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Healthcare in Switzerland: Everything expats should know

Switzerland isn’t just famous for chocolate, watches, and cheese. It also has what is widely considered to be one of the world’s best healthcare systems, and once you’re a Swiss resident you’ll have full access to its services.

Healthcare in Switzerland: Everything expats should know
Photo: kyolshin/Depositphotos

Swiss healthcare is universal, which means that all residents have the right to access its extremely high standard of services. However, you can’t just walk straight into a doctor’s surgery, no questions asked! There are a few administrative steps to follow beforehand.

So first, a little background.

The healthcare system in Switzerland is made up of a combination of public, subsidised private, and fully private health systems. Unlike some other European countries, the Swiss healthcare system isn’t paid for by taxes but instead through its residents’ obligatory contributions to health insurance schemes. 

Almost everyone who enters Switzerland requires a visa and a Swiss residence permit if they are planning on staying for more than three months. In order to apply for your Swiss visa, you will need to provide evidence of health insurance cover. Even if you are in Switzerland for under three months, basic health insurance is compulsory. 

International health insurance providers like Cigna Global offer plans designed specifically for individuals and families living abroad. Find a package that suits your situation and get your new life in Switzerland off to a safe start.

Find out more about Cigna Global health insurance

Finding a doctor

You’re generally free to choose your own doctor (arzt/médicin), unless your health insurance policy states otherwise.

You will be able to register with a doctor, provided you are signed up to the Swiss health insurance scheme. You can find your local doctor in the Yellow Pages or by visiting doctor.ch.

After your appointment you’ll receive a bill from the doctor. This will need to be paid in full, after which you’ll send a copy to your insurance company who will reimburse the amount covered by your plan. Some medical centres have agreements with certain insurance companies, which means you the reimbursement will already be applied and you just need to pay your share.

In major cities like Zurich it shouldn’t be too hard to find an English-speaking doctor. However, in the more rural areas you may struggle. Your embassy should maintain a list of doctors who speak your language.

Emergency care

Most local communities (canton) will have a hospital (krankenhaus, spital/hôpital), and any kind of emergency treatment is covered by all basic health insurance plans. In general, you should visit the hospital in the canton where you are residing, although there may be exceptions.

Apart from emergencoes, you need a referral from your doctor to visit a hospital. If you do have a life-threatening situation and need to go straight to hospital, then go to your nearest A&E department (notaufnahme) which should be open around the clock.

If you need urgent medical assistance and can’t get to the hospital by yourself, call 144 to get through to the Swiss ambulance service.

Hospital fees aren’t cheap, and will have to be paid either directly by you or by your insurance company, so remember to take along proof of your policy. 

Specialist care

Even Switzerland’s basic health insurance covers visits to specialists (facharzt), such as gynaecologists, oncologists, and dermatologists. Unless your insurance plan states otherwise, you should be able to consult a specialist without getting a referral note from your doctor first.

If you have private health insurance with an international provider like Cigna Global, you can access their worldwide network of English-speaking specialists. All you have to do it call Cigna’s Customer Care Team who will offer guidance and arrange to pay your fees wherever possible.

Pharmacies

Like pharmacies in many European cities, Swiss pharmacies (apotheke) are easily recognised by the big green cross outside. There will always be at least one emergency pharmacy open in each canton.

There are two types of medication: over-the-counter medicines like antihistamines and ibuprofen, and prescription-only medicine like antibiotics or beta-blockers. 

Around a third of all medicines require a prescription (rezept), which you need to get from a doctor first. It’s worth noting that even prices for over-the-counter medicines are quite high in Switzerland, so stock up before you relocate and take your own basic supply with you.

The cost of prescription medication is mostly covered by the basic health insurance, so you only have to pay 10 percent and will get 90 percent of the cost reimbursed. 

Often, insurance companies provide you with an insurance card to present at the pharmacy, which will in turn bill the insurance company on your behalf. You will then receive an invoice for the 10 percent of the cost you have to pay yourself.

Paying for it

The Swiss healthcare system is exceptional, although taking out private health insurance before you arrive can feel like a weight off your shoulders. It’s just one less thing to worry about throughout the relocation process.

Cigna Global offers several packages and optional add-ons that have been designed specifically for expats. Find one that suits you, and think about all of the Swiss chocolate you’ll soon be enjoying instead of what to do if you need to see a doctor.

Get a free quote from Cigna Global 

The content within this article has been created by The Local and provides only a general overview for information only. No reliance should be placed on the information contained with this article. Nothing in this article is intended to constitute legal, tax, financial planning, health or medical advice.
The Local is an affiliate advertiser of Cigna Global and has been paid a fee to market Cigna Global individual private medical insurance plans within the content of this article.
For more information on Cigna Global, or to get a quote, please visit cignaglobal.com. Terms and conditions apply.

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HEALTH

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I’m abroad?

Given how expensive health insurance premiums are in Switzerland, you may be tempted to suspend your policy while you are abroad. Is this possible?

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I'm abroad?

Unlike the obligatory car insurance, which you can suspend temporarily by depositing your registration plates at the local motor vehicles office, rules pertaining to health insurance are much stricter.

As the Federal Office of Public Health explains it, “If you leave the country for a certain period to travel or study but do not take up residence abroad, you are still required to have [health] insurance in Switzerland”.

In other words, as long as you are a registered resident of Switzerland, regardless of your nationality or passport, you must keep your compulsory Swiss health insurance and pay your premiums. While you do this, you also remain covered against most medical emergencies while you travel.

However, rules are less stringent for supplemental health plans which can, in some cases, be put on hold, depending on the insurance provider, according to Switzerland’s Moneyland consumer website.

The only exception allowed for suspending the health insurance coverage is during a military or civil protection service which lasts more than 60 consecutive days.

“During these periods, the risks of illness and accident are covered by military insurance. Your health insurance provider will refund your premiums”, according to FOPH.

Under what circumstances can you cancel your Swiss health insurance?

Swiss law says you can cancel your insurance if you are moving abroad, either permanently for for a period exceeding three months.

If you do so, only claims for treatments given while you still lived in Switzerland will be paid by your insurance; any medical bills for treatment incurred after you officially leave will be denied.

These are the procedures for cancelling your compulsory health insurance if you leave the country under conditions mentioned above

To announce your departure abroad, you must send your insurance carrier a letter including your name, customer number or AVS/AHV number.

You must also include a certificate from your place of residence in Switzerland confirming that you have de-registered from your current address, as well as the date of your departure.

Note, however, that if your new destination is another Swiss community / canton, rather than a foreign country, your insurance can only be cancelled from the following calendar year and only if you present proof of having taken up a new policy with another company.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to register your address in Switzerland

You can find out more information about this process here

If you suspend your health insurance for less than six years, you can reactivate it at a later date with the same company when you return to Switzerland.

READ MORE : What you should know about your Swiss health insurance before you go abroad
 

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