price for private health insurance in Turkey is £11 per year, for 18 to 25-year-olds, while the highest cost is reserved for those over 60, who’ll pay around £120 per year.

If you’re aged between 26 and 50, you’ll generally pay between £18 and £30 per year.

You read that right: you can get peace of mind and the best quality of care possible, every year, for the cost of a single train ticket from London to Bristol.

For a family

Unlike the Turkish public health system, which charges a married couple the same as an individual, most private cover providers will simply offer a discount.

You can expect to pay a maximum of £70 per year for a family of four, and may even be able to get a good level of coverage for as little as £40 per year.

And remember that if you’re trying to cut costs, anyone under 18 can receive public healthcare services, including children of expats.

Summary

At this point, you know enough to get the right type of coverage for you and your loved ones in Turkey.

You’re ready to make the leap, safe in the knowledge that if disaster hits, you won’t have to worry about whether you can afford treatment.

If you want to protect yourself and your family with private medical insurance in Turkey, 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, with a free quote.