If you’re moving to Dubai, well done – you’ve already narrowed down your favourite Arab Emirate. However, you might not have narrowed down your healthcare options over there. 

Healthcare in the UAE is generally excellent, and Dubai is no exception. On this page, we’ll tell you exactly what you need to know about it, including how the healthcare system works, and typical health insurance costs.

Healthcare in Dubai: key statistics

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    No. of physicians per 1,000 people
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    Average life expectancy
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    % of population with medical cover

Do you need private health insurance in Dubai?

In short: unless you are an Emirati national, you will need private medical cover in Dubai. Your employer in Dubai is legally required to provide you with basic health insurance, but not any of your dependents (e.g. spouse, children, parents). Every resident of Dubai is legally required to have some form of private medical cover. 

If you’re bringing any family with you to Dubai, and/or your employer isn’t providing you with what you feel is adequate cover, it’s a very sensible idea to take out some private medical insurance.

That’s why we’ve partnered with Cigna for private medical insurance in the UAE. 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 with a free quote to protect your most important assets – you and your family.

aerial view of jebel ali

A stunning view of Palm Jebel Ali archipelago in Dubai

What kind of healthcare system does the UAE have?

The UAE has a mixture of public and private healthcare, although it’s certainly not a 50/50 balance. While each Arab Emirate has its own ratio, Dubai’s is the most extreme; according to a 2018 report from the Dubai Health Authority, health services provision is 20% public and 80% private. 

Dubai’s public healthcare is mainly used by Emirati nationals, who receive treatment for free (or at a very low cost, depending on the treatment). Public services include emergency care, appointments with GPs and specialists, diagnostic tests, physiotherapy, prescription medicine, and maternity care.

Meanwhile, public services typically exclude dental care, ear care, and eye care. 

Expats are able to use the public system too, although the services are not free for expats. You’ll first need to acquire a health card from the Ministry of Health, which you can apply for online.

It makes sense to apply for the health card, as there may be treatments that your private medical insurance won’t cover, which you can only get via the public system. 

However, there are some fairly compelling reasons why Dubai’s public healthcare services shouldn’t be your first port of call as an expat:

  • They are designed to serve the local population, which means they’re not particularly user-friendly for foreigners (e.g. not many English-speaking physicians)
  • They are constantly in high demand, which means facilities can be overcrowded
  • Expats are legally obliged to have some form of private medical cover in Dubai, and private medical facilities are generally of a higher standard than  public medical facilities

Here’s how the key aspects of healthcare can differ in Dubai, compared to what you may be used to at home…

Primary care

It’s very common for your entire family to have the same doctor in Dubai, from your children all the way up to your elderly relatives. Whenever any of you have any medical issues, you make an appointment with your ‘family doctor’, who (in theory) becomes familiar with your whole family’s medical history. If your child becomes unwell, you can normally get them seen without needing to make an appointment first. 

Emergency care

Crucially, public hospitals in Dubai provide free emergency care to anyone who needs it, even if they don’t have a health card. People without cards are issued temporary ones upon arrival, so that deals with that. The majority of people with medical emergencies in Dubai are taken to Rashid Hospital.

Maternity care

First and foremost, you must be married in order to give birth in the UAE – otherwise you’ll be in big trouble. Before you can give birth in a hospital, you must present a wedding certificate. And there’s no hiding either, as home births are not allowed. 

If you’re hoping to have a child in Dubai, be aware that you won’t necessarily be creating a new citizen of the UAE. An expat newborn is only considered a citizen if one of its parents already has UAE citizenship.

Specialist care

Unlike in the UK, where only people with private cover can see specialists immediately, in Dubai you don’t need a doctor’s referral in order to see any kind of specialist. You can simply make a specialist appointment directly at any public or private clinic. However, it’s still common to go through your ‘family doctor’ first to get their professional opinion.

Dental care

Unless you’ve been born with the teeth of a god, it is very important that you take out some kind of dental cover in Dubai. Dental care in the UAE is very expensive, so make sure your health insurance policy covers you for it.

