Switzerland is known for its efficiency. It is therefore no surprise that its healthcare system is one of the best in the world. The system is administered by each state of the Swiss confederation, known as a canton, and is a seamless solution that brings the public and private sectors together. Individual health insurance is compulsory for all residents, and there is no free healthcare. Waiting times are short, but like many things in Switzerland, it can be expensive. The Swiss generally speak German, French or Italian depending on where one is based, but English is spoken widely too.
The Swiss healthcare system is unusual as it is not financed through taxation or employers. All residents are obliged to have basic health and accident insurance, and are free to choose their own policy from a range of insurance companies. This basic policy covers most of the usual medical treatments, including maternity and accidents. Many Swiss residents opt to take out supplementary private health insurance as well to cover more than just the bare minimum. Expats who work for more than eight hours a week are automatically covered for accidents by their employers, but those who are self-employed or unemployed must find a way to cover these costs themselves.
Insurance premiums vary across cantons and according to the chosen insurance company. Anyone legally resident must pay a contribution to medical treatments and consultations. This deductible fee, known as a franchise, can be increased for a lower monthly premium. There are extra costs involved as well, such as hospitalisation fees and prescription fees. Patients are generally expected to settle the bills themselves and claim from their insurers afterwards. Some insurers have payment agreements with certain doctors and hospitals, and settle bills directly.
New arrivals to Switzerland have three months to choose their policy and provide proof of insurance to their local authorities. Each family member must be insured individually.
Expats may be exempt from the mandatory Swiss health insurance if they have a European Health Insurance Card, private health insurance or travel insurance, but it is best to check with authorities to ensure compliance.
Most healthcare providers in Switzerland are private establishments and have world-renowned standards. Thanks to the basic health insurance policy, everyone has access to high quality healthcare, but not all medical issues are covered. Dental care is one of these, and many choose to pay for private dental insurance separately.
Private international health insurance also provides access to a wider choice of healthcare professionals, as some basic policies are limited to certain doctors and hospitals. Basic insurance only allows access to the general wards of a hospital; those that need a private, will have to pay for it themselves or rely on private insurance.
Pharmacies and medication
Pharmacies in Switzerland, known as apotheke, are easily found in most towns and city centres. They generally operate from 9am to 5pm and are closed for an hour around lunchtime and all day on Sundays. Expats who need to find medication outside of normal hours can find an emergency pharmacy online, but bear in mind that these are generally more expensive.
Opening a patient file incurs a small fee, so sticking with one pharmacy is a good idea. Branded medicine tends to cost more so it is recommended that expats ask the pharmacist for a generic version of the medication.
Ambulance services are not fully covered by the basic Swiss health insurance, and expats can avoid a surprise bill by taking note of this. Most hospitals have accident and emergency departments, and having proof of medical insurance on one’s person at all times is strongly recommended. An ambulance can be reached by calling 144 or on the general European emergency number, 112.
If you’re moving abroad and want to know more about the healthcare in place, take a look at Allianz worldwide care’s guides to healthcare systems abroad.