If you’re looking at moving to Malaysia, ucapan selamat (congratulations)!

This sunny wonderland is full of incredible sights, from its opulent palaces, to the towering skyscrapers in Kuala Lumpur, and on to the rainforest in Borneo, which is 140 million years old and contains hundreds of incredible species.

You can see orangutans, rhinos, elephants, sun bears, and clouded leopards in this mind-blowing rainforest – and when you’re done, you can lie back on a beautiful beach and tuck into a rendang beef stew, polished off with a delicious pancake called an apam balik.

But before you become one of many American expats enjoying life in Malaysia, you’ll want to understand what kind of healthcare you’ll have access to once you arrive.

And if you want to join the seven million people in Malaysia 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 customized plan with a free quote to protect your most important assets – you and your family.

Malaysian healthcare: key stats

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    % of the population have private healthcare
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    average life expectancy
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    doctors per 10,000 people
the batu cave in malaysia

The Hindu god of war Kartikeya stands sentry outside the 400 million-year-old Batu Caves

How does Malaysia’s healthcare system work?

Malaysia has a government-funded universal healthcare system, paid for with general taxation, and supplemented by the private healthcare sector.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) regulates private healthcare companies and runs the public healthcare service.

The MOH uses general taxation to largely subsidize public health offerings, with a small copayment required to use most services.

You can even pay a little extra to skip getting a referral from your primary care physician, and go straight to the specialist service.

However, since the Fees Act (Medical) 1951 was amended in 2016, these massively subsidized health services are only open to Malaysian nationals.

If you’re not a citizen, and you want to access the public healthcare system, you’ll pay unsubsidized prices – which are typically 24 to 100 times higher.

For instance, the most recent price list for foreigners indicates that a coronary bypass surgery, plus a week to recover in hospital, typically costs RM15,550 ($3,630).

If you’re a Malaysian citizen, it would cost you RM4,000 ($950) – around four times less, and a massive 13 times less than the amount you’d usually pay in a private facility, which is RM52,500 ($12,400).

The public system provides Malaysian nationals with comprehensive healthcare, including the following heavily subsidized services:

  • Primary physician services
  • Inpatient care
  • Outpatient care
  • Specialist care
  • Dental care
  • Prescriptions
  • Pregnancy and postpartum care
  • Immunisations
  • Gynecological care
  • Examinations and scans
  • Dialysis treatment
  • Radiotherapy
  • Surgeries

Remember, though, that almost all of these services will require you to pay a fee, and the price rockets up if you’re not a Malaysian national.

Is healthcare free in Malaysia?

No, but the government heavily subsidizes the cost for Malaysian patients who use the public healthcare system.

This means some services are provided for free, while others require a copayment that’s still significantly less than the unsubsidized cost.

For example, a visit to your primary care physician in the public sector costs just RM2.5 ($0.60) on average, while the private equivalent will typically set you back RM77.5 ($18), according to Malaysian think tank The Centre.

However, if you’re not a Malaysian citizen, you’ll be charged the full, unsubsidized price for public health services. This will be much closer to the average cost of care in a private hospital.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that even if you are a Malaysian national, out-of-pocket payments make up 35.12% of the country’s healthcare expenditure.

That’s three times as much as in the US, where 10.8% of spending is out of pocket.

This means you may end up incurring unexpected costs if you don’t choose to purchase a private insurance policy.

Quality of healthcare in Malaysia

Malaysia’s healthcare system ranks 84th in the world, according to a 2018 study published in The Lancet and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

That places it below less well-off nations like Kazakhstan, Costa Rica (link when article is up), and the Maldives, as well as neighbouring Thailand (link when article is up) – and a massive 55 places behind the US, which is 29th.

However, there is a sense of pride in Malaysia when it comes to its healthcare, with then-Deputy Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Bakri saying in 2020 that the public system is “based on the principle of universal health coverage.”

He added that “our healthcare service is already free. This is something we should be proud of.”