Prescription medicine

Dubai takes a very strict approach to prescription drugs. A lot of the medicines that you can find in the UK are banned in Dubai, or at least restricted. Please be aware that, if you’re moving to Dubai and you require any prescription medication, you can bring no more than a three month supply. Exceed this limit, and you could face arrest and imprisonment. 

Of course, you can’t bring any supply of prescription medicine if it’s not allowed in Dubai, so be sure to check out the UAE’s list of prohibited drugs. If you require certain medication that isn’t allowed in the UAE, you should email their Drug Control Department (drugcl.csc@moh.gov.ae).

jumeirah beach view

The white sands of Jumeirah Beach in Dubai

So, is healthcare free in Dubai?

Dubai’s public healthcare is about as free as public healthcare gets, given people in Dubai don’t pay any income tax. The majority of services delivered by Dubai’s public healthcare system are free for Emirati nationals (or at a very low cost). 

However, expats do have to pay to use Dubai’s public healthcare services – and fees are made significantly higher for non-nationals. They also have to pay for a health card, which costs 320 dirhams (AED) (£71) for over-10s, and 120 AED (£27) for under-10s. You can apply for the card online, or by paying a visit to a medical centre. 

As we’ve already mentioned, private medical cover is mandatory, but you should also apply for a health card, as there may be some treatments that your private insurance won’t cover.

How good is the UAE’s healthcare system overall?

It’s top notch! In 2018, Bloomberg’s ranking of nearly 200 countries’ healthcare systems put the UAE in tenth place. It ranked higher than Canada, Sweden and Norway, who are all known to have very effective healthcare. If you’re interested, first place went to Hong Kong, while the US placed a miserable 54th.

Is health insurance mandatory in Dubai?

Yes, health insurance is mandatory for all residents of Dubai, irrespective of whether or not you’re employed. If you’re hoping for a residency visa, you won’t get one unless you have private medical cover. 

Every uninsured month also comes with a fine of 500 AED (£112), and in almost every case monthly health insurance premiums are much cheaper than the fines (not to mention much more sensible). 

If you’re moving to Dubai to work, your employer is legally obliged to provide you with medical cover. Employers are also encouraged to provide health insurance for their employees’ dependents (e.g. spouse, children, elderly relatives), but not all do this. 

If you would like more extensive cover than what your employer is offering, and/or you need to take out health insurance for your family, we recommend you get this sorted before you go. Likewise, if you’re moving to Dubai for your retirement, you’ll need health insurance, as you won’t have an employer to keep you covered. 

You can start building a customised medical plan with Cigna todayWith over 95 million customers worldwide and a wide range of policy options, Cigna will get you sorted in no time.

What will private health insurance cover in Dubai?

As part of Dubai’s legislation, there are also minimum standards that all private medical insurance policies must meet. All policies have to provide:

  • Minimum annual limit of 150,000 AED
  • Emergency cover across all emirates
  • Cover for pre-existing conditions, after an initial six-month waiting period
  • Inpatient treatment with a maximum 20% excess (or ‘co-pay’), capped at 1,000 AED annually
  • Outpatient treatment with a maximum 20% excess
  • Semi-private hospital accommodation 
  • Minimum 7,000 AED maternity cover with maximum 10% excess, and up to 10,000 AED cover for a necessary C-section
  • Essential vaccinations

You can read more about the minimum standards here.

The Essential Benefits Plan

There’s also something in place for people on lower incomes. The Essential Benefits Plan (EBP) is a collaboration between the Dubai Government and a small handful of medical insurance companies, providing essential benefits at affordable prices for Dubai residents. Premiums mostly range between 650 AED (around £145) and 725 AED (around £162) per year. 

As with every other medical insurance policy in Dubai, all policies that come under the EBP have to meet the minimum standards listed above. 

