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South Africa Health Insurance

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If you are planning to move or travel to South Africa, you may have concerns and questions regarding how their healthcare system works, as well as whether private health insurance in South Africa is needed. This brief guide provides information about South Africa, its healthcare system, and further outlines the key health insurance options available in the country. Read on to discover more, or click below to obtain a no-obligation, free quote.

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About South Africa

South Africa is renowned the world over for its varied topography, amazing natural beauty, and cultural diversity. Below are some quick facts that are worth knowing. 


South Africa is located on the southern tip of the African continent and has a total surface area of 1.22 million km2. The country shares a border with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and encloses both Swaziland and Lesotho. South Africa has over 2,700 km of coastline that faces both the Atlantic Ocean on the west coast and the Indian Ocean on the east coast. The country is divided into 9 provinces: the Northern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and the North West. 

Weather and climate

South Africa enjoys a temperate and pleasant climate. The seasons of the southern hemisphere are opposite to those in the northern hemisphere. This means that summer runs from November to February when most of the country experiences warm to hot weather.

Population and diversity

South Africa is home to a multicultural melting pot of 55 million people of diverse origins, cultures, languages, and religions. There are 11 officially recognized languages, most of which are indigenous to South Africa. However, English is the most widely spoken language in the country. Thus, seeking help and assistance for a check-up or medical emergency isn’t hard if you are a traveler, expat, or visitor to the country. The majority of the country’s population are residents in one of its three capitals: Cape Town, Pretoria, and Bloemfontein. 

The healthcare system in South Africa

South Africa has a two-tier healthcare system with a large subsidized public sector and a small, yet very high quality, private sector. With far more funding and roughly 79% of doctors going to the private sector, there is a massive gap between public and private healthcare facilities around much of the country. Although the cost of healthcare in the public sector is reduced for the lowest earners, it is still advisable for travelers, visitors, and long-term expats to secure an international health insurance plan.

Global healthcare ranking

According to the 2020 Mid-Year Global Healthcare Index, South Africa ranks 48th out of 93 countries. When compared to other African countries, it is the highest-ranked. According to 2018 figures, life expectancy is 61.1 years for men and 67.3 years for women (below the global averages of 67 years and 71.1 years respectively). Its infant mortality rate has declined to 36.4 per 1,000 live births. This is above the World Health Organization (WHO) global average of 29 per 1,000 births.

The public healthcare system in South Africa

In South Africa, everyone can access the public healthcare system, regardless of nationality or immigration status. However, it is important to take note that the public system is designed to help support those that are low-income earners or cannot afford to secure private health insurance. In general, expat residents tend to take out a private insurance policy so that they can access the best healthcare services available in the country. 

Public hospitals in South Africa

Most of South Africa’s hospitals are public hospitals and offer a range of basic to life-saving medical treatments. However, these tend to be overcrowded, under-resourced, under-trained, and understaffed, with exceptionally long waiting times. The standard of medical care in public hospitals can range from acceptable to very low, and is often plagued by problems such as outdated or broken equipment and medication supply shortages.

The best public hospitals are usually academic hospitals associated with the country’s major universities. However, although these hospitals offer a generally better standard of care, waiting times for everything from a simple consultation to a major life-saving surgery are deemed extremely long.

The private healthcare system in South Africa

South Africa has an extensive network of private doctors, specialists, hospitals, and clinics. Around 79% of doctors in South Africa work privately. There are also around 200 private hospitals across the country. Two of the biggest private providers are Netcare and Mediclinic, which run many hospitals. Private hospital care in South Africa is of a similar standard and price to many western countries like the UK, France, and Germany. If you are covered for hospital treatment through a private insurance plan, it is wise to check the network of doctors, hospitals, and clinics that you can attend for medical care. Contacting an advisor at Pacific Prime can help with any doubts and concerns. 

How to register for healthcare in South Africa as an expat

The good news for expats and travelers in South Africa is that registering for public healthcare in South Africa involves less paperwork than in many western countries. If you are a current resident, you can easily sign up at a local doctor’s surgery by filling out a form and providing your address, personal ID such as a passport, and proof of South African residency.

On the other hand, if you want to access private healthcare services, or are not entitled to the public health system, you can register with a private doctor and use private facilities such as hospitals and specialist services if you can show proof of private health insurance coverage. You can find out more by speaking to an advisor at Pacific Prime.

What to do in an emergency in South Africa

If you need to contact the emergency services, you can call 112 from any mobile phone. Some private healthcare providers also have their own emergency phone numbers.

Other useful emergency numbers include:

  • 10111 – Nationwide emergency response
  • 10177 – Ambulance response

Recommended immunizations for travelers and expats

According to the CDC, you should be up to date on routine vaccinations, which include the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and the yearly flu shot. Speak to your local doctor or travel health specialist on tropical diseases before you travel.

Medical evacuation cover 

For those that are considering private health insurance, it is wise to talk to an advisor about medical evacuation cover. Securing medical evacuation cover will ensure effective management of medical treatment during emergencies. 

To learn more about this type of cover, download our free medical evacuation guide.

How to find the best private health insurance in South Africa

There are many insurance options available in South Africa, which is why it can be a challenging task to find the best private health insurance policy. One of the best decisions travelers and expats can make is to consult an experienced insurance broker like Pacific Prime.

Contact us today to secure the best insurance solution with the help of consultants that provide impartial advice and support.

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