Singapore’s health care system is one of the best in the world, and the government has designed it in such a way that all citizens and permanent residents have access to affordable health care while at the same time promoting individual responsibility. To become a permanent resident, however, is extremely difficult, and so the majority of foreigners living in Singapore are simply visa holders(1). As such, they don’t contribute towards any of the health programmes and are therefore excluded from public health care coverage. Consequently, they must pay out of their own pocket or take out private insurance.
(1) Long term pass : Work Permit (WP), Student Pass, Long Term Visit Pass (LTVP), Dependent Pass, In-Principle Approvals (IPA), Letters of Eligibility (LOE) and Temporary work permit (TWP).
Health insurance for expats in Singapore
How does the healthcare system work in Singapore?
Singapore’s universal health care is structured around public and private facilities. The health care is subsidised for Singaporeans and permanent residents because they contribute to Singapore’s “three Ms”, namely, Medisave, Medishield, and Medifund:
Medisave is a mandatory savings plan whereby 4% - 10.5% of a working person’s wages go towards the plan; these individual savings allow everyone to finance their health and retirement costs.
Medishield insurance is an affordable backup to Medisave and kicks in when all funds in the former have been used up―although non compulsory, most Singaporeans consider it worthwhile.
Finally, Medifund is an endowment fund set up by the government; it provides a safety net for patients who face financial difficulties after drawing on their payments from MediSave and MediShield―preference is given to the old and young.
As non-permanent residents do not contribute to any of these programmes and are therefore excluded, they have to pay for their health costs themselves, which can become extremely expensive.
How to choose health insurance in Singapore: local or international?
For expatriates in Singapore, health care costs can quickly spiral upwards especially if you need consultations, diagnostic tests or surgical intervention. Similarly, dental costs are high and can end up being exorbitant. Foreigners living in Singapore should therefore consider international health insurance to cover any potential medical or dentistry requirements.
Many Singaporean employers offer local health insurance to their non-resident employees. However, the policies offered are rarely sufficient: beneficiaries are not always covered, certain treatments are excluded (e.g., optical, dental care, maternity), and coverage may be limited by very low caps on expenses per service. Moreover, they are often customised to only cover Singapore.
This is why the vast majority of expatriates couple their local insurance with international health insurance that includes greater coverage, less limitations and even care provided in other countries (depending on the policy).
> Read also: Why you should top up your health insurance in Singapore?