The costs of healthcare around the world

What is considered an easy, inexpensive procedure in your home country may come as a whooping bill in your host country. From minor accidents to prescription drugs, let’s take a look at how much is paid for healthcare around the world.

Who pays the most?

If you guessed the US would make it to the top of the list, you are right. Even when compared to other high-income countries, Americans are number one in health spending.

The average US worker pays around $5000- $8000 a year for healthcare. Perhaps more surprisingly, the US government invests over $10000 per person in healthcare. Wealthy Switzerland comes in second, at $8000 per individual paid by the state.

What explains this difference? Among other reasons, this has a lot to do with administrative and drug costs. Differences in health expenditure are also linked to what is known as defensive medicine: many doctors fear being sued, so they test patients many times and suggest treatments that better protect them as professionals even if they are not the most recommendable option for the patient. This often means overtreatment, which results in higher costs.

Is healthcare more expensive in high-income countries?

Not necessarily. Though it is true that high salaries mean higher expenditure, the efficiency of the system and the quality of public healthcare can play a big role.

It is not always easy to predict the price of a procedure by looking at the welfare standards of a country: a heart bypass is a bit over a thousand dollars in Luxembourg, while a joint replacement in Italy can cost an arm and a leg (around $50000)!

In terms of the quality of the service, check how the country you are moving to ranks, as you may be surprised. The WHO has ranked Morocco’s healthcare above New Zealand’s, and some of the Gulf countries rank better than some European locations. Check the latest rankings and have a look at our country guides to get a good idea of how health works in your new destination.

No matter where you go, think about the following before boarding.

Brush your teeth

If you haven’t heard of it, dental tourism is a thing. Romania, India and Spain are popular places to go sightseeing while getting your smile fixed.

A root canal in Spain, for example, costs as little as $170, while in Australia the average cost is $1300. Since dental care isn’t covered by many countries’ insurance schemes, even those that have universal health coverage, it is a good idea to research options in your new country before moving.

Watch your step

When traveling abroad, the question of what to do if you break a bone may be the last thing on your mind, but you can never be too prepared.

Though treatment for these kinds of accidents can be expensive overall, some countries are especially pricey. In Hong Kong, you can expect to spend up to $8000 for fixing a broken ankle. For comparison, in Canada, the average cost for this treatment is $2000.

In some countries, a night at the hospital can cost you more than a week at a 5-star hotel. This is the case for Qatar, where the average cost of a hospital bed is $1,280. By contrast, in Italy you can expect to pay around $600.

Pack your pills

When it comes to prescription drugs, the US is again an outlier. The lack of regulation in the pharmaceutical industry has created soaring prices for everyday medicines.

Americans now spend over $1000 on drugs each year, more than in any other country (and no, they aren’t just taking more pills). To give you an idea, Dexilant, a common drug prescribed for heartburn, costs $10.46 in the US. Go a little north and you’ll find it for a fraction of the cost ($2.78) in Canada.

Over the counter drugs can be expensive too, but going for the generic brand is a good way to save money. Generic brands have the same active ingredients as brand name drugs, and you can usually tell if they are generic if the first letter isn’t capitalized.  If you are taking any prescribed medication, ask your doctor about your treatment before packing: some drugs take different formats or names across the world, and some over-the-counter medicines can be prescription-only or hard to find in your host country.

Or simply, get travel insurance

If you are traveling or moving to a new country without health insurance, you could ramp up some hefty costs. While no one wants to think they are going to get sick or injured while abroad, it is definitely something to consider. If you don’t want to risk lengthy hospital bills, purchasing travel insurance can be a cheap, worthwhile option.

The cost of travel insurance will depend on where you’re going, the activities you’ll be doing, and how long you’ll be there. A full week of coverage could cost as low as $5 or as high as $100. If you have pre-existing health conditions or fall into an older age group, you may have to pay a higher price. Some companies also offer multi-trip annual rates so you don’t have to purchase insurance every time you travel.

Figuring out the ins and outs of a country’s healthcare system can feel like a daunting task. But knowing how much you should expect to pay and what the most popular options are will give you a head start in your move.