Your guide to health insurance in Serbia
Looking to move to Serbia? This small, landlocked nation borders numerous countries, including Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia. Divided into 150 municipalities and 24 cities, here, each regional division has a local self-government. Serbia is home to many national parks and renowned spas. You may also sightsee at its eight UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Curious about the healthcare system in this historic country? In this brief overview, we’ll go over the nuts and bolts of the Serbian healthcare system, as well as your health insurance options here.
Serbia provides universal healthcare to all its citizens and permanent residents. However, the quality of care in Serbian medical facilities remains subpar. In this section, we’ll give you a brief overview of the public and private healthcare systems.
Public healthcare system
The National Health Insurance Fund (HIF) covers all citizens and permanent residents. All residents are required to make mandatory contributions to the HIF. This is how the Serbian government manages and facilitates health services. The HIF covers a wide range of medical services such as specialist treatment, hospitalization, prescriptions, and more.
Who needs to contribute to the HIF?
All employees, self-employed persons, pensioners must pay contributions to the state insurance. Employers and employees together share the obligation to contribute to the HIF. This also includes expats like yourself. Remember to check with your employer how your health insurance is regulated when you arrive.
How much you need to pay is based on a sliding scale - the wealthier you are, the higher the percentage of your income you have to pay. Naturally, your dependent family members are also covered by your contributions. Are you self-employed? In this case, you must pay in full. On the other hand, the underprivileged members of the Serbian society are exempted from payment. This includes the unemployed, elderly, certain chronic illness patients, and pregnant women on their maternity leave.
Note: Expats without a job in Serbia must provide proof of private health insurance to obtain a residence permit.
Cost of treatment
You must pay for your own medical costs unless your insurance (private or state) covers the treatment. Alternatively, your insurance is included under the bilateral health insurance treaty between your home country and Serbia.
Here is a list of all countries with bilateral health insurance treaty with Serbia:
- Healthcare expenses are covered for citizens of Austria, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Macedonia and the Netherlands
- Switzerland and Scandinavia citizens may apply for reimbursement of any expenses incurred in Serbia
- Health care expenses are covered in the country where a person temporarily resides for citizens of Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and UK citizens' .
Of course, emergency care is free for all citizens, expats, and visitors. Doctor’s services, on the other hand, are not. Visits to hospitals generally require cash payments upfront.
Types of medical facilities
Despite funding from the HIF, the Serbian healthcare system remains severely underfunded. You might find outdated equipment at most medical facilities. In 2020, however, the EU has offered 250 million euros for the reconstruction and construction of 20 large hospitals across Serbia. As a result, you might find some improvements if you are traveling to Serbia after.
Health centers and health stations
Aside from hospitals, Serbia also has health centers with their own smaller health stations. These facilities offer care in general medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, occupational medicine, and more. Despite the lack of state-of-the-art equipment, the doctors and nurses are capable here.
You can find two types of pharmacies in Serbia: state-owned or private. However, there is usually a shortage of medical supplies in the former, and only basic medications are sold in the latter. In Serbia, a prescription can only come from a doctor or a specialist.
Corruption within the healthcare system
Corruption is also a serious problem in Serbia because doctors have a very low salary. So, it’s not uncommon to see doctors and nurses demand bribes in exchange for better treatment. Most medical staff who have completed a higher level of specialized training are either unemployed or have immigrated to other countries. Thus, you might have trouble finding a highly qualified doctor while in Serbia, or will have to pay a large sum when you do.
There are few, if any, private health clinics available. Yet, the ones that do exist are extremely expensive. In fact, most Serbians cannot afford treatments at private hospitals. Most hospitals also require an upfront payment.
The Serbian Health Insurance Act states that all foreign citizens working for foreign or local companies in Serbia are covered by state health insurance. Still, a majority of expats opt for private health insurance. With a good insurance plan, doctors’ visits, blood tests, and medication are all relatively cheap and accessible even in private hospitals.
What you need to know before traveling to Serbia
Before embarking on your journey to Serbia, there are a few things you should know. Serbia is shaped by history and rife with present-day conflicts. After Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, relations between the two areas have been very strained. To put it simply, Serbia doesn't recognize Kosovo's independence. This tension results in frequent demonstrations and protests in large cities like Belgrade.
To keep safe, there are two things you should be aware of:
- Protests usually occur around the national parliament and the presidential palace.
- Avoid engaging in discussions about the Serbia-Kosovo issue - a sensitive topic that may lead to violence. Note that American citizens are especially at risk on March 24, the anniversary date of the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999.
Be aware that areas frequented by expatriates are always at risk of a potential terrorist attack. Night clubs, for example, are often sites of violent attacks.
Health risks of traveling to Serbia
Unfortunately, NATO bombings in 1999 left enduring and detrimental effects on the country, harming both humans and the environment as the soil, air, and water-soaked up toxic chemicals released from the factories that were targeted in the bombings, and even left unexploded material in some mountainous areas in Kosovo.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of health risks you may be exposed to in Serbia:
- Air pollution
- Tick-borne encephalitis
- Avian Flu
- Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever
- West Nile Fever
Protect yourself with private health insurance
Whether you are entitled to Serbia’s state healthcare system or simply prefer an alternative, you should secure an international private health insurance plan. The healthcare system in Iceland is of high-quality and easily-accessible, but only if you live in the city.
We would also recommend an insurance plan that covers your repatriation costs. If you are injured, you may want to receive the best care for your condition outside of the country. In most cases, the cost to transfer you back home can be incredibly steep!
Pacific Prime has over two decades of experience as brokers in the insurance industry. We are committed to finding the perfect health insurance plan to suit your budget and needs. Most importantly, our highly-trained experts provide free quotations, leverage our close partnerships with all major insurers, and have an extensive portfolio that consists of all the best plans. Contact us today so we can help!