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Time Out Dubai staff
Healthcare in Dubai
Moving to a new country can be overwhelming at best, and getting healthcare and medical issues sorted out tops most people’s list of priorities. Once you have your residency visa sorted, you will need to apply for a health card. Most hospitals won’t treat you without one, unless it’s an emergency. To apply for a health card you will have to go to your nearest hospital for a blood test and chest scan with a copy of your passport and visa page and a passport photograph. (It would be wise to always carry passport photographs on you because you’ll need them whenever you sign up for something, be it a new bank account or phone line).
Employers are legally required to offer some form of medical insurance. The extent of cover (and standard of participating hospitals) will vary greatly from one job to another. But, most white collar roles cover the individual employee for everything they are likely to need (except dental), with an excess of Dhs100. Free emergency treatment is available, and there are lots of pay-as-you-go doctors, clinics and hospitals that will treat the uninsured for a fee.
If, for some reason, your employer doesn’t provide medical (or you set up on your own), there are loads of insurance companies and packages on offer, covering most budgets. TryAlliance Insurance Company (www.alliance-uae.com) or Emirates Insurance Company (www.emirates-ins.com/eicpages/index.htm).
The pay-as-you-go option ranges in price and value sufficiently to cater to most budgets. Generally, it’s much cheaper to visit a regional doctor or clinic, or one from the subcontinent, than it is to visit a European or North American medical practice. Virtually all doctors and clinics offer services for both pay-per-visit/treatment and fully insured patients.
Local health hazards
Nothing will prepare you for the heat in the UAE. While most residents hibernate in their homes, malls and offices during the summer months, winter in the UAE seems to last for all of two weeks, and temperatures during the ‘cooler’ months offer little respite from the sun.
Dust storms that blanket the city and may not clear for days are not uncommon, and can be a nuisance for people with allergies and respiratory problems, confining them to their homes. The heat and humidity can play up your allergies and flu, and it is necessary to stay out of the midday sun to avoid sunburn and heatstroke.
Roads are not very pedestrian friendly either (although brash drivers are to blame for that one). The UAE’s lethargic lifestyle and lack of exercise because of its dependence on cars has resulted in shocking statistics on residents’ health. The UAE has the second highest rate of diabetes in the world, with almost a third of the population over 30 contracting the disease. The country has also seen an increasing rate of heart disease, cardiovascular problems and stroke.
For police call 999, for ambulance call 998 or 999, and for the fire brigade call 997. The coastguard can be contacted on 04 345 0260.
To visit a GP in the UAE, you do not need to register with a certain clinic or doctor when you are setting up. You can call any clinic and make an appointment or simply walk into a medical centre and wait until a doctor can see you. This gives you the flexibility to visit a few doctors before you decide who you are comfortable with. Most hospitals also have their own in-house GP or a visiting one at least.
You will need to present your health card and proof of insurance when you visit a GP and most clinics and hospitals will have a consultation charge in addition to the doctor’s charge. Depending on your insurance cover, you may have to pay about 15 per cent of the consultation fee or none at all. Some clinics do not bill directly to the insurance company and you will have to pay for the treatment, get a copy of the bill and file a claim with your insurance provider.
Both government and private hospitals in the UAE offer world-class treatment with a range of facilities, specialities and medical expertise. Only emergency cases are offered very limited free treatment at hospitals. Any additional tests or follow up treatment will have to be paid for or covered by insurance. You will also need to present a health card and proof of insurance when opening a file at any hospital in the city. Generally, all hospitals are open 24 hours, but it’s worth phoning ahead.
Most pharmacies sell medication without a prescription, antibiotics included. Some hospitals have 24-hour in-house pharmacies one or two near a clinic or medical centre. The city is full of them, and the municipality has a hotline (04 223 2323) that can tell you the location of 24-hour pharmacists operating on that day. Alternatively, log on to www.dm.gov.ae.
Unbeknown to many new residents, various medicines which are perfectly legal in other countries are prohibited in the UAE. This can include regular common cold and cough remedies, sleeping tablets or painkillers which are readily available over-the-counter in your home country. The full list of banned substances is available on the Ministry of Health website www.moh.gov.ae.
If you must use a particular medicine on this list, you need to have a prescription from a physician who is licensed in the UAE or show a detailed medical report from your doctor at home.
Authorities show zero tolerance towards banned drugs and the penalties are severe, so don’t even think about trying to sneak something in. Customs authorities at the airport have made numerous arrests over the past few years and passenger baggage is thoroughly screened.
Dental services in Dubai are top notch with a variety of clinics with different areas of expertise. Prices are quite steep, but more often than not, the service is worth the price. Your standard health insurance almost never covers dental care unless it is emergency treatment due to an accident. You can negotiate more comprehensive cover with your employer, or choose to pay your own premium to cover dental care. Booking an oral surgery tends to test your patience, with the transfer of paperwork between hospital and clinic being maddeningly slow and a general unavailability of dates. The more popular dentists in the city tend to be busy, so make an appointment or you might have to choose an alternative if it is an emergency.
You’ll find an optician or optometrist in every mall in Dubai. They will usually be able to sort you out with everything from eye tests to new contact lenses. Most opticians also provide free eye tests for your driver’s license application. These tests usually don’t take longer than five minutes (bring copies of your passport and photos). Several hospitals and medical centres in the city have ophthalmology departments, which offer specialist outpatient and non-surgical treatments and corrective surgeries like Lasik.
While many women choose to return home to have their children, there are a number of private or public hospitals and clinics with fine obstetricians and gynaecological services. Bear in mind that public hospitals observe Islamic guidelines and traditions, with visiting hours for men who may not be allowed in the delivery room during the birth.
Working mums are entitled to 45 days of paid maternity leave if they have been employed with the same company for more than a year or 45 days on half pay if they’ve worked with the same company for less than a year. These rules are not hard and fast, however, and you might be able to negotiate a better leave option.
All expat children born in the UAE should be registered at the Ministry of Health within two weeks of birth and hold a residence visa within four months in order to travel out of the country The following hospitals and clinics offer obstetricians and gynecological care:
Belhoul European Hospital (04 345 4000)
Belhoul Speciality Hospital (04 273 3333)
City Hospital (04 435 9999)
Cedars Jebel Ali International Hospital (04 881 4000)