If you have any domestic help (e.g. cooks, nannies, drivers) who earn 4,000 AED per month or less, you are legally obliged to insure them under the EBP. If your employees earn more than 4,000 AED per month, you’re free to insure them under any policy you want (providing it meets the minimum requirements listed above). 

Please note: it’s against the law in Dubai to pay for your employees’ health insurance by taking deductions from their salary.

camels crossing the dubai desert

Camels crossing the desert before the Dubai skyline

How many people in Dubai have health insurance?

Almost everyone has it. 

Back in 2016, it was reported that about 98% of residents in Dubai have private health insurance, but this is likely to be close to 100% today. 

Private medical cover is also very much an expat thing. According to a DHA report, 85.1% of private outpatient encounters in 2018 were non-nationals.

Health insurance in Dubai from companies

As we’ve stated further up the page, it is a legal requirement for your employer in Dubai to provide you with some form of private health insurance. However, you are free to opt out of their medical cover provision if you take out your own cover. This is preferable for expats who don’t believe they are being offered adequate cover to suit their needs, and can afford to pay for their own insurance. 

However, employers in Dubai are not required to provide health insurance for any of their employees’ dependents. Unless your employer is particularly benevolent, you will have to take out private medical cover for your family before moving to Dubai. 

Who is eligible for free healthcare in Dubai?

Dubai’s public healthcare services are available for free (or at a very low cost) to Emirati nationals. Expats in Dubai can access public healthcare services, but they must pay for a health card, and then pay a fee each time they use the services.

Do tourists need health insurance in Dubai?

If you’re just paying a visit to Dubai as a tourist, you’re not legally required to have any kind of medical cover or travel insurance. However, you won’t be able to access any treatment for free while you’re over there, so unless you’re prepared to take a very big risk, it’s wise to get some cover sorted.

Is it worth getting private medical cover in Dubai?

This question is fairly null and void, given you don’t really have a choice. Nevertheless, it’s good to know the key benefits of what you’re being made to buy. 

  • You’ll have the peace of mind that there’s an extra safety net, providing you with the cover that Dubai’s public services don’t offer
  • Doctors are significantly more available in Dubai’s private healthcare sector. According to the Dubai Government’s 2018 report, there are 0.5 public physicians per 1,000 people, while there are 2 private physicians per 1,000 people
  • You’re much more likely to be seen by an English-speaking doctor, which can be useful when you’re trying to explain your symptoms or be reassured. In 2018, 91.9% of people working in Dubai’s private healthcare sector were non-nationals
  • You can choose from more than 130 medical facilities spanning over 150 medical specialities inside the Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC)

How much does health insurance cost in Dubai?

The average annual cost of health insurance for an individual in Dubai is $4,772 (around £3,915) that’s according to Pacific Prime’s global study from 2017. Pacific Prime reported that Dubai is the 7th most expensive country in the world for private medical insurance; the UK is in 6th, while the US is 1st.

To get a more accurate idea of how much health insurance will cost you in Dubai, you can start putting together a plan with Cigna. It takes two minutes to fill in their form, and you’ll receive a free quote.

Cost of family medical insurance in Dubai

Pacific Prime also reported that the average annual cost of health insurance for a family in Dubai is $11,836 (around £9,710). If you’re just going there as a couple, for a joint policy you can expect to pay around $9,889 (around £8,113) per year.

Why is healthcare in Dubai so expensive?

If those numbers have left you reeling, we have some explaining to do. 

The standard of healthcare in Dubai is extremely high, meaning physicians are highly trained, equipment tends to be state-of-the-art, and facilities are very pleasant and clean. There’s a reason Dubai has become one of the ‘medical tourism’ capitals of the world

What’s more, the legislative change in 2015 preventing insurers from excluding individuals based on pre-existing conditions has naturally increased premiums.

Advice for expats moving to Dubai

Hopefully you’re feeling much more clued up on healthcare in the UAE, and the ins and outs of health insurance in Dubai. To learn more about where you’re heading, check out the 21 Things You Should Know Before Moving to the UAE.