Although the Brazilian constitution provides for free and universal access to the public healthcare system, the unequal distribution of medical infrastructures and the saturation of hospitals lead nationals and expatriates to turn to the private sector. Keep in mind, though, that although the private sector offers a very high quality of care, its costs are also very high and require the purchase of additional health insurance.
Health insurance for expats in Brazil
The health insurance system in Brazil
The Single Health System (Sistema Único de Saúde - SUS), established in 1988, guarantees all residents universal access, completely free of charge, to public health services and to private hospitals under agreement.
In order to benefit from this system, the insured person must follow a specific care pathway, always visiting a basic SUS unit (posto de saúde or clínica da família) as a first step, which may refer them to another doctor or hospital if necessary. Their health expenses will then be fully covered:
General practitioner and specialist consultations
Examinations and tests
Hospitalisation in an approved public or private sector centre
Medicines listed as essential and those supplied in hospital
Other health services provided by professionals or private establishments not covered by public-sector agreement, as well as most medicines, remain at the expense of the insured.
How to choose health insurance in Brazil: local or international?
In order to cover their remaining expenses and any care that is not reimbursed by the SUS, many Brazilians and foreign residents choose to obtain complementary solutions, including:
planos de saúde (health plans), which allow consultation within a local network of affiliated doctors and establishments;
cooperativas medicas (health co-ops), which allow members to access all care services provided by a single hospital in exchange for a contribution (or autogestão, when this solution is negotiated by a company for its employees).
Private health insurance plans, which cover the cost of care wherever it is provided, are less developed in the country. By opting for international insurance, however, residents in Brazil can benefit from extensive coverage and can be treated in the institution and professional of their choice.