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Healthcare in Brazil is available at both public and private institutions. Legal citizens and permanent residents are able to get access to free public healthcare at any of the government hospitals. That said, the quality of service in the public healthcare sector tends to be below the standards expected by most expats. Those who can afford it often choose to procure medical insurance and make use of private medical facilities instead.
Public healthcare in Brazil
Public hospitals in Brazil are decentralised, and their administrative responsibilities are separated at the state and municipal level, with the federal government overseeing general policy. The Sistema Único de Saúde (SUS) provides medical care, including hospitalisation, doctors’ visits, dentistry, maternity care, physical therapy and prescription medicines at no cost to patients.
However, public hospitals in Brazil are generally overcrowded and underfunded. English-speaking doctors are not always available, especially in hospitals outside the main metropolitan areas. Expats will need a National Health Identification card that is available from any public healthcare facility. Newcomers will simply need to present their identity card, proof of residence and taxpayer's number.
Private healthcare in Brazil
