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Healthcare in Switzerland
Health Insurance and the Healthcare System in Switzerland Explained
The health system in Switzerland is consistently ranked as one of the Top 5 in the world, including healthcare for nonresidents. The healthcare system is universal, although, unlike other countries with similar systems, it is not funded by government taxes.
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While operating under universal healthcare, Switzerland’s healthcare system and health insurance is slightly different than in other European countries because they work in tandem. Switzerland has universal healthcare, but it is paid for by the individual rather than through taxes or by your employer. This means that anyone entering Switzerland must have basic health insurance. If you are in Switzerland for longer than three months, even as a tourist, you must be covered by a recognized Swiss health insurance provider.
This guide provides an overview of the Swiss healthcare system, so that you and your dependents can be fully covered upon your arrival. We cover everything from how to obtain health insurance to finding a doctor and even the specifics on giving birth while in the Alpine country.
How Healthcare Works in Switzerland
If you are moving to Switzerland, obtaining Swiss health insurance is one of the first things you must do. However, as a foreigner, you cannot sign-up for the Swiss healthcare system until you have arrived in the country and applied for your residence permit or registered with a local cantonal authority. Although you may not receive a residence permit right away, you only need to show proof of your pending application and current residency to take out a policy.
Because you must obtain healthcare coverage within 90 days of your arrival, it is advisable to begin your search before landing in Switzerland.
Switzerland Health Care Facts
- Compared to other European countries, Switzerland spends the highest GDP (over 12%) on healthcare.
- You can only change your health insurance provider or package once a year. You must give notice if you want to change. Some health insurance providers offer bi-annual cancellation options, but these require three-months’ notice.
- The only exceptions for mandatory health insurance are cross-border workers, retirees with EU/EFTA pensions, temporary students with international insurance, and certain officials and diplomats.
Does Switzerland have Free Public Healthcare?
Even though Switzerland’s healthcare system is universal, there is no free public healthcare in Switzerland. Instead, all residents of Switzerland must pay for their own private health insurance. This applies to both Swiss nationals and foreign expats.
How does Healthcare Work in Switzerland?
In Switzerland, everyone must be covered by private insurance companies. Even children and dependents require their own individual health plan. Therefore, it is up to each Swiss resident to figure out how to get health insurance in Switzerland.
To ensure all citizens are able to receive coverage, the Swiss government mandates that all insurance providers offer a basic level of health care coverage. Health insurance providers are also not allowed to reject applicants for any reason.
Healthcare in Switzerland is of high-quality and is competitively priced from canton to canton. Because of this, deciphering how much health insurance costs depends on your specific canton as well as the medical treatment you require because you will often be expected to pay certain fees out of pocket.
Expats should also be aware that there is no Medicare in Switzerland, nor a Swiss equivalent. Even retirees must continue to pay for their own private health insurance.
What does the Basic Healthcare Cover?
Basic healthcare coverage in Switzerland can sometimes be confused with public healthcare because it is mandatory for all citizens. However, basic healthcare coverage is still offered through private insurance companies. Because insurance is mandated by law, basic coverage is identical across all Swiss insurance providers. You can expect to find the following covered:
- general check-ups and treatments
- hospital visits, including inpatient, outpatient, and emergency services
- rehabilitation services
- prescription costs
- some mental healthcare
- maternity care
- dental emergencies
- gynecological exams
- certain medical aids and devices
- cancer screenings
- eye care for people under 18, and serious illness
- some alternative therapies such as acupuncture and homeopathy
Under a basic healthcare plan, between 80–90% of your medical costs should be covered. For a more comprehensive list, please see the Swiss government’s website.
Switzerland Healthcare System Pros and Cons
- Because basic healthcare is mandatory, every resident in Switzerland is entitled to the same coverage and standard of care. This means that even if you have a pre-existing condition, a Swiss health insurance company cannot deny you coverage, nor can they charge you exorbitant amounts when compared to someone who does not have a pre-existing condition.
- Depending on your age and the insurance package that you choose, you will pay this same fee for as long as you are in Switzerland. If you get sick or injured, your insurance rate will not increase.
- Healthcare standards across the country are high, and expats will have no problem receiving excellent care no matter where in Switzerland they require treatment.
- Healthcare in Switzerland is expensive, and you will pay for most treatment out-of-pocket and be reimbursed later.
- Any stay in Switzerland exceeding 90 days requires health insurance. Even if you are only moving to Switzerland for half a year, and feel that you are generally healthy, you are legally required to get private health insurance.
Why is Switzerland’s Healthcare so Expensive?
