Healthcare in Hong Kong

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Health insurance and the healthcare system of Hong Kong explained

Unlike many expat destinations, Hong Kong has a well-established, low-cost public healthcare system which non-permanent residents are eligible for as long as they have a valid visa and ID card. Read on to find out more about all the different aspects of healthcare in Hong Kong.

How to access high-quality healthcare can be one of the biggest concerns when moving abroad, but you’re in good hands in Hong Kong.

Nearly all doctors speak fluent English, and many having received their training from top institutions in the US.

From finding a doctor to giving birth in some of the best hospitals, our overview of the Hong Kong healthcare system walks you through everything you need to know on to stay healthy while living in Hong Kong.

We also take a look at why some expats choose private health insurance, and what particular information to look for in your policy before signing on the dotted line.

Whether you choose public or private healthcare for your general medical needs, going to the dentist is a completely different ball game. Only emergency treatment is covered, so make sure you have a policy in place to protect against surprisingly expensive dental services.

How does healthcare work in Hong Kong?

Is it true that Hong Kong provides free public healthcare even to non-permanent residents? How come that expats often have an expensive private international health insurance in Hong Kong? These are only two of the questions often asked on expat forums when it comes to Hong Kong health insurance. As the healthcare system is very different from that in many other countries around the world, it is important for expats to familiarize themselves with some basics.

Generally speaking, Hong Kong’s healthcare system is divided into two options: public healthcare and private medical care. If you choose to opt for the public healthcare option, you do not need a private Hong Kong health insurance. The government provides all healthcare services free of charge or for a small fee. However, if you choose to use the private system, it is essential to have a good Hong Kong health insurance, as your bills can be extremely high.

If you work for a big company while living in Hong Kong, your employer will often provide you with an adequate Hong Kong health insurance. If this is not the case, you have various possibilities to get your own private insurance. Choosing the right Hong Kong health insurance is a very complex subject. As we are not legal experts on Hong Kong health insurance, we will give you an overview of some important points to pay attention to when choosing your private health insurance. For your final decision on which health insurance to choose, we still recommend you to seek expert advice.

The Public Healthcare System

There are no financial contributions to public health insurance in Hong Kong. The government simply provides healthcare for everyone at virtually no cost. This system includes not only Hong Kong citizens or permanent residents, but also non-permanent residents. Therefore, as soon as you are in Hong Kong with a valid visa and have acquired the Hong Kong ID card, you are eligible for public healthcare. Public medical care is administered jointly by the Hong Kong Department of Health and the Hospital Authority.

The public healthcare system includes a high number of outpatient clinics, specialist clinics, and more than 42 public hospitals in Hong Kong, not to mention various doctors and health specialists. All of them are organized in regional clusters, so that every district can provide specialist care to its residents. Furthermore, there are a high number of maternal healthcare centers, which provide health screenings and care for women, infants, and toddlers. The one thing the public system does not provide is dental care. You are only entitled to see a public dentist in Hong Kong in an absolute emergency. For all other cases, you have to seek treatment from a private dentist and take out an additional health insurance plan.

The Hong Kong public healthcare system provides a high level of medical standards and modern medical equipment. However, going to a public clinic usually involves a lot of queuing and you should not expect a “customer-friendly”, patient-oriented mindset. Another reason that often keeps newly-arrived expats from using the public system is the fact that nurses and other staff are not necessarily fluent in English.

Medical Fees

Fees for public healthcare services are very low. A visit to a public outpatient clinic will cost you about HKD 100, including emergency visits. In addition to this basic fee, you will be charged HKD 10 for any medication you might need. For staying in a regular ward at the public hospital, you pay around HKD 100 per day, plus an admission fee of HKD 50. Thus, you should not be in need of a private Hong Kong health insurance. For those residents who cannot afford even these moderate fees, the Hong Kong government provides a fee-waiving mechanism to make sure that nobody is excluded from the benefits of healthcare due to a lack of financial means. All of these public health services are also available for non-residents, for example, tourists.

