Healthcare in South Africa 

Though there is excellent healthcare available in South Africa, it is largely limited to the private sector and comes at a high price. It is essential that expats invest in international health insurance in order to access good-quality care.

In South Africa, English is commonly used in both public and private healthcare settings.

Before venturing to another country, make sure you have a health insurance plan you can rely on. Our international health insurance plans offer comprehensive health cover for when you are in your home country and abroad.

About two thirds of South Africa’s hospitals are public hospitals. They tend to be overcrowded, under resourced and understaffed, with long waiting times. Although the medical professionals working at these facilities are generally highly qualified, the standard of medical care in public hospitals can range from acceptable to very low as they are plagued by problems such as outdated equipment, medication shortages and lack of staff. While the public system is not yet universal, fees are charged according to a patient’s income and number of dependants.

The best public hospitals are usually academic hospitals associated with the country’s major universities. Although these hospitals offer a better standard of care, waiting times for everything from a simple consultation to a major surgery can be very long, and there aren’t many creature comforts to be had.

Major urban areas of South Africa have many excellent private hospitals and practitioners to choose from. The General Practitioner (GP) is the first port of call for day-to-day ailments and may refer patients to a specialist if necessary, though it’s possible to go directly to a specialist without a referral.

There are several well-established nationwide private hospital chains offering a high standard of care. Expats can expect up-to-date equipment in comfortable facilities with well-trained staff. Hospital stays and treatments are expensive, however, so it’s important to be well insured.

The South African constitution guarantees healthcare to all. As a result, public hospitals operate on a sliding scale, meaning that low-income and unemployed individuals only pay a small fee for consultations and medications. Expats will likely be in an income bracket well above this and will therefore be liable to pay for healthcare costs out of pocket, even at public hospitals.

When deciding on a health insurance provider, it’s important to remember that good-quality private healthcare in South Africa is expensive and paid for upfront, so a robust health insurance plan is best. Note that some policies – generally the less expensive ones – only allow access to hospitals and doctors within a specified network. 

There are two major pharmacy chains in South Africa, namely Clicks and Dis-Chem, which are complemented by many independent pharmacies. Pharmacists are well trained and can offer medical advice on minor ailments and injuries.

Pharmacies can be found in shopping malls or main streets. Most close between 5pm and 7pm, and smaller pharmacies may be closed on Sundays, while others may have reduced hours. There are also pharmacies attached to hospitals, many of which are open to customers 24 hours a day.

The emergency number in South Africa is 10111, which can be dialled from any cell phone or landline. Operators are able to speak English.

Public ambulance services are managed regionally, and response times vary. There are also private ambulance services, which have their own dedicated lines. If this would be the preferred service, expats should make sure they have the appropriate contact details on hand in case of an emergency.