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Everything UK expats need to know about health insurance when working in Hong Kong

A detailed look at the costs of healthcare in Hong Kong and the insurance options available to British expats.

Written by Rob McBroom on 20 January 2017

As one of the top international financial centres in the world, Hong Kong is without a doubt one of the most desirable expat destinations for UK expats, especially when considering that 68% of expats in Hong Kong find that it is a good place for career progression - significantly beating the global average of 43%.

Ranked number 1 for its Bloomberg health-care efficiency index in 2016, this Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China offers a wide range of advanced public and private medical facilities that are on par with the quality of medical service you would expect in the UK and other developed countries.

Please note that there is noreciprocal healthcare agreement between the two countries, meaning that all medical costs are to be borne by UK expats living in Hong Kong. Healthcare costs in Hong Kong can easily go sky high, so securing health insurance to offset these costs is essential. The below article sheds light on the cost of healthcare in Hong Kong and the insurance options available to British expats.

The high cost of healthcare in Hong Kong

All expats living in Hong Kong have the choice of seeking medical treatment from either public or private facilities. The Hong Kong public healthcare system is made up of 41 public hospitals and institutions, 47 specialist clinics, and 73 outpatient clinics, which are split into 7 hospital clusters. There are also a total of 11 registered private hospitals in the city.

The cost of public medical treatment

Holders of the Hong Kong Identity Card (HKID) enjoy fairly affordable rates at public hospitals, and can expect A&E charges to be as low as 220 HKD (approx. 23 GBP) per attendance. General out-patient charges cost as little as 45 HKD per attendance (approx. 5 GBP). For further details on public charges, you can refer to the Hong Kong Hospital Authority website.

It’s mandatory for all non-permanent residents living in Hong Kong for over 6 months to secure an HKID, which you can register for with your valid travel document and work visa once you have arrived in Hong Kong. Short-term expats that are staying in Hong Kong for less than 6 months are not required to have an HKID.

Those that do not have an HKID are deemed as part of the non-eligible category and are thus subject to much higher public hospital fees. A&E charges go as high as 990 HKD per attendance (approx. 105 GBP), and in-patient fees can go up to 4,680 HKD (around 496 GBP per day).

The cost of private medical treatment

Many expats prefer private facilities for their superior quality of service and shorter waiting times. Some private facilities in Hong Kong come with a whole host of luxurious benefits such in-patient rooms with private balconies, and 5 star hotel quality meals. As can be expected, these additional benefits do come with an expensive price tag, for example, 1st class in-patient treatment costs an average of 5,640 HKD per day - that’s around 597 GBP!

The costs advertised on private hospital websites also tend to exclude other charges such as medication and meals, which can amount to a much higher bill than expected. This is why many expats and locals alike opt for private health insurance coverage.

Health insurance options for expats

Expats looking to purchase health insurance in Hong Kong will typically be recommend the following: local health insurance, or international health insurance. Please note that if you already have employer-provided health insurance, it would be beneficial to check what exactly is covered in your plan, and see if you require a top-up plan to make up for any deficiencies in your current company health insurance plan.

Local health insurance

Local health insurance provides medical cover that is restricted to one region only. With this type of plan, you’ll pay premiums that are much lower than that of international health insurance, but please note that this plan is not portable and if you’re travelling elsewhere, you’ll need to purchase travel insurance if you want coverage while you’re abroad.

Local health insurance will usually have a preferred network of providers in order to keep costs down, meaning that there will be restrictions on where you can visit for treatment. As such, if you visit a medical facility that is not included in the plan’s network, you may have to foot the entire bill or pay for most of the bill yourself. If you’re on a tight budget and plan to spend most of your time in Hong Kong, a local health insurance plan may be the right type of policy for you.

International health insurance

International health insurance, as the name suggests, offers global coverage and is designed specifically with the needs of expats in mind. With this type of plan, you can visit just about any hospital or clinic in the world if you require treatment - so you won’t need to purchase separate travel policies every time you go abroad. Please keep in mind that this policy charges a much higher premium than local policies, but it is definitely worth the cost if you’re a frequent traveller or move to new countries often.

Shopping around for health insurance

To secure a health insurance plan in Hong Kong, you can either buy it directly from a licensed provider or through a licensed insurance broker. With the latter option, you will often enjoy competitive rates from the close relationships that established brokers have with insurance providers. You’ll also enjoy time saved from shopping around for plans, as insurance advisors will compare plans for you and base their advice around your specific needs. What’s more, brokers will tend to provide added-value services such as in-house renewals and claims teams, so you’ll benefit from further support should you require it.

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