An Overview of Private Health Insurance

In addition to public medical care, there is an established private healthcare system consisting of specialists and doctors in Hong Kong, as well as 11 private hospitals. While lots of expats prefer to use the private system for their healthcare needs, you do not have to necessarily opt for either the one or the other. For instance, some expat women having a baby in Hong Kong choose to see private doctors for prenatal care, but give birth at a public hospital.

Employer-Provided Health Insurance

The majority of expats who work in Hong Kong have employer-provided healthcare plans for themselves and their families as part of their remuneration package. Generally speaking, the Hong Kong government only issues visa for expatriates if their employers provide them with healthcare, in order to make sure that the person will not be a burden on the public healthcare system.

It is advisable to pay attention to the healthcare coverage during contract negotiations, as healthcare plans can vary tremendously with respect to the treatments they cover. Some plans include dental care and maternity benefits, others do not. Sometimes you may have to pay a deductible, or the insurance plan will only cover a certain percentage of your medical expenses. Other insurance plans will limit you to certain doctors. Paying attention to this beforehand can save you a lot of money later on.

Private Health Insurance

Hong Kong is among the countries with the highest medical costs in the world. If you do not want to use the public healthcare system and your employer does not cover your medical expenses, you certainly do not want to end up having to pay the fees for a private doctor or even hospital bills on your own. Furthermore, you might want to supplement your employer-provided insurance plan if it does not cover everything you find necessary.

There are innumerable offers for private health insurance in Hong Kong. You can usually choose between a local plan and an international private health insurance. A local health insurance will cover only expenses incurred in Hong Kong, and premiums are based on local medical costs. You might want to consider an international health insurance if you are not staying in Hong Kong for a longer period of time. International health insurance plans are transferable to different countries, and premiums are usually based on the international level of medical costs. If you are already covered by an international health insurance, find out if it is also valid in Hong Kong.

Choosing an Insurance Provider

The insurance sector in Hong Kong is very competitive. Therefore, it is well-worth investigating different offers to get the best deal for your personal insurance plan. Individual insurance for an adult around 30 years of age can cost you anywhere between HKD 2,000 and HKD 30,000, depending on the details of your personal insurance plan. Here are some important points to take into consideration when choosing the right health insurance package:

  • Can you get coverage for your entire family? Are there family discounts? Can you choose different plans for each family member?
  • Are there overall annual limits to the services and costs covered?
  • Are co-payments required?
  • Will you get credit for hospital treatments so that you do not have to pay the bill yourself first?
  • What choice of hospital rooms do you have?
  • Do you have a free choice of doctors, or are services limited to certain doctors and hospitals?
  • Are extras such as dental care and maternity benefits covered? Is there a limit to the amount which is covered?
  • Does the insurance plan include free regular check-ups and prevention measures?
  • Is treatment with traditional Chinese medicine included?
  • Is a previous health examination required? What about pre-existing conditions?

These are only some points where insurance plans tend to differ tremendously. You should keep them in mind when choosing a plan which best suits your personal needs. However, the list is far from exhaustive, and it is highly recommended to seek advice from an expert with detailed knowledge in this field on how to best protect your health and that of your loved ones. Make sure to negotiate payment methods in Hong Kong’s hospitals early on.

Best private and public hospitals

Public and private hospitals in Hong Kong are actually not very different when it comes to their health standards. Both maintain the highest medical and technical standards and employ specialists in their respective areas of treatment. The one major difference, however, is the services they provide. Private hospitals in Hong Kong offer you everything from your own balconies with beautiful ocean views to à la carte menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The government-funded public hospitals on the other hand can be considered the no-frills version of health treatment. You will receive every kind of medical attention you require, but you should not expect too much of a “customer-friendly” service as a patient in one of the public hospitals.

If you decide to opt for one of the private hospitals in Hong Kong, make sure to get the right private health insurance plan. While treatment in public hospitals only requires a more or less symbolic charge of HKD 100 a day, prices for private hospitals are soaring. Still, Hong Kong’s private hospitals remain very popular with expats, as they offer not only luxurious environments, but also multilingual staff, much longer visiting hours and treatment by your own private doctor.

