Healthcare in Singapore: A guide to Singapore's healthcare system

07.11.17
8 minute read
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Boasting first-class medical facilities and expertise, Singapore regularly sees patients flying in from all over the world seeking specialist treatment. Ranked 4th in the world’s best healthcare infrastructure (IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2009) and 3rd in infant mortality (WEF Global Competitiveness Report 2009-2010), Singapore is among the best in the world for healthcare.

In this guide, you’ll learn about the various options available when seeking medical services, the costs involved, and the ways you can pay for them. You’ll also find out exactly what to do should you need to see a doctor in Singapore.

Quick facts on the healthcare system in Singapore

Before we get to healthcare, if you’re not familiar with the financial system in Singapore, it’s worth noting that money is denominated in Singapore Dollars and is usually written as SGD in global trading markets or simply as S$ in the country.

It’s always hard to estimate exactly what your home currency is worth - the global exchange market constantly fluctuates. If you’re looking for up-to-date figures, though, it always helps to use an online currency converter to check what your money’s currently worth.

To give you a benchmark, at the time of writing this article in the fall of 2017, S$1,000 is equivalent to approximately £550, €625, US$730 or AU$940.

  • Universal healthcare for citizens and permanent residents (PR), and public and private healthcare for everyone
  • Population covered by health insurance: 100%
  • Average cost of an emergency room visit: S$121 (£69, US$89 and AU$112)
  • Average cost of a doctor’s visit: S$50 (£28, US$37 and AU$46)
  • Average cost of public health insurance for 1 person: S$5 - 75 depending on age (£2.86 to £43, US$3.67 to US$55 and AU$4.64 to AU$70)
  • Average cost of private health insurance for 1 person: S$40 onwards (£23, US$29 and AU$37)
  • Number of pharmacies: 222
  • Number of hospitals: 26

Average cost of healthcare in Singapore

Is healthcare free in Singapore?

Not really. Singapore doesn’t have a welfare programme that pays for healthcare services. Instead, all citizens and permanent residents are required to subscribe to an approved basic health insurance plan, paid for from each individual’s contribution to the national social security savings scheme.

There can be a significant difference in medical fees between government and private hospitals. Here are the average costs of common medical procedures, excluding the cost of accommodation in the wards.

Condition / Procedure Government hospitals Private hospitals
Hip replacement surgery S$8,171 S$19,538
Kidney stones treatment S$3,545 S$5,610
Cataract surgery S$853 S$1,547
Removal of appendix S$3,300 S$12,041
Colonoscopy S$1,334 S$1,674

If you’re travelling in Singapore, and you need to pay your medical bills from savings back home, consider sending money using TransferWise. Unlike most banks and money transfer services, TransferWise gives you the same exchange rate you find on Google, saving you from hefty hidden fees most other services don’t tell you about. You can also open a borderless account which lets you store, receive, and send your money in different currencies, including Singaporean dollars, protecting your money from rate fluctuations.

Singapore medical system: Public, private, universal, national, state, single payer - which one is it?

Singapore provides universal healthcare for all its citizens and PRs (permanent residents), and offers both public and private healthcare options for everyone including non-residents.

The Singapore state healthcare system

Citizens and PRs in Singapore enjoy universal healthcare by mandatory subscription to a national basic health insurance scheme called Medishield Life. This programme subsidises a large portion of hospital bills and selected outpatient treatment. Additionally, the government also offers grants and further subsidies to help those who cannot afford any additional premiums.

The government also offers public healthcare at subsidised and affordable rates, but only at polyclinics or government hospitals.

The Singapore private healthcare system

Private healthcare is also available for everyone, but, of course, at a higher cost. Conveniently located in many places across the island, these facilities can range from small GP clinics to large hospitals. While the fees are relatively high, there are many health insurances which cover private healthcare treatment, especially ‘panel’ clinics that have a partnership with the insurer.

Signing up for the healthcare system in Singapore

Getting medical treatment is relatively simple. You don’t need any prior registration, and on-site registration is relatively straightforward. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Visit your preferred private clinic or polyclinic and find the reception desk. You aren’t restricted to visiting one clinic only.
  2. Inform the nurse on duty, and you’ll be given a form to fill in if it’s your first time there.
  3. Return the form and the nurse will give you a number.
  4. Wait for your number to be called or shown for your turn to see the doctor.
  5. For future visits, your records will likely be entered into a computer and easily retrieved.

If you’re approved for permanent residency or citizenship, you’ll automatically be signed up to the national savings scheme, the Central Provident Fund (CPF), and an approved insurer will be assigned to you for your Medishield Life coverage. The annual premiums will be deducted from your CPF account, so you won’t be required to pay anything in cash.

In case of an emergency in Singapore

Singapore’s civil defence emergency hotline is 995, and you can request for an ambulance in the event of a medical emergency. All emergency cases are directed to the nearest government hospital’s accident and emergency (A&E) department, and are attended to by the medical team on duty. Note that you don’ot need to sign up for a general practitioner to avail emergency services, and any doctor is able to attend to you.

If your condition isn’t an emergency, the nurse on duty may deprioritise your number, or request that you visit a 24-hour clinic instead. Generally, a medical emergency is a situation when an unexpected injury or sudden illness puts a life at risk, or has the potential for long term damage. If you’re unsure about your condition and are able to walk, you can always visit a nearby clinic to seek urgent assistance from the doctor on duty. There’s usually always a neighbourhood clinic nearby that remains open outside of normal operating hours.

