An expat guide to healthcare and health insurance in Brazil
Are you researching an expat health insurance for Brazil? It is important to learn about the local healthcare system first.
Whether you are moving to Brazil or you are already living there as an expat, read our guide to the Brazilian healthcare system, your different options of medical insurance for Brazil and an overview of the average cost of local healthcare.
- Total population (2017): 209.3 million
- Gross national income per capita (PPP international $, 2017): 15,160
- Life expectancy at birth m/f (years, 2016): 71/79
- Probability of dying between 15 and 60 years m/f (per 1 000 population, 2016): 194/91
- Total expenditure on health per capita (Intl $, 2014): 1,318
- Total expenditure on health as % of GDP (2014): 8.3
Healthcare in Brazil for expats
The healthcare system is a great source of pride in Brazil, whose universality and free of charge service is written into the constitution. However, the system is often under-financed and this can impact the quality of the services. Opposite this, the private healthcare system offers high quality care, but often at a high price. It is therefore advisable to subscribe to a private health insurance for Brazil in order to be able to use the private system and be reimbursed for your costs.
The Brazilian public healthcare system is called the « Sistema Unico de Saude » (SUS). It is open to Brazilians as well as foreign residents.
While developing the SUS in the 1980s, Brazil made giants strides in progress when looking to cover its 199 million residents. With the SUS, all care is free: GP consultation, lab tests/diagnostic tests, hospitalisation, surgery and even prescribed medicines. This is the strong point of the Brazilian healthcare system.
Furthermore, on top of the network of public medical establishments available, the SUS also relies heavily on the private sector. Over half of the procedures carried out are carried out by private hospitals, who are then reimbursed by the state. Moreover, many of the SUS doctors also work in the private sector – similarly to in the United Kingdom where many NHS doctors also work in the private sector.
The problem with the SUS is therefore not the quality of the care itself, but the access to the care.
The limits of the Brazilian public healthcare system
- The medical and hospital infrastructures are often concentrated within urban areas and these are often insufficient in rural areas (60% of the hospitals are situates in the south or the south-east of the country).
- In the provincial cities, hospitals do not necessarily have all the necessary equipment or the specialised doctors to treat certain conditions.
- The hospitals in the big cities have much more equipment and specialised consultants; however these hospitals are often over-subscribed as patients are sent there from all over the country to be treated. As such, waiting lists can be very long for certain treatments or for certain operations (many months, even up to two years).
- Some hospitals are understaffed or lack air-conditioning (which can be a major problem in a country as hot as Brazil).
Generally, the A&E system tends to be efficient. What can be a problem is access to the treatment for non-urgent conditions.
Due to the difficulties faced by the public healthcare system, the use of the private sector (In Brazil or abroad) has grown tremendously. Today, around 25% of the Brazilian population have private medical insurance. In comparison to other countries offering a public health service, with private medical insurance as an optional additional form of care, this figure is very high.
The private healthcare system
The contrast between the public and private sectors is stark. While the public sector is struggling, the private hospitals and clinics are excelling, offering a quality of care which is equivalent or even superior to European or North American standard. The best hospitals are internationally recognised, with state of the art equipment and highly qualified doctors, often trained in the States.
This has led Brazil to becoming a centre of medical tourism for residents from neighbouring countries, especially Sao Paulo which has the highest concentration of high quality hospitals.
You can cover yourself in 4 different ways:
- Medical plans (planos de saúde)
This is a group medical insurance where the treatment is provided by doctors and medical establishments which are approved by the insurance company. These plans offer good value for money, but are limited to a geographic zone of cover and a network of doctors/medical centres.
- Brazilian private medical insurance
There are around 15 insurance companies authorised to offer their products within Brazil. The difference between these and a « planos de saude » is the fact that there is no restrictive geographic zone of cover or network.
- Self-management plans
Some companies will arrange a contract directly with certain hospitals and doctors in order to manage the health cover of their employees.