Public Hospitals

Public hospitals in Hong Kong are well up to Western standards both when it comes to professional expertise as well as medical equipment. Hong Kong’s university hospitals in particular have a good reputation for using the newest medical methods and being able to treat even the most complicated cases. Hong Kong’s public hospitals are organized in regional clusters, to make sure that residents in every district have access to different fields of specialist care. Many of these hospitals have 24-hour accident / emergency services. They are also equipped with a system to determine the relative priority of patients, thus trying to make sure that those in the most serious condition are treated first.

As public hospitals in Hong Kong are part of the official healthcare system financed by the government, they are the place to go if you want to keep your cost of living in Hong Kong at a minimum. A day in a public hospital as a regular patient costs you HKD 100, with an additional HKD 50 admission fee. In exchange for the low fees, however, the service and conveniences available at public hospitals are rather limited. A regular hospital ward accommodates up to 10 patients and the food given out in public hospitals in Hong Kong does not have the best reputation.

Visiting Hours and Private Patients

Visiting hours vary between different hospitals and even hospital units. To find out the exact hours for a specific hospital, check the hospital listings by the Hong Kong Hospital Authority. Most hospitals in Hong Kong have visiting hours around lunch time and later on in the evening. Since 2010, there are stricter rules concerning visiting hours in all hospitals – a measure established by the authorities after recent outbreaks of swine flu. This includes a restriction of visiting hours to no more than 3 or 4 hours a day and every patient can only have a maximum of 2 visitors at a time.

If you want to make use of the excellent medical facilities at public hospitals, but do not want to forego the comforts of a private room and better service, you can stay as a private patient in a public hospital. A sum of HKD 2,000 – 4,000 per day will get you a single room or a bed in a two-bed room with attached bathrooms and such luxuries as TV and your own telephone. However, as a private patient, you also have to pay separately for doctor’s fees and any treatment you need. Compared to the regular treatment financed by the Hong Kong government, this is quite expensive. However, it is still much cheaper than a stay at one of the private hospitals in Hong Kong.

How to find a doctor or dentist

It is one of those things you do not like thinking about before you are actually forced to: what to do when you need a doctor in Hong Kong. We hope that it will not be necessary for you to see a doctor at all. However, as chances are quite high that you will need the services of a doctor in Hong Kong, we will provide you with details about medical care and appointments.

Hong Kong is among those countries which hold the dismal record of having the world’s highest medical costs. For those taking advantage of the public healthcare system when seeing a doctor in Hong Kong, the government will pay most of these costs. However, if you choose to rely on private healthcare instead, get a good Hong Kong health insurance before making an appointment with a doctor in Hong Kong. Otherwise, you might be faced with enormous bills for treatment. If the usual remedies do not help you, why not try traditional Chinese medicine instead? Moreover, we will tell you exactly where to find the right doctor in Hong Kong, what to consider when making an appointment and what to do in case of an emergency.

General Information

When it comes to healthcare standards and easy availability of a qualified doctor, even a specialist, Hong Kong is a very comfortable place for expats to live in. Medical services are up to Western standards, and the qualifications of any doctor in Hong Kong are usually excellent. Furthermore, virtually every doctor in Hong Kong speaks English. However, medical care in Hong Kong is separated into the public medical system and private healthcare.

Public Healthcare

The government provides public healthcare to all residents of Hong Kong, including non-permanent residents. Therefore, if you are staying in Hong Kong with a valid visa for expatriates and are in possession of a Hong Kong ID card, you are eligible for public healthcare. Hong Kong has a comprehensive public healthcare system, including hospitals, clinics and specialist care. Fees at any public clinic are regulated by the government and are very moderate, especially when compared to the prices for private clinics. In general, you pay HKD 100 for the first visit, plus HKD 10 for any medication you might need. Keep in mind that the exact fees vary, depending on the type of medical service you need.