The wait time in the A&E department will depend on the backlog of patients and the severity of other cases. Non-emergency cases may require a 4 hour wait before a doctor attends to you.

Hospitals in Singapore

Hospitals can be broadly categorised into government-run or private-run. The main differences are that government hospitals are priced more affordably and are usually more crowded, while private hospitals have a more exclusive clientele and have offer more dedicated and attentive service for a higher price. Also, government hospitals might have specialised equipment or medical facilities that smaller private hospitals lack, so certain medical procedures might be performed at a few hospitals only.

Finally, while private hospital accommodation prices may range widely, government hospital beds are generally priced around the following range:

Type of Ward Description Average Price
Ward Class C 9 beds in a room S$35 / day
Ward Class B2 5 or 6 beds in a room S$79 / day
Ward Class B1 4 beds in a roomAttached bathroomTelevision & telephone S$251 / day
Ward Class A Single roomAttached bathroomTelevision & telephone S$467 / day
Day Surgery Ward Seat S$63 / day
Day Surgery Ward Bed (shared room) S$132 / day
Day Surgery Ward Bed (single room) S$214 / day

If an ambulance was used, the government will waive the fee if it’s an emergency case. Otherwise, you may be required to pay the Singapore Civil Defence a fee of S$274. If you booked a private ambulance to drive to the hospital, then the fees will range between S$80 to S$150 per trip.

Singapore-based health insurers classify claims under government or private hospitals, and all government hospitals are recognised by insurers. For private hospitals, it’s advisable to call the insurance hotline beforehand to verify that they will honour claims from that particular hospital. Every insurance provider should have a 24-hour hotline, so keep that contact number handy.

Doctors and specialists in Singapore

All medical professionals are able to communicate and write in English and most will speak a second language like Chinese or Malay. Doctors in Singapore are highly regarded for their extensive education, and go through rigorous training before qualifying to practise.

Finding a GP / family doctor in Singapore

As mentioned before, you don’t need to sign up for a general practitioner before seeing the doctor. Just find a clinic and ask the duty nurse or clinic assistant to register you for a consultation.

If you’re at a polyclinic, it is advisable to make an appointment online. Then you’ll just have to head over during your allocated slot, and you hardly have to wait for your turn. In comparison, a walk-in consultation may require up to an hour-long wait.

For 24-hour private clinics, expect to wait up to 2 hours at night or over the weekend, as most of the clinics don’t operate. However, during off-peak hours in the middle of the day, waiting time is minimal.

Specialists in Singapore

Most patients visit a specialist via a referral from their general practitioner. If the referral came from a polyclinic, you may also qualify for subsidised rates. Otherwise, a specialist consultation and prescription usually costs a lot more.

You may also approach a specialist directly, especially if you’re looking for an aesthetic doctor for a facelift or an eye doctor to perform LASIK surgery. The procedure is similar to going to a GP, but you might need to make an appointment beforehand. Depending on the popularity and schedule of the specialist, the wait time can range from a few days to a few months.

Health insurance in Singapore: Cost and plans

Private health insurance starts from around S$40/month for basic hospital cover, and can reach up to S$1,000/month for single ward stays in private hospitals. Additional riders may also be included to cover dental and outpatient treatment, or extend the coverage to other countries. Your health insurance may also not cover your medical expenses entirely, so check the policy to see if you need to make a co-payment or deductible before making a claim.

The easiest way to compare and purchase health insurance is through an independent online middleman like Go Bear or MoneySmart. Some policies might have a minimal sign up period though, so read the fine print carefully.

If you’re intending to stay in Singapore for a short time, you might get basic health insurance included in the travel insurance bought in your home country, or you can purchase a short-term health insurance.

In any case, most residents in Singapore are already on Medishield Life, so few people will choose to add another basic health insurance to their portfolio. More common are policy riders that can be added onto the basic Medishield Life policy, so it extends the cover and offers better benefits. If you’re a citizen or PR, you can check the Ministry of Health for more information on Medishield Life add-on plans.

Temporary health insurance for tourists

Most health insurance policies are renewable annually, so you can consider purchasing a year’s worth of medical expenses coverage. These are some possible options:

If you’re staying up to 3 months, you may also consider travel insurance that includes medical expenses coverage.

Useful links

Singapore Organisation Descriptionk
Ministry of Health Average hospital charges by procedure
National Healthcare Group Location of polyclinics
SingHealth Location of polyclinics
SingHealth Charges and fees for GP consultation
Singapore Civil Defence Guide to calling for an ambulance
Changi General Hospital Tips on visiting the A&E department
Singapore General Hospital Charges and fees for A&E

Singapore is one of the best places to seek medical treatment and services. There’s plenty of options to choose from; from affordable public healthcare at polyclinics to luxurious private clinics catering to the wealthy.

Do ensure that you have sufficient insurance coverage, as medical services don’t come cheap for foreigners. And, depending on the length of your stay in Singapore, you might want to check out various insurance providers and pick a health insurance product that would suit you the best.

Though you’ll likely stay safe and healthy while you’re in Singapore, rest assured if you do run into a medical issue, there’s world-class professionals and facilities just round the corner should you need them.

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