None of this is true.

The public system is massively subsidized by the government, but is only open to Malaysian citizens, meaning expats and financially struggling migrant workers have to pay costs that can be 24 to 100 times higher than the subsidized price.

The healthcare service isn’t free, and for many, its costs are unacceptably high.

The quality is also lacking in basically every area. For one thing, there’s an extremely low number of doctors in the country – just 15 per 10,000 people.

That’s a lower rate than some of the poorest countries in the world, such as Libya, Turkmenistan, and Venezuela.

There’s also 1.9 hospital beds per 1,000 people – that’s 40% under the global average of 2.9, which is also the US’s total.

And if you give birth in Malaysia, you have a one in 3,448 chance of dying. Compare that to the US, where your odds of surviving are 53% higher.

This may be related to the fact that there are four times fewer nurses and midwives in Malaysia when compared to the US.

As a result of all these factors and more, Malaysia’s average life expectancy of 74.7 is still below much poorer nations like Nicaragua, Iran, and Saint Lucia – and 3.7 years behind the US’s average of 78.4.

Why is Malaysia’s healthcare so much worse than it should be? Well, largely because the government spends just 3.76% of its GDP on healthcare.

Compare that to the global average of 9.9%, the US’s frankly ridiculous 16.89%, or even the 7.74% spent by Burundi, the poorest country in the entire world.

Healthcare in Malaysia for foreigners

As we’ve mentioned, foreigners are not able to access the public healthcare subsidies offered to Malaysian nationals.

You can still use the public system – albeit at much higher, unsubsidized rates – or you can choose to purchase private medical insurance.

Around 24% of people in Malaysia – that’s 7.7 million people – access private healthcare at least once a year, and if you want to join them, then we recommend Cigna.

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

Do I need health insurance in Malaysia?

Legally, you’re not required to have health insurance when you move to Malaysia.

However, if you don’t acquire an insurance policy and end up needing medical attention, you’ll have to choose between paying the unsubsidized rate for public healthcare or paying out of pocket for private care.

Going public may be relatively expensive and leave you on a waiting list, while going private without insurance will be even more expensive.

This means the most sensible option is to get private medical insurance.

Benefits of private medical cover in Malaysia

  • Waiting times are shorter
  • More potential costs are covered
  • Peace of mind
  • You’ll receive the highest level of care possible
  • Medical equipment is more up-to-date
  • Having fewer unexpected expenses means you can budget your healthcare in advance
  • Staff will be more likely to speak English
  • The paperwork is also more likely to be in English

How much does health insurance cost in Malaysia?

For an individual

You should expect to pay around $1,190 per year for private cover in Malaysia, which comes to $99 per month.

It’s worth getting a few different quotes though, as prices can vary massively.

For a family

To cover a family of four in Malaysia, it’ll cost you around $4,240 per year.

That means you’ll pay about $2.90 per day, per person to secure peace of mind – and a better level of care, if you ever need it.

Advice for expats moving to Malaysia

  • Explore Malaysia’s wildlife, which includes orangutans, proboscis monkeys, elephants, tapirs, and pangolins
  • Head to the markets if you want a genuine representation of Malaysia’s varied and delicious dishes – but be careful a monkey doesn’t take your food
  • Prepare for the temperature to basically stay between 79°F to 86°F all year round
  • It also rains frequently, especially in the last few months of the year
  • The drinking age is 21, though the aforementioned heat makes water a much more necessary drink most of the time
  • People don’t have freedom of speech in Malaysia, so it’s dangerous to be publicly critical of the government or the national religion of Islam
  • Most people you’ll meet in business or the service industry will speak English, but you should learn some Malay to truly immerse yourself, and to limit awkward interactions
  • Locals are friendly and laid-back, especially outside of the cities

What’s next?

If you want to protect yourself and your family with private health insurance in Malaysia, 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 customized plan today, complete with a free quote.