This may not be the most exciting topic for many people, but I think it’s one of the most important factors that people should consider when thinking about moving to another country.
Let’s face it, you will eventually get sick in Taiwan. Hopefully when you do get sick it will just be something minor like the flu, but even if it is (or if it’s something more serious), it’s important to know whether you’ll receive good healthcare while living in Taiwan.
To put it simply, Taiwan’s healthcare system is very good, cheap and relatively English friendly (i.e. the vast majority of doctors speak English well enough to discuss health related issues). Most people that you ask about healthcare while living in Taiwan will have very positive things to say about their experiences with doctors and also dentists.
In this post I’ll cover the basics of the healthcare system, when/how to see a doctor, and how much it costs.
Basic overview on healthcare in Taiwan
Taiwan has a single payer universal healthcare system called the National Health Insurance (NHI). Foreigners that are here to work (and some students) either in teaching or in other jobs are required to get it.
Once you have a work permit and ARC, your company will apply on your behalf for the NHI and you will receive a card from them a few weeks later (you are covered by the NHI from the official date you begin working at your company and can be reimbursed if you haven’t received your card.
Note: If you get sick before you get your card, you will have to pay the full price upfront to see the doctor, so make sure to save the doctor’s receipt(s) and contact the NHI for further information (they have English speakers that can help you if you call) so that you can reimbursed.
There is a monthly fee for the NHI and your company will pay for a portion of the fee (about 2/3), while you are responsible for paying the rest (it should be deducted out of your paycheck each month). The amount you pay is based on your salary level, but for example most English teachers and other people at that salary level will pay around $1,100nt ($37 USD). Yes, you read that right, the cost for monthly health insurance is only $37 USD/month!
Cost and quality of seeing a doctor in Taiwan
Many people wrongly assume that the reason the monthly fee is so cheap is because:
A) it must cost a lot to see the doctor, or
B) the system isn’t very good.
First, visits to doctors and dentists are not only very cheap (just $150NT or $5USD), but so are more serious visits to hospitals (I know someone who had a serious illness that required a two week stay in the hospital with lots of medication and paid around $400 USD total). Some examples of expenses I’ve paid are below:
- Seriously sprained ankle: $40 USD for hospital visit along with x-rays, medication and a follow up visit.
- Root canal: $5 USD for the actual root canal (Note: the crown itself isn’t covered and I paid around $300 USD for that; however, even with this extra cost it was far less than what I paid in the US even with dental insurance).
- Bronchitis: $15 USD (required three visits with all medication included)
Second, while not perfect (and no healthcare system is), the Taiwan National Health Insurance is a very good system with highly skilled doctors. Many doctors are western trained at top medical schools in the US and Europe, or graduate from very good schools in Taiwan.
All of them learn medical terms in English, so their understanding of English medical jargon is usually very good, which is great for foreigners who don’t understand Chinese.
What’s it like to see a doctor?
Unlike the US and many other countries, you don’t need to schedule an appointment to see a general practitioner. Seeing a doctor is incredibly convenient and all you need to do is show up during their opening hours, which for most doctors is something like 9-12pm in the morning, 2-5pm in the afternoon and 6-9pm in the evening (they are taking lunch/dinner breaks during the times the offices are closed).
Another convenient thing is that there are doctors offices on nearly every major street and if you live in a city or urban area, you can easily find one within a few minutes of where you live or work (I find it far easier and faster to see a doctor in Taiwan than I ever did in the US).
When you arrive at a doctor’s office you’ll give the receptionist your NHI card and then you’ll get a number and wait until it’s called (generally you’ll need to wait between 5-30 minutes depending on busy it is). Your number will get called and then you go into the doctor’s office and discuss your problems. 99% of the time they will listen to you and then prescribe you some medicine, which is included in the cost of seeing the doctor (the offices have pharmacies attached to them and you can conveniently pick up your prescription there).
For more serious problems that need a specialist, hospitals are generally the best places to go and all the different departments at a hospital will have outpatient hours (see example of National Taiwan University Hospital).
Unlike the US where you first need to see your general practitioner who will then refer you to a specialist, in Taiwan you are welcome to set up a specialist visit yourself.
To set up an appointment with a specialist, you can have a Chinese speaking person assist you and do it online, or you can go to the hospital yourself and usually find an English speaking person to help you (generally you can see the specialist within a couple of days). You will get a number (just like at a regular doctor’s office) and have to go during a specific time period (i.e. 9-12pm). These visits are more expensive than a regular doctor, but they are still very reasonable (i.e. around $10-30 USD for most things including medication.
Finally, for emergency situations, Taiwan has very good care and the best places to go are hospitals ERs. You may have to wait a little while to see a doctor if your issue isn’t life threatening (just like the US and many other countries), but a doctor will eventually see you.
I went to the ER when I seriously sprained my ankle and was seen by a nurse right away who took me to do x-rays, and then I was seen by a doctor about 30 minutes later. Most people I know who have had emergencies report pretty good care as well. Just look at Tim’s experience when he fractured his hip.
Wrap up on what to expect if you get sick in Taiwan
The key takeaway for most people is that Taiwan provides very good health coverage at affordable rates. Hopefully you won’t get seriously sick during your time abroad, but if you do, Taiwan can be one of the best places in the world to receive high-quality affordable healthcare. Working and living in Taiwan can be a really fun adventure, and it’s great to know healthcare isn’t something you actively need to worry about while living here.
Note: Chinese Medicine is also covered by the National Health Insurance, which is radically different than western medicine. We will definitely cover Chinese Medicine in a post soon.