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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a well-developed and modern healthcare sector, and expats will find quality services in both the public and private sectors, although costs in the private sector are high and increasing annually.
Expats are required to undergo a full medical examination in the UAE in order to qualify for aresidence visa. This includes chest x-rays and blood tests. Those who test positive for TB or HIV/AIDS will not qualify.
Public medical facilities in the UAE are well-organised and offer a high standard of care. They are dedicated to the needs of the local population, may be overcrowded due to high demand, and are not always user-friendly for foreigners and expatriates.
Expats who would like to use the public system will need to obtain a health card from the Ministry of Health. This can be applied for online or by visiting a health centre.
There are now more private healthcare facilities in the UAE than public facilities. Sophisticated medical care is available at all private hospitals. Medical staff are well-trained, usually expatriates themselves and able to speak English. Private hospitals do not always deal with major trauma, certain complex emergencies, and other specified pathologies, which remain largely in the public domain.
In some emirates, such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai, expats are required, by law, to have private health insurance. Companies are expected to contribute towards this. While they are not required to cover the spouses and children of employees, they are encouraged to do so by the government. Expats should arrange comprehensive health insurance before moving to the UAE.
Pharmacies are easy to find throughout the UAE, and many are open 24 hours a day. Medication is often expensive in the UAE, so expats should remember to keep receipts to submit to their medical insurance provider. A wide range of prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and medical supplies are available in UAE, but tranquillisers, anti-depressants and sleeping pills are heavily regulated. For patients using these medications, it is advised to carry a notarised translated copy of the prescription with an original cover letter from the prescribing doctor explaining the requirement.
Many of the major health risks in the UAE are related to the extreme heat. Dehydration and heatstroke are a particular concern, especially for those used to a much cooler climate. The sand and dust, brought on by desert winds and regular construction, can also trigger and aggravate symptoms for those with pre-existing respiratory conditions. It’s best to remain indoors during the hottest times of the day – preferably in an air-conditioned building. Expats should also stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
The UAE is generally well equipped to handle medical emergencies. Expats can dial 999 for an ambulance. Alternately, they can dial the number given by their health insurance provider, where they are likely to have access to an English-speaking operator.