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Differences between local and international private health insurance in Singapore

An explanation of the private health insurance situation in Singapore for expats

Written by Kylie McSimons on 5 May 2016

Singapore is reputed for having one of the most efficient and effective healthcare systems in the Asia-Pacific region.

Having won numerous accolades for its health system, IMD’s World Talent Report in 2015 ranked Singapore in 3rd place globally for its performance in health infrastructure. There are a variety of ways to receive medical treatment in Singapore, depending on whether you are a local Singaporean or an expat. No matter which you are, you will want to consider the additional benefits provided by private health care, such as considerably shorter waiting times in private facilities.

The different ways of accessing health care for local Singaporeans and expats, as well as the differences between local and international health insurance in the country, are detailed below.

Public funding enjoyed by local Singaporeans

Local Singaporeans and Permanent Residents are required to undergo a compulsory social security savings plan called the Central Providence Fund (CPF). All employers in Singapore are legally obligated to make monthly contributions to their employees’ CPF, and this partially contributes to their Medisave account, which builds savings for healthcare related expenses.

Medisave funds can be used for a wide range of healthcare related expenses, such as fertility treatment, vaccinations, surgery, hospitalisation, cancer treatment, rehabilitation, etc. Despite the excellent benefits provided by the public healthcare system, many Singaporeans still prefer to secure private health insurance plans for various reasons. For example, there are maximums in place as to how much of an individual’s Medisave fund can be used each day, so having a private health insurance plan can address any funds beyond these that a patient may be responsible for paying.

The situation for expats in Singapore

Expats in Singapore are exempt from contributing to the CPF scheme, but this means that you won’t be subsidised by the Medisave insurance plan if you were to require any medical services. Although most primary care services are relatively affordable in Singapore (especially when compared to the US), costs can skyrocket for more critical illnesses and unforeseen procedures, so expats are recommended to purchase private medical insurance for protection against astronomical medical bills that can be charged by higher quality private healthcare facilities.

Those in need of private health insurance in Singapore are often faced with the following conundrum: should you purchase a local plan, which only protects you in Singapore, or an international plan that provides a range of coverage benefits globally?

The case for local private health insurance

What inevitably attracts most people to local plans is the lower premiums. Premiums are normally lower for local plans because naturally, their coverage is restricted only to one country. Additionally, Singapore is a relatively safe country, so the probability of accidents in Singapore versus most other countries is quite low. If you are on a strict budget or primarily spending your time in Singapore, a private local health insurance plan may be more suitable for you.

The case for international private health insurance

Globally mobile expats often require health insurance with worldwide coverage, especially if they travel extensively. Bear in mind that international health insurance differs from travel insurance, as the latter is designed mainly for short term stays and covers medical emergencies only. Securing an international health insurance plan guarantees access to global coverage so that you get to enjoy benefits worldwide, whether for business, pleasure, or a trip home. Those who visit the US frequently should be aware that many plans exclude US coverage because of its high medical costs.

Another case for international health insurance is that some local plans carry restrictions on which type of medical facilities can be used in order to successfully file a claim. International plans usually provide coverage for visits to any doctor in any hospital, virtually anywhere in the world, so you won’t have to worry about costs when you are in need of treatment overseas.

Additionally, there is also the case of flexibility in seeking healthcare worldwide. For example, if you are in need of treatment, but you’re situated in a country with relatively poor healthcare, your international health insurance plan can cover your medical costs if you choose to be treated in another country with superior healthcare.

As you can see above, both local and international private health insurance plans provide their own range of benefits, and depending on your own needs and cost considerations, one type would suit you more than the other. It is important to be aware that your insurance policy will likely differ depending on the insurer you use, so it may be a good idea to consult an insurance broker for further advice.  

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