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Healthcare in Dubai and the UAE

In this guide on healthcare and health insurance in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the UAE we are covering how to find good local hospitals, discuss whether you need health insurance, and compare the cost of treatments and medications in the UAE to other countries.

World Class Hospitals

The governments of the UAE and Dubai are actively supporting the establishment of world-class healthcare facilities. On one hand, local governments want to provide their citizens easy access to world-leading health professionals and health infrastructure. On the other hand, the UAE, and Dubai in particular, are trying to attract international healthcare tourists from across the wider Middle East. Dubai even set up a dedicated website through its Dubai Health Authority agency to promote medical tourism to the city, easily allowing you to compare clinics and offers. Abu Dhabi operates a similar comparison website for its clinics and hospitals.

As part of the mission to bring world-class healthcare to the UAE, Abu Dhabi opened the prestigious Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi back in 2015, fully managed by the original world-leading Cleveland Clinic in the United States.

Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is among the most architecturally stunning in the world.

Shown here is the lobby of the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi

Located on Al Maryah Island, right next to the city’s luxurious Galleria Mall, the clinic resembles a five-star hotel more than a traditional hospital. 80% of the hospital's practitioners are US trained, with the remainder being European-trained and educated.

Better than many hotel rooms, a patient room at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi

Similarly, Dubai opened its King’s College London Hospital in Dubai Hills Estate in cooperation with the world-renown original London-based King’s College hospital.

Another spectacular Dubai hospital that looks more like a modern art museum from the exterior is Valiant Clinic Hospital in City Walk. Like the other hospitals featured in this article, Valiant Clinic covers all major traditional hospital departments but also specializes in less common areas such as plastic surgery, psychology, and speech therapy.

City Walk is conveniently located right next to Downtown Dubai with Burj Khalifa, Dubai's financial district DIFC and the beaches of Jumeirah.

Valiant Clinic in Dubai is centrally located

While treatments in these luxury hospitals obviously don't come cheap, they will still cost you less than in an average US hospital (which isn’t too difficult given the US’s notoriously overpriced health care services).

In the mid-market, you have hospital and clinic chains such as Mediclinic. Mediclinic hospitals and clinics can be found all over the UAE including a large branch right inside Dubai Mall, the world’s largest mall by total area. Similar to other healthcare chains, they specialize in everything from dental care to internal medicine.

Dubai Healthcare city is a large specialized neighborhood between Al Jaddaf and Bur Dubai, close to the city’s historic center and Dubai International Airport. As the name suggests, here you find a multitude of government and private hospitals as well as doctors' offices, large and small, for every imaginable healthcare niche.

As of 2023, Dubai has 52 licensed hospitals, 4400 licensed healthcare facilities, and more than 55,000 healthcare professionals working in the city.

Health Care Costs

In terms of healthcare pricing, treatments in the UAE cost significantly less than in the US, but generally speaking, outpatient treatments are still up to 25-50% more expensive than in Europe. If you have limited health insurance with high deductibles, it may end up cheaper to visit a private hospital in Europe (and pay in cash) than to stay in the UAE. While European healthcare is more affordable, European government-run hospitals tend to be overrun with patients, and as a result, foreigners and non-residents will have a hard time getting appointments. That's why as a UAE resident it is better to pay a small surcharge and get an appointment right away at one of Europe's private clinics. Even people with good UAE-based health insurance and wealthy Emiratis travel to the UK and Germany for specialized treatment as rare diseases require highly specialized doctors and machinery that are rarely found in smaller countries such as the UAE.

If you are smart about it, you may travel to Europe for treatment, and combine the trip with an extended vacation. What is not to love about that?

An excellent study of the International Federation of Health Plans reveals the stark cost differences for inpatient, outpatient, and drug costs in the US, UAE, and select other countries

As indicated above, outpatient treatment costs are significantly higher in the UAE than in many European countries such as Germany, see the below chart for reference. For more detailed cost comparisons by procedure please check out the original study here.

Outpatient treatment costs in the UAE are higher than in many other countries. Source: International Federation of Health Plans

Most highly qualified doctors located in the UAE are expats and work here because they earn more than in their home countries. These costs have to be covered by patients through higher doctor bills.

For less common in-patient procedures (i.e., involving overnight stay(s)), however, costs in the UAE are very competitive, and in some cases even cheaper than in Europe.

Inpatient treatment costs in the UAE are globally competitive. Source: International Federation of Health Plans

A major cost for inpatient treatments is the (overnight) hospitality component, and the UAE has always been world-leading in offering great hospitality at a good price. In-hospital hospitality services are expensive in the West due to high minimum wages and limited immigration by service workers. The UAE, which does not limit immigration and has no minimum wage, can compensate for higher doctor bills with cheaper overnight hospital costs.

In terms of drug prices, the UAE is again very competitive. Prices are much cheaper than in the US (no surprise there) and on par with countries that have socialized medicine.

Drug prices in the UAE are globally competitive. Source: International Federation of Health Plans

Many medications that are prescription only in the West can be bought in the UAE without a prescription. If you know how to treat your ailment, and you don't want to spend extra time and money getting a prescription from your doctor, Dubai is the place to be!

Health Insurance

Now let’s talk about health insurance. Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai require all local visa holders to have minimum health insurance. If you live here on an employment visa, your employer is responsible for providing you with local health insurance. If you obtain Dubai or Abu Dhabi residence through self-sponsorship, e.g., by opening a local company or buying property, you are responsible for organizing and paying for health insurance on your own.

If you have dependent family members such as a spouse or children who join you in the UAE, you are responsible for their health insurance. Employers are not required by law to provide insurance to your dependents, but some may do so anyways.

The most basic health insurance plans start at around 400AED, or USD100 per month. More comprehensive plans are readily available depending on your needs and expectations.

UAE health insurance providers are required by law to accept any applicant, even those with pre-existing conditions. You can compare the many healthcare providers and plans on comparison websites such as yallacompare and Policybazaar. Keep in mind that these platforms are merely a starting point and are best used to simply get an overview of the insurance providers available. Once you have found a plan, it may be cheaper to go directly to the health insurance company to sign up for insurance.

If you are residing in the UAE on a self-sponsored visa, depending on your willingness to travel, your age, and your general state of health, it will often come cheaper to simply go for the most affordable health insurance plan, and pay for most treatments out of pocket.

When Germany became the world's first country to make health insurance mandatory in 1914 for most employees, the focus was on the "insurance" part. Many people lacked funds to pay for unplanned healthcare expenses, for example in the case of an accident.

Originally, health insurance was not intended to pay for regular or minor health care expenses such as dental work, colds or the flu, eye care, and annual checkups.

Buying many of these non-emergency healthcare services through expensive insurance plans is less efficient as you need to indirectly pay for the employees, office space, and profits of health insurance companies.

As a result, going for just a basic UAE health insurance plan which only covers you in emergencies and in case rare, expensive treatments are necessary is usually the cheapest.

All other treatments such as dental work and eye care tend to be cheaper when paid out of pocket, especially if performed in Europe.

If you cover even the most basic expenses with your insurance, your premiums will eventually increase, as insurance companies don't want to lose money in the long run and have to cover significant management and administration charges on top of your treatment costs.

Paying for basic treatments by yourself also has the added advantage that you can choose any doctor or hospital without first making sure they work with your insurance provider.


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