- Medical cooperatives
These represent groups of doctors who own a hospital: members would be covered by these doctors/medical establishments.
International health insurance for expats in Brazil
An international health insurance for Brazil is often a better option for expats than a local health plan. It offers you the freedom of your choice of doctors or medical centre, and the possibility of being covered internationally. If you prefer to be treated in your home country or in another country within your zone of cover your medical costs will be reimbursed by your insurance company (within the limits of your policy). Moreover, if you leave Brazil and move elsewhere your international insurance may be able to follow you.
It is always important that your medical insurance complies with local legislation.
What is the best health insurance for expats in Brazil
The best health insurance in Brazil for one expat might not be the best for you as everyone has different needs and expectations.
In order to find which one is the best health insurance in Brazil for you, it is important to consider several aspects such as your medical history, your age, your specific needs in terms of medical cover, your situation in Brazil, alongside other parameters.
How much does healthcare cost in Brazil
As the public healthcare system is free the costs below are representative of the costs within the private sector.
As a general rule, private medical costs are quite high in Brazil. They have also greatly increased over the past several years; from 2009, private hospitals operating with standards similar to those found in the States and in Europe increased their costs between 20% and 30%. This means that today Brazil is the country with the most expensive private healthcare system in Latin America.
In regards to a consultation with a GP or a specialist, the fees are set individually and they can vary depending on a number of factors: the urgency and time of the consultation, the qualifications of the doctor, their reputation, and also the area or the place where the surgery is located.
Average costs in 3 large cities:
Brasilia : The cost of a consultation with a GP can vary between 120 R$ and 500 R$ (£25 – £100/ $31 – $130). A consultation alone costs around 150 R$ (£30/ $40). In a private clinic, a routine surgical procedure with no complications can cost between 7,600 R$ and 18000 R$ (£1,500 – £3,700 / $2,000 – $4,700). The cost of a day in hospital is generally around 9,000 R$ (£1,800 /$2,300). (This does not include treatment or tests. Therefore for a cancer, for example, the cost will be much higher).
Rio de Janeiro : A consultation with a GP is often around 200 R$ to 250 R$ (£40– £50 / $50 – $65), with a specialist it would be around 350 R$ – 400 R$ (£70– £80 / $90 – $100).
Sao Paulo : A consultation in a surgery is usually around 210 R$ (£43 / $55) for and GP and 280 R$ (£58/ $72) for a specialist. A consultation with a dentist tends to cost around 150 R$ (£30/ $40). A simple surgical procedure can cost between £2,200 and £4,370 ($2,780 – $5,530) and the cost of a day in hospital can be between £365 and £730 ($460 – $925), not including any treatment or tests.
*Exchange rate December 2018
Such as with any type of health insurance, the price of a medical insurance for expats in Brazil varies greatly depending on the personal situation, the age, the medical history of each individual as well as other parameters. If you would like to have an idea of the cost of private health insurance for Brazil, we can prepare for you a personalised comparison of different international health insurance plans. Contact us today for your free health insurance comparison.
Such as with any type of health insurance, the price of a medical insurance for expats in Brazil varies greatly depending on the personal situation, the age, the medical history of each individual as well as other parameters.
If you would like to have an idea of the cost of private health insurance for Brazil, we can prepare for you a personalised comparison of different international health insurance plans. Contact us today for your free health insurance comparison.
Be sure to have your immunization schedule up-to-date (diphtheria/tetanus/polio). Other vaccinations also recommended by the NHS Fit-For-Travel website as well as the Pasteur Institute are cholera, hepatitis A and B, rabies, tetanus, typhoid, and yellow fever. Please see the NHS Fit-for-Travel website for more information.
Fire brigade: 193
Please note: Many private hospitals have their own ambulance service. Contact them directly if you require their services.
Gov.uk Travel Advice
British Embassy – Brasilia
British Consulate General – Sao Paulo
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