Switzerland is renowned for its expense, but many expats are still surprised by how expensive healthcare is, especially when compared to neighboring EU countries. Switzerland’s healthcare system is known as one of the best in the world, but also one of the most expensive.
Part of the reason for the Switzerland’s health care costs is that a significant portion of the healthcare system is funded by the government mandated private insurance premiums. This means that in order to cover their own business expenses and high standard medical costs, healthcare providers must charge more money from private individuals. Generic drugs are also not common in Switzerland, forcing residents to shell out for expensive name brand items. On average, Swiss residents spend nearly 10% of their salary on health insurance costs.
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An Overview of Private Health Insurance
Switzerland has one of the largest private healthcare sectors in the world. As an expat, you will need to secure private insurance within three months of your arrival. Because of this, you will need to know how health insurance works immediately upon your arrival, if not sooner.
Do you need Health Insurance in Switzerland?
Health insurance is mandatory in Switzerland. Because the only option is private insurance, healthcare providers are not allowed to refuse coverage to anyone for any reason. Everyone, including family members or other dependents, must have their own individual insurance. Babies are automatically insured upon birth, but parents must apply for the infant’s coverage within three months of the birthdate.
When people talk about private health insurance in Switzerland, they are usually talking about supplementary insurance that can be purchased in addition to the basic insurance plans. Many Swiss residents choose to add on supplementary insurance as it gives them a wider range of treatment, greater choice of hospitals and doctors, and better accommodation if they require an overnight stay.
Health Insurance Coverage
Healthcare in Switzerland is run at the cantonal level. As a result, it is expensive and competitive, but also of high quality no matter where you go. Both public and private hospitals have high standards and modern facilities. The main difference between the two are cost and wait time. In a private hospital, patients will pay more out of pocket, however their wait time is less, and they may have greater luck finding specialized services. Public hospitals will have cheaper rates, but wait times are longer and you may have to go with whichever doctor is available.
Average Health Insurance Cost in Switzerland
Medical insurance companies are not allowed to profit off of basic healthcare plans. Instead, their money comes from what they make off of other schemes.
The average health insurance cost in Switzerland varies by canton to canton. Below is a list of the most expensive and least expensive cantons.
Most Expensive Cantons
Least Expensive Cantons
Types of Health Insurance Plans
In addition to the basic health insurance plan, there are other types of insurance plans available in Switzerland.
- HMO: this plan is a discounted plan. Users are restricted to only using specified doctors and hospitals.
- Flexcare: with this plan, users can call a hotline for complementary consultation before visiting a doctor or hospital in person.
- Premium: these plans are more costly but include visits to private hospitals and specialists.
How to Find a Doctor or Dentist
Learning how to find a doctor or dentist in Switzerland is dependent on your health insurance. On the whole, Swiss residents have free range over their choice of doctor, but if you opt for a cheaper health insurance policy then you may be limited as to your choices.
Swiss doctors largely require booking appointments in advance. Keep in mind that there may be a penalty fee if you cancel with less than 24 hours’ notice. More comprehensive insurance plans may allow you to consult a specialist directly, while others will require you be referred by a family doctor.
Your insurance provider should have a list detailing how to find a family doctor or how to find specialist within their network. However, if you want to search on your own, you can use these directories:
Although not included with every insurance plan, you can also use these sites to find a dentist.
Average Wait Time to see a Doctor in Switzerland
Long wait times in Switzerland are not common, nor are long waiting lists. On average, you should be able to see a doctor on the same day that you make your appointment.
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Giving Birth in Switzerland
When it comes to giving birth in Switzerland, non-residents have a lot of options. For starters, women can choose to give birth in a hospital, at a birthing center, or at home, and midwives are easy to come by.
Having a baby in Switzerland as a foreigner before you are covered by insurance may be costly: nearly 7,000–9,000 CHF (7,100—9,100 USD) depending on whether you need a C-section or not. If you arrive in Switzerland around the time of your due date, you would be wise to acquire health insurance immediately, or try to have the baby in your previous country. It is only possible to have a baby in Switzerland without health insurance if you have just arrived or if you are a tourist.
Once you have health insurance, even the basic plan, the cost of having a baby in Switzerland is largely covered. Depending on your insurance plan, you may even be able to get private maternity options and ante-natal classes covered.
While one of the greatest benefits to giving birth in Switzerland is the excellent care you will receive, other perks are for the child. For example, while giving birth in Switzerland does not automatically grant citizenship, if you give birth as a permanent Swiss resident then your child may be able to claim Swiss citizenship at a later date.
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