Saturday, December 27, 2008

Health Care

My earlier post on medical insurance in Saudi Arabia evoked quite some interest among readers that I thought of writing another post on a related topic (please click here to read the earlier post).

The worst thing which could happen to an expatriate working in Saudi Arabia is to be out of work due to health reasons. Fortunately, the kingdom has invested heavily in health care. You would find some of the most modern medical equipment in the hospitals across Saudi Arabia.

Most doctors and nurses are expatriates. In fact, it is extremely rare to find a Saudi female nurse as the profession is not held in high esteem in Saudi society. While you do find some really good doctors in some hospitals, I have also come across some doctors who appear more to learn from the patients than making their diagnoses! It is impossible to generalize, but I would suggest you must choose your doctor by going by word of mouth rather than the name of the hospital. By the way, all hospitals are extremely clean and health care for all Saudi citizens is free of cost.

The cost of medicines is atrociously high and the joke doing the rounds is that if the treatment doesn't kill you, the price of medicines would! Thankfully, the Saudi Government has now made it mandatory on all employers to have a compulsory medical insurance for their employees. Most medicines are available only upon a doctor's prescription, other than common pain killers which are available even in supermarkets. All medicines must contain a pamphlet giving all the required information such as ingredients, dosage, indications, contra-indications and symptoms. Medicines are never sold in loose, which explains why the price is quite high.

Diabetes and kidney stones top the list of ailements affecting most expatriates. Respiratory problems like asthma, sinusitis , upper respiratory tract infections and skin problems are also very common. This is more due to the high levels of pollutions in major cities and industrial hubs. Every seasonal change is accompanied by severe sand storms when fine sand and dust simply engulf the atmosphere. Temperatures soar well above 50 degrees Centigrade during summer with humidity levels reaching almost 99%. Heat strokes are quite common due to extreme dehydration. In winter, several parts of the kingdom reach almost 0 degrees Centigrade and viral fever is quite common in this season.

Doctors can usually be reached by appointments, but usually they do not refuse patients who go directly without an appointment, though they may have to wait for some time. Alternative medication like homoeopathy, ayurveda and unani are not legally permitted and so are their medicines.

Dental treatment is prohibitively expensive and most insurance companies do not cover certain treatments such as bridges, crowns, etc., as they are considered as cosmetic. It is quite difficult to get immediate appointments from dentists and there is always a long queue of people waiting in all dental clinics. Top class equipments are available, but things could get complicated if the patient has a history of diabetes / blood pressure. Again, I would advise expatriates to postpone visits to the dentist and get themselves treated back home if practically possible.

It is not common for expatriates to use the ambulance services as in other countries. Ambulance services are usually handled by security services and primarily cater to emergencies like road accidents. It is more common for expatriates to make their own arrangements to go to the hospital. One of the first things an expatriate needs to do upon arriving in the kingdom is to note down the number of the nearby hospitals, emergency services and taxi companies. Believe me, you never know when they would come in handy.

Finally, as the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. So, here's wishing all of you a healthy stay in the kingdom!


Frank said...

Great post, Expatguru. You seem to be a treasure-house of information. Keep up the good work!

Asher said...


Someone i know had come on a multiple entry business visit visa to KSA, he subsequently extended his visa and went back to India for a while. However, on extension the visa becomes single entry and he wasnt aware of that and tried to return to KSA on the same visa.

However on return he was sent back to india from airport since his visa had become single entry. Now, hes coming back on a Work visa, would he face any problems on return?



Expatguru said...


There should be no problem at all. Saudi immigration authorities treat each on a case to case basis. His arrival on a fresh visa would automatically cancel all previous visas from the system, whether single or multiple entry. In other words, at any point of time a person can come to the kingdom only on a particular category of visa and all other visas issued previously get automatically cancelled. said...

Expat Guru,

A good post but I wish to provide some clarifications... I'm sorry to say that not all Saudi hospitals are clean and provide quality care. The majority do but there are some one should avoid...many of these are sadly Ministry of Health associated facilities. Private hospitals and hospitals associated with large institutions overall have very good reputations.

Please check out an article which appeared in Arab News this week written by Tariq Al Meaana which describes experiences at King Khalid University Hospital.

Secondly if one (expat or Saudi) chooses to use an ambulance service, the ambulances in the Kingdom will take one to the nearest hospital which may not be the hospital one prefers to go to. And you're right...due to the Riyadh traffic and timeliness involved, most people do choose to get themselves to a hospital.

Again, another great post and glad your blog is here!

American Bedu

Expatguru said...

American Bedu,

Thanks for your comments. You are absolutely right, one can't say the same about cleanliness about a few MOH-run facilities, but I was actually having expats in my mind, who normally don't visit such hospitals, when I wrote this piece.

The fact that a lot of Arabs prefer to visit hospitals in the subcontinent or in the Americas for certain specialized treatments is itself proof that there is a lot to improve upon. This has led to the coinage of a new term - "Medical Tourism"!

Anonymous said...

HI. I would like to ask about getting my son as dependent.My husband holds a labor visa and i am have a dental assistant visa.. Can i get my son to be with us?
Thank you...

Expatguru said...


It is impossible to get your son as long as your husband is on a labor visa. Try to get his profession in the iqama changed to a supervisory category.

PB said...

Dear Expatguru,
I have got an offer in cristalglobal company Yanbu in Saudi arabia. Designation is mechanical inspection superintendent. Basic Salary is 10000 S.R per month + Company provided housing (2800 SR per month) + 900 SR as transportation facility + Bonus as per company law + Standard facilities like medical, yearly airfare etc. is it a good salary to join with ? please help.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your reply..This is really abig help.
how about on my visa? as dental assistant.. can i get my son?

Expatguru said...


As a policy I don't comment on whether an offer is 'good' or 'bad'. It is totally upto the individual. However, you must take care of the following:

1. Check for the reputation of the company - do they pay salaries on time, etc.

2. Check for the profession mentioned in the visa - you could be working as a General Manager, but if your visa is mentioned as "Labor", then you cannot even bring your family.

3. Calculate whether you will be really able to save up to whatever your expectations are.

Good luck!

Expatguru said...


You must check whether you are entitled for family status. This depdends on your contract terms and conditions with your employer. This would decide whether you can bring your son or not.

PB said...

thanks for your comment. but i really do not understand how to check the reputation of the company. as far as the net surfing is concerned i have only got the information related to company's business...about work culture i have no information at all.......can u give some idea about the low profile living cost in yanbu ?
thanks once again.....

Expatguru said...


Such information is never obtained online. It is only by word of mouth from friends who have worked there or are still there. If you have nobody, it is quite a difficult decision.

sajid said...

dear sir

please give me the information about the on-arrival visa for kuwait. i am planning to go to kuwait with family from jubail by road with my own car. my profession is mechanical technician. my saudi driving license is enough to drive in kuwait? what are the procedure for getting visa? what are the documents i have to carry with me? please give me such details immediately as i am planning to go by 15th January.

With best regards


Expatguru said...


You may not eligible to enter Kuwait for visiting on a technician visa, but you can try your luck. Even with an engineer visa, I myself have faced problems with Kuwaiti immigration when I travelled by road via Khafji. The Kuwaitis make very unreasonable demands - once they wanted both the original iqama as well as the passport. Even though I was having the photocopy of the iqama with the rubber stamp of my sponsor, they did not accept it. When I told them that my sponsor would give me my passport only if I surrender the iqama, they did not accept it. I thought Saudi Arabia was the difficult country, until I encountered the Kuwaitis. Really bad experience for me.

Try to get a tourist visa from Kuwait Airways office. Things become much simpler, in that case. If you want to try your luck for getting a visa on arrival, go ahead, but be prepared to be turned back. My guess is that it may be very difficult.

I will now describe the procedure. Convert some Riyals into Kuwaiti Dinars. Make sure that you have three notes of one Kuwaiti Dinar (total 3 KD) for each of your family members. Remember, unlike in Bahrain, Saudi riyals are not accepted in Kuwait (except in big malls, where the exchange rate is very unfavourable).

When you cross Khafji customs and enter Kuwait, as soon as you cross the checkpost gate, take a left turn and park your car. (I will tell you why you have to do this later). There are no sign boards, no help , no nothing, so just do as I have described here. Walk straight towards the visa office building.When you enter Kuwaiti immigration, you have to show your passport and iqama photocopy (make sure it has the original rubber stamp from your sponsor along with his signature and date in Arabic).

Try your luck. If the mood of the Kuwaiti is good, then he will give you a form which you have to fill in Arabic. Otherwise, he may just send you back. Do not even try to reason with him if he rejects your entry. They are very abusive idiots and quite arrogant too. There is an automated machine (just like the Pepsi machines we have here). You have to insert the 1 KD note one by one into the machine. After inserting the three 1 KD notes, the machine will spit out a coupon. You have to do this for each person of your family. If you insert a 5 KD note, you will not get back the change! That's why I told you to take three 1 KD notes for each person in your family.

You have to then take this coupon and stick it in the form which the Kuwaiti immigration guy gave you. Everything in the form will be in Arabic, so if you cannot speak Arabic, you really had it. They are extremely unfriendly and arrogant people and very uncooperative.

The whole process will take about 45 minutes to 1 hour (excluding prayer times), so you have to be very patient. Finally, if you have got the visa paper, walk back towards your car. Remember, I told you not to take your car and park it near the checkpost. The reason is that when you take your car, you will have to pay an insurance fee. Since you still do not know whether you will be given a visa or not, this amount will be a waste if your application is rejected.

Thankfully, in the insurance office they accept Saudi Riyals. Pay the amount, show this paper to the guy in the checkpost and drive into Kuwait City, which will take another 1 hour.

Good luck!

sajid said...

Thanks for your reply.. it is very useful for me

if i try my luck, entire family re-entry will become useless. i hope i cannot use that later. am i correct?

thanks once again


Expatguru said...


Yes, you are absolutely right.

Anonymous said...

Cool man

Faizan said...

ExpatGuru, great blog. Congratulations.

One quick question - one prospective employer I'm talking to is providing medical insurance for only two kids. If I have to take private insurance for the third, do you know how much does an average medical insurance cost? Also, will the employer include the third child in his plan if the cost is incurred by me?

Expatguru said...


Please fill in your query in the form using the link in the top right corner of this blog. I charge a nominal fee for my consultancy, which would get you a detailed, personalized reply by email.

Anonymous said...

Hi Expat Guru,

I have got an offer of a faculty position at KFUPM. I am diabetic (Have Diabetic type 2) and is currently controlled/managed. Would there be any problems in getting the Saudi work Visa? Do I need any precautions? I still have sometime before the Visa process starts. Also do we have to do the medical each time I renew my two years contract with the KFUPM?

Expatguru said...


Please fill in your query in the form using the link in the top right corner of this blog. I charge a nominal fee for my consultancy, which would get you a detailed, personalized reply by email.

Anonymous said...

Could you please tell me that how much tax is cut when we transfer money from saudi to india?