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A comprehensive expats' guide to getting medical treatment in Dubai

A study by LinkedIn found that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — and in particular the city of Dubai — ranked as the world's most popular overseas destination for those looking for work. Dubai also tops the list for American citizens looking for work abroad. The expat community in Dubai is large and still growing.

Access to health care when moving abroad is one of the most important considerations. Many people move with their jobs, so health care is usually organised through their company. Others have to organise international private medical insurance (iPMI) themselves. And it's worth mentioning that many people who move abroad assume they'll be covered if they take out travel insurance, which is not always the case. Head here to read about the difference between travel insurance and iPMI.

Below are the essential steps to getting medical treatment in Dubai.

Public health care

Dubai has one of the best public health care systems in the world, offering a high standard of medical care in state-of-the-art facilities. The Dubai health service is run by the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), which oversees both public and private health care. Each of the four hospitals (Dubai, Rashid, Latifa and Hatta) has an emergency department, offering both inpatient and outpatient services. English is commonly spoken by staff.

Medical cards

To access services provided in medical facilities run by the government, you will need a UAE health card. You can apply for a card from the DHA online or visit a medical centre. You will need to provide your national ID number and passport details. You will also have to pay 320 AED, if you are 18 or older. Children under 10 pay 120 AED.

Tip: you may wish to apply for a health card even if you have health insurance, because your policy may not cover you for certain treatments.

Private healthcare

Despite having access to public hospitals and medical centres, many expats use private healthcare. Those with international private health insurance can choose from more than 130 facilities in Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC) alone — a modern complex offering advanced private health care across 150 different medical specialities.

Dubai also has a large private health centre specifically for children (KidsFIRST), including those with learning difficulties, special needs or disabilities.

Health insurance

It is now law for all Dubai residents to have health insurance cover. Legislation dictates that companies must provide their employees with a health insurance plan that includes at least a basic level of cover (defined by the government). Companies are not required to cover the cost of health insurance for employees’ families. Expat workers with families may therefore need to arrange protection for dependents and any domestic workers such as nannies, maids, cooks and drivers that they may employ. There is more information on compulsory medical insurance here.

Primary care

Dubai has no dedicated general practitioner (GP) surgeries. For non-urgent medical care and general outpatient consultations, you will need to visit a "family doctor" in a public or private hospital or medical centre, for both adults and children. This includes services such as vaccinations, gynaecology and antenatal clinics.

In many cases, doctors will see sick children without an appointment.

Emergency care

Public hospitals provide free emergency treatment to everyone and those who don't yet have a health card are issued provisional cards on arrival at the hospital emergency department Most medical emergencies are dealt with at Rashid Hospital. While private facilities also provide emergency treatment, this can be quite expensive without comprehensive health insurance.

Since the introduction of compulsory health insurance for residents, all hospitals accept health insurance cards, billing insurance companies for emergency services.

If you have a medical emergency at home, call 800-DOCTOR (800-362867), which is run by a private company recommended by the government.

Specialist care

In Dubai, you don't need a referral from a family doctor to see a specialist. You can choose one yourself at a public or private clinic. There are online services that can help you find specialists and make appointments at no cost.

Many people prefer to see a "family doctor" in the first instance, to take advantage of their professional opinion and recommendations before proceeding with any treatment.


Dubai has no shortage of pharmacies — many of which are open 24 hours – that dispense both over-the-counter and prescription medications. Like the rest of the UAE, Dubai has strict laws regarding pharmaceuticals so you may need a prescription for medications that are normally available over the counter in your country of origin. Check this list before flying to ensure you aren't bringing medication that is illegal into the country.

Maternity services

Expectant mothers should register with a hospital as soon as possible, and no later than the seventh month of pregnancy.

You will need a valid health card to register at a public hospital as well as passports for mother and father, and your marriage certificate as you must be legally married to give birth in Dubai. Twelve visits plus tests costs around 2,500 AED. Head to the Government of Dubai’s website for more information.

Dental care

Dental care is very expensive in Dubai and many expats fly home or elsewhere for treatment. If you can't or don’t want to fly home, dental insurance is a good solution and many providers provide international private medical insurance (iPMI) that covers dental treatment.

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