Expat healthcare services in the Philippines

Published:  23 Jun at 4 PM
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Retiring to a tropical paradise is a favourite dream for older would-be expats, but what if unexpected health issues are the reality?

Emigrating overseas outside North America and Europe undoubtedly has its plus points, with the fascination of a totally unfamiliar culture, the challenge of an obscure language and the possibility of a far cheaper cost of living all attractions in themselves. However, one item of concern is true for all less familiar expat destinations – the state of the local heathcare service.

For decades the Philippines has attracted more than its fair share of older Western expats, many of whom have fallen not only for the charms of the archipelago itself but also for the even more seductive charms of the country’s female population. As regards medical services, especially in the larger cities and Manila, most expat experiences seem to be positive, although it’s deemed necessary to take out health insurance.

Perhaps the most important aspect of heathcare in the Philippines is the fact that the majority of Filipinos speak English, ensuring no mistakes are made due to linguistic misunderstandings. As regards health insurance, the free public service is provided only to citizens unless foreign patients can prove they are dependents of a local person.

Costs of medical and surgical services are far less expensive than in first world countries such as the USA, but some form of private health insurance is essential for those without stacks of easily available cash. Expat employees will have cover through their company, but a top-up private policy is a sensible option as employer-based insurance only applies during the term of employment.

Many medical professionals working in Filipino hospitals have either trained or worked overseas during their careers, as Western hospitals pay high enough wages to allow living costs and enough spare cash to send back to help the family. The downside is that trained medical professionals may be in somewhat short supply in local hospitals, especially outside the major centres.

For serious medical emergencies, even the further-flung islands in the archipelago are within fast air travel to Manila’s choice of private medical facilities. Anther option chosen by more financially secure retirees is to add Medivac to an existing private health insurance scheme.

Malaysia, Singapore and even Calcutta are all within a comparatively short flight from Manila. Nearby Thailand, another former option, isn’t now recommended since Bangkok private hospitals ramped up charges for expat patients to new heights, causing insurance companies to use every possible means to avoid paying out.
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