For children, the Hong Kong Department of Health additionally runs about 31 child and maternal healthcare centers to turn to when having a baby in Hong Kong. These centers do not only provide immunizations and preventive screenings for children, but also offer family planning advice and regular health screenings for women. Most services are available either free of charge or for a relatively low fee. For more information, check the website of the Hong Kong Family Health Service.

Private and Traditional Healthcare

However, lots of expats choose to rely on private healthcare instead. Waiting times are much shorter and many believe the quality standards of the private system to be higher. As prices in the private medical sector are usually exceptionally high, varying from HKD 200 to as much as HKD 3,000 for a general consultation, it is strongly recommended to acquire private health insurance.

Another distinction which can be made within the private healthcare sector is that between Western physicians and local doctors. Some people might prefer being treated by one of the numerous doctors from Western countries practicing in Hong Kong. However, be aware of the fact that a Western doctor is likely to charge you two or three times as much as a local doctor. Local doctors have, however, the same qualifications and expert knowledge; most have even graduated from the same Western universities as foreign doctors.

Giving birth in Hong Kong

Pregnancy can be among the most exciting times in a woman’s life. Nevertheless, if you are expecting a baby in Hong Kong, you might feel some anxiety about what to expect in terms of prenatal care and giving birth. However, rest assured that, if you are having your baby in Hong Kong, you will receive high-quality care and be treated according to the newest medical standards.

As a resident, you can receive free prenatal from public clinics when having a baby in Hong Kong. Still, some expats who are expecting a baby in Hong Kong prefer get treated by their private doctor. As parents-to-be you also have the choice between public clinics and private hospitals. We will provide you with information on both of these options for having a baby in Hong Kong, their advantages and disadvantages.

Prenatal Care in Hong Kong

As always when you pick a doctor in Hong Kong, you can choose either public healthcare or private medical care when having a baby in Hong Kong. Both options provide a high medical standard, and you can be sure that you and your unborn baby are in good hands.

Public Prenatal Services

The Hong Kong Family Health Service provides you with a comprehensive shared-care program. It is administered by Maternal and Child Health Centers (MCHCs) and includes routine check-ups, laboratory tests and information on health issues during your pregnancy. If any abnormality is detected, the nurses at the Health Center will immediately refer you to an obstetrician at the nearest public hospital.

As soon as you realize that you are pregnant, you should schedule an appointment at one of the Maternal and Child Health Centers in your area. On your first visit, you will receive an index card where all your personal details and test results will be noted. Make sure to take this card with you to subsequent check-ups at the Health Center. The entire prenatal care program is free of charge for all residents having a baby in Hong Kong. However, appointments at the Health Center usually involve a lot of time spent in the waiting room.

Private Prenatal Services

If you would rather make use of private prenatal care while having a baby in Hong Kong, you can find qualified specialists in the Hong Kong Medical Association’s directory. You should also seek advice from other expats and ask them which doctor they recommend. Your private doctor will provide you with a full range of prenatal care and will actually be present at your delivery if you choose to give birth at a private hospital. However, you should expect to pay between HKD 800 and HKD 1,000 for every check-up appointment, not including additional testing and ultrasound exams.

There are no “public” midwives in Hong Kong. However, there are private midwives who will assist you when having a baby in Hong Kong and after the birth of your child. You can get more information from the Hong Kong Midwives Association as well as the Midwives Council of Hong Kong.

Payment of Medical Costs

So far, one important question remains: How do you pay for all this if you choose private prenatal care and possibly a private midwife? You should check very carefully if maternal healthcare is included in your personal Hong Kong health insurance plan. Some insurers may require you to extend your regular plan to include maternal care and pay an additional premium. Others may cover it only in part or have a cap at a certain amount. If your private insurance does not cover the costs or if you do not hold any private insurance at all, the public system of prenatal care may be the better option. Some expats choose to get prenatal care from a private doctor, but to give birth at a public hospital in order to keep costs at a low. Either way, you should find out about the different payment methods in Hong Kong’s hospitals beforehand.

InterNations GO!
by InterNations GO!
11 February 2019
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