An introduction to Singapore’s health system

27 August 2018

Singapore is one of the most advanced cities in the world, renowned for being safe, clean, and having an excellent education system. Their healthcare system also gets high praise, and is consistently in global top ten rankings. However, even the best healthcare systems are at least slightly difficult to navigate – and that’s where this handy guide comes in!

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Registering with the health system

Thankfully, you’ll find that Singapore’s medical system is easy to access as an expat. The majority of services can be accessed with a national registration identity card (NRIC), a compulsory document for everyone who’s lawfully resident in Singapore. 

However, non-residents can also provide a birth certificate (under 15s only), passport, dependant pass, or employment pass (the most common form of identification used by expats).

Choosing a family doctor

Before you can have any treatment (including prescriptions), you need to register at a clinic using any of the documentation mentioned previously.

You can search for a local doctor online, in local listings or, as many find useful, join an online expat community to ask for recommendations.

You can make appointments at local clinics by using online services such as GetDoc or Practo. 

Sometimes it’s possible to get walk-in appointments at clinics and hospitals, but both can get busy, so call ahead to check availability before you leave home. Some clinics open late and others are even open for 24 hours – check sites like Street Directory for opening hours.

Seeing a specialist

If you need to see a specialist at a hospital, your registered doctor will usually write you a letter of referral.

You don’t need a referral letter to see a specialist, but it may help if you provide notes on your condition, as well as any tests or treatment you’ve already had. This will help your specialist get up to speed quickly and may help you avoid paying for any investigations you don’t need.

If you want, you can use your hospital’s online booking system to book an appointment with a specialist

Emergencies

Call 995 for a Singapore Civil Defence Force ambulance, but only in a medical emergency – the fine for misuse runs as high as SG$274+. 

For non-emergency ambulances call 1777, but it’s often faster (and potentially cheaper) to make your own way to hospital by car or taxi.

When you get to hospital, you’ll be asked to register using your National Registration Identity Card (NRIC), birth certificate (for patients aged 15 years or younger), passport, dependant pass, or employment pass before you can receive treatment.

You should also let the hospital know how you’re going to pay for your treatment when you register. Show your insurance card if you have one, because the hospital can often charge your health insurer directly. 

If you have health insurance, it’s a good idea to speak to your provider about the approved clinics and hospitals in their medical network, otherwise you may have to pay for your treatment out of your own pocket. Some hospitals may also ask for a refundable deposit.

After you’ve been treated you’ll receive a bill and be asked for your full insurance details, specifically the name of your insurance company and ID number. Sometimes, having your policy number can help speed things up. If you’re stuck footing the bill yourself, you’ll have to pay via cash, NETS (Network for Electronic Transfers), or debit card.

Paying for healthcare

If you aren’t an officially registered permanent resident of Singapore you’re not entitled to any government help towards your healthcare, pushing up your costs.

A consultation with a doctor at a clinic or hospital costs between SG$20 and SG$60, although out of hours this can increase to SG$50 to SG$200. Taking out health insurance is essential to make sure you’re covered in case you ever require more serious – and expensive – medical treatment.

Getting prescriptions 

If your doctor decides you need medication they’ll write you a prescription, prepared and available at the clinic’s own pharmacy. Similarly, as an outpatient you can collect your medication at the hospital’s pharmacy during your visit.

When it comes to repeat prescriptions, it’s best to stick with your regular registered clinic, otherwise you’ll have pay for another hospital consultation. Your regular doctor may call you in if you’ve been taking the same medication for several months – they’re just checking everything is okay.

Some doctors will give you a prescription slip that allows you to get your medication from any other clinic – watch out for the expiry date! Once your time is up, you’ll need to have another consultation with a doctor in order to renew it.

Non-family members aren’t usually allowed to collect a prescription for someone else, though in exceptional cases you may be able to with a letter of authorisation and a photocopy of their national registration identity card (or other form of identification).

Pharmacies and over-the-counter drugs

For some health issues, your doctor may recommend you go the over-the-counter route. Over-the-counter medications are widely available in Singapore: drugstore chains in Singapore that have pharmacies include Watson’s, Guardian, and Unity. Bring your national registration identity card (or passport, dependant pass, or employment pass) with you when picking up your medication.

Dentists

Public dental services are available through the National Dental Centre as well as some polyclinics and hospitals. Private dental clinics are also widely available.

You can phone your nearest dental clinic to book an appointment, although you may have to wait a few days or weeks depending on the clinic’s workload if your case isn’t an emergency.

Don’t be surprised if…
  • you have to pay for an ambulance trip yourself if you’re not having a medical emergency
  • you are offered traditional Chinese medicines for general illness
  • you are offered a consultation with your pharmacist via webcam
Sources
  1. https://statutes.agc.gov.sg/Act/NRA1965
  2. https://www.moh.gov.sg/home 
  3. https://www.ndcs.com.sg/Pages/Home.aspx