An introduction to the Hong Kong health system

27 August 2018

Hong Kong is a bustling, vibrant city that many expats choose to call home. Its six million people are renowned for being one of the healthiest populations in the world, with their long life expectancies and Hong Kong’s reliable healthcare services speaking for themselves. If you’re heading to Hong Kong to live, you’ll want to make sure you understand the health system – and that’s what this guide is all about.

Don’t forget that Hong Kong’s health system acts independently of China’s, and there are a number of key differences between them. If you’re travelling outside of Hong Kong while living there, take a look at our introduction to healthcare in China.

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Choosing a family doctor

A general practitioner should be your first port of call for any non-urgent medical problems.

The Hong Kong Department of Health has an online Primary Care Directory (which is also available in English) where you can look up a doctor based on their qualifications, specialisations, fees, and more.

You can make appointments with doctors at public or private hospitals as well as private clinics. Most people do this by phone, but some private clinics have online booking systems (although the clinic will usually call you back to confirm the appointment).

After your appointment your doctor will prescribe and provide medication on-site – you’ll pay both the consultation and prescription fees together afterwards. 

Depending on your insurance plan, you’ll either be reimbursed for some or all of your medical expenses or, if you choose a doctor who is part of your insurance company’s network, you’ll need to show your insurance card to be treated.

Seeing a specialist

If you need to see a specialist it’s best to go to a general practitioner and get a referral letter, which is valid for three months. You can also self-refer and see a specialist in Hong Kong, but this is usually pricier.

Either way, specialist appointments are usually made by phone.

Emergencies

In an emergency, call 999 and ask for an ambulance.

All emergencies are dealt with by public hospitals in Hong Kong, and you don’t need to register to get treated.

Hong Kong hospitals use a triage system, meaning your waiting time will depend on which of the following five categories you’re put into upon arrival: critical, emergency, urgent, semi-urgent, or non-urgent. Hong Kong’s emergency medical service costs HK$180 to use.

Paying for healthcare

Resident foreign nationals (in other words, expats with visas who haven’t lived in Hong Kong for more than seven years) get to enjoy the same level of medical care at the same cost as permanent Hong Kong residents.

It costs around HK$50 for a standard outpatient appointment, excluding any additional treatment or medication.

However, if you don’t have a valid Hong Kong ID then you could end up paying considerably more: HK$445 for an outpatient appointment and HS$1,230 for emergencies (which is why having a good health insurance policy in place is so important).

Employers in Hong Kong have to provide health insurance for their employees by law, but it’s important to check how much cover your employer’s policy gives you.

Paying for healthcare

Resident foreign nationals (in other words, expats with visas who haven’t lived in Hong Kong for more than seven years) get to enjoy the same level of medical care at the same cost as permanent Hong Kong residents.

It costs around HK$50 for a standard outpatient appointment, excluding any additional treatment or medication.

However, if you don’t have a valid Hong Kong ID then you could end up paying considerably more: HK$445 for an outpatient appointment and HS$1,230 for emergencies (which is why having a good health insurance policy in place is so important).

Employers in Hong Kong have to provide health insurance for their employees by law, but it’s important to check how much cover your employer’s policy gives you.

Getting prescriptions 

In Hong Kong, doctors both prescribe and dispense medication – there’s no separation between doctors’ practices and pharmacies.

If you’re prescribed any medication at a clinic or hospital, the consultation and prescription fees are combined when you pay.

As an example, it costs around HK$300 to HK$500 for a three-day prescription of cold medicine.

If you need a repeat prescription, you’ll need to make another appointment so your doctor can check and dispense your medication at their clinic.

Pharmacies and over-the-counter drugs

There are almost 600 licensed pharmacies in Hong Kong, which you can identify by looking for the “Rx” symbol on their storefront. They are usually open seven days a week between 10:00 and 19:00, but hospital pharmacies operate 24 hours a day for emergency cases – every district has at least one 24-hour pharmacy.

In Hong Kong, drugs are divided into three categories:

  • Category 1, which can only be purchased at a licensed pharmacy with a doctor’s prescription (for example antibiotics and tranquilizers)
  • Category 2, which can only be purchased at a licensed pharmacy but you don’t need a prescription
  • Category 3, which can also be bought at other shops without a pharmacist such as supermarkets (for example sore throat medication)

The most common drugstore chains in Hong Kong are Mannings and Watsons, where you can also buy cosmetics and other general healthcare supplies.

Dentists

Dental services in Hong Kong are generally very good but can be quite expensive, with prices varying more due to the clinic’s location than the skill of its staff. However, most dentists in Hong Kong do speak English, with many having gained their qualifications overseas.

The Hong Kong Dental Association has an online directory of qualified dentists, and most appointments are made by phone.

You can compare prices (and see what’s covered by your insurance policy) before making a decision. 

You can only go to public dental clinic for emergency medication or extractions, and only primary school children qualify for free dental care.

Don’t be surprised if…
  • you’re unable to collect prescriptions for other people
  • you need to pay extra fees for non-resident family members when using public medical services
  • you’re fined HK$2,000 and possibly even imprisoned for six months for improper use of Hong Kong’s 999 service
  • your medication is both prescribed and dispensed by your doctor during your consultation
  • you’re on an outlying island and have a medical emergency, a helicopter gives you a free ride to the nearest public hospital
  • you have to pay extra for food as an in-patient in hospitals
Sources
  1. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/nathan-lewis/does-hong-kong-have-the-w_b_299907.html
  2. https://asiabc.co/guide-to-hk/employment-management/compulsory-employees-insurance/
  3. http://www.pcdirectory.gov.hk/english/welcome/welcome.html
  4. http://www.hkda.org/