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Should You Get Health Insurance in Hong Kong?

Should you get health insurance in Hong Kong? 3 factors to help you make up your mind.
Last update:
28th September 2022
Reviewed by a licensed advisor
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mother and son on beach
Should you get health insurance in Hong Kong? 3 factors to help you make up your mind.
Last update: 28th September 2022

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If you live in Hong Kong, deciding whether you need health insurance or not is very personal. Unlike countries like the United States or Switzerland, having health insurance is not mandatory in Hong Kong. It will mainly depend on your choice to use public or private healthcare facilities. It is important for you to understand how the system works, and the costs involved beforehand. Here are 3 factors to help you make up your mind.

Hong Kong’s public healthcare system: Pros and Cons

Hong Kong’s public system provides accessible, quality and cost-efficient care to its population. While its medical standards are very high, it is not full of creature comforts. It offers basic and quality services at an inexpensive price to Hong Kong citizens, permanent residents or non-permanent residents with an HKID. To sum up, anyone with a valid Hong Kong identity card can benefit from Hong Kong’s public healthcare services at a subsidized rate. (Public Charges – Eligible Persons)

For people without a valid HKID, for instance families visiting Hong Kong or tourists, you can access public services but the cost for non-eligible patients is similar to the costs in the private sector. (Public Charges – Non-eligible Persons)

Hong Kong’s public offer is quite broad and due to the relatively small size of the Hong Kong territory and excellent public transport system, it is highly accessible. It includes 43 public hospitals, 73 general out-patient clinics and 49 specialist out-patient clinics where you can receive comprehensive treatment options. Hong Kong’s public healthcare system is one of the best in the world, but there are some downsides.

  • Delays in Hong Kong's public healthcare system.

    • The main problem is that the public system functions on a first-come, first-served basis. This means that you should prepare yourself to wait for a long time, whether you are going to the A&E or seeing a health specialist. The waiting time at most public hospitals can be very high depending on the periods. See here for a convenient, real-time check on how long you could have to wait. For relatively common surgeries such as cataracts, you will have to wait for 8 to 30 months if you want to go into the public sector. This comes from a cruel lack of doctors. In Hong Kong there are 1.9 doctors per 1,000 residents, which means that 11,000 more doctors would be needed to achieve a normal waiting time.
  • Communication in the public healthcare system

    • Another challenge in Hong Kong’s public healthcare system is that not all health professionals speak English. While most medical doctors speak fluent English, some nurses may not (English prevalence varies greatly according to location). If you do not speak Cantonese, it may be difficult to communicate smoothly with all medical staff.

Because fees for eligible patients are so low in Hong Kong’s public sector, there would be no need for medical insurance if you only or primarily use the public sector. Indeed, you can then self-insure by paying out of pocket.

For your reference, here are some examples of healthcare costs in Hong Kong's public sector (for holders of an HKID):

  • Admission to the Accident & Emergency Department → HK$180
  • Inpatient (acute general beds)→ HK$75 admission fee, HK$120 per day
  • Dressing or injection→ HK$19 per attendance
  • Geriatric day hospital→ HK$60 per attendance
  • General outpatient→ HK$50 per attendance
  • Specialist outpatient→ HK$135 for 1st attendance

Hong Kong’s private healthcare system: Pros and Cons

The private health sector in Hong Kong operates as a "business". The incentive is to generate revenues and provide a strong customer-service model. Private providers in Hong Kong therefore compete in comfort, choice, waiting times and quality of care.

There are 13 private hospitals in Hong Kong and one of the benefits of going private is the very short waiting time. Moreover, if you are looking for more comfortable rooms, to interact with fluent English-speaking medical staff, and for more customer-friendly staff with more time to address your specific needs and preferences, the private sector might be your choice.

However, this level of service comes at a price. Hong Kong’s private healthcare system is the 2nd most expensive in the world after the U.S.

Here are some examples of costs in the Hong Kong private sector:

Moreover, Hong Kong healthcare costs are likely to increase especially for procedures that will embed today’s more frequent use of cutting-edge medical technology, like minimally invasive surgery.

For such reasons, if you plan to use the private healthcare sector, it makes economic sense to get health insurance in order to cover potential medical costs. While some people rely exclusively on their work's corporate medical benefits, it is very important to note that in most cases, you lose those benefits when you leave your job. Should you or your dependents have any pre-existing conditions, it may be difficult or impossible to find individual medical coverage.

What is health insurance?

Health insurance or medical insurance covers your medical expenses, which often include costs of hospitalization, surgery, doctor consultation, body checkup, medications, and other care services.

Although health insurance is not required by law in Hong Kong (unlike countries like the United States and Switzerland), more and more people get private health insurance in Hong Kong to cover the ever-increasing local healthcare costs. In fact, the private healthcare sector is the second most expensive in the world after the United States and medical inflation is about 8 to 10% per year. There is no limit to what health providers can charge and price differences vary greatly depending on the doctor, hospital and location.

If you wish to avoid public sector waiting times and benefit from insurance reimbursements for private medical fees, private medical insurance may be essential.

The cost of health insurance in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is one of the most expensive cities in the world for private healthcare, and its medical insurance premiums are consequently very high. There is no free lunch. The more expensive the plan, the better coverage you get. Also beware of basic health coverage with several sub-limits, which you can easily exceed when using private healthcare in Hong Kong.

Moreover, keep in mind that your health insurance premiums will increase each year because of age and local medical inflation, which was about 8% in 2018.

Whatever your needs and budget are, it is always best to seek advice from a broker specializing in health insurance. Their job is to advise your options, and take into account you and your family’s health, healthcare needs and budget. Essentially, your advisor should have an in-depth understanding of all the factors that can affect your premiums: area of coverage, benefit limits and extent, room type (private, semi-private), deductibles/excesses, co-payments/co-insurance, coverage of pre-existing conditions, and insurance contracts terms and conditions.

Be sure to check out our full guide to life insurance too.

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Do I need medical insurance?

This has a lot to do with whether you are using healthcare services in the public or the private sector, of which costs can vary greatly. In essence, if you want to rely on private healthcare and avoid the often long waiting time at public hospitals, you are advised to get a medical insurance plan that can cover the high costs of treatment in private hospitals and doctors. Medical insurance can also cover you for specific health needs like eye examinations, dental scalings or body checkups.

The best time to get health insurance is when you are still young and healthy, free from any pre-existing conditions that may be excluded by insurers.

How to choose a health insurance plan?

When deciding which plan to buy, you should assess your own health needs, budgets, premiums, plan coverage and risks thoroughly. There is no free lunch. A plan with a lower premium may come with a limited coverage or multiple sub-limits, by way of illustration.

Shop around for more options or contact an advisor for a personalized quote today.

What are the types of medical insurance?

Medical insurance is most commonly purchased in units of company/group, family and individual. The plans can be described in terms of their area of coverage, principally Inpatient, Outpatient, Dental, Maternity and Optical.

How much does health insurance cost in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong has the second most expensive private healthcare sector in the world and this is reflected in health insurance premiums. In general, insurance premiums vary upon several factors, namely age, country of residency, pre-existing conditions, benefits you choose and smoking habits.

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This article was independently written by Alea and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and should never be relied upon for specific advice.