Living in Colombia?
Healthcare and Insurance in Colombia
Understanding the System
Since the early 1990s, Colombia has made huge steps in terms of public health insurance and the availability of healthcare, and 97% of the inhabitants have healthcare coverage. Generally speaking, there are two regimes: contributive and subsidized. Every employee contributes 4% of their monthly wage to the healthcare system known as Sistema General de Seguridad Social en Salud (SGSSS). To receive healthcare benefits, contributors sign up with a public or private insurer of their choice.
Though progress has been made, Colombia’s healthcare system has been the target of harsh criticism, and accusations of widespread corruption, nepotism, and misdirected funds have been voiced against many of the leading providers. Expats moving to Colombia should look into additional private health insurance.
If you are interested in understanding the Colombian healthcare regime and its issues in more detail, please refer to the Center for Health Market Innovations, who provide an excellent overview on their website.
Urban Medical Tourism vs. Rural Clinics
Colombia’s private healthcare institutions generally adhere to adequate quality standards, particularly in the big cities. The country’s clinics, many of which are among the best in South America, attract their fair share of medical tourism for elective surgical procedures such as plastic surgery. However, you might find that quality and accessibility are less reliable in public clinics and rural areas and, as is often the case, a trip to the emergency room is likely to involve hours of waiting.
Staying Healthy in Colombia
Before you embark on your expat adventure in Colombia, please make sure you have all the shots and vaccinations needed for a safe stay. While authorities do not require any proof of vaccination at the time of entry, it is in your best interest to make sure you are prepared. The following vaccines are recommended:
- routine (MMR, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, chickenpox, polio, flu)
- hepatitis A/B
While it is fine to drink tap water in cities, it is advisable that pregnant women stick to bottled water. When visiting rural areas, drink bottled water and avoid ice cubes.
With the exception of major cities such as Bogotá, Medellín, or Cali, malaria is widespread. While the majority of expatriates in Colombia settle in one of these cities (as we have touched upon in our article on moving to Colombia), you should still consult your doctor and talk to them about your options for malaria prevention. It is important to take precautions against mosquito bites — cover up with long-sleeved clothing and trousers (especially at night), use insect repellent on exposed skin, and sleep under a mosquito net if needed.
Colombia was hit by the world’s second-largest Zika outbreak in 2016, a disease which is primarily transmitted by mosquitos, but also sexually transmitted. Pregnant women are currently advised not to travel to Colombia unless absolutely necessary.
Please keep in mind that you will be moving to a mountainous country and it may take some time for your body to adapt to being at a new altitude. If you are healthy, you should not have any problems after braving a few days of discomfort — stay hydrated and try not to do anything too strenuous. If you suffer from circulatory or respiratory problems, however, please consult your physician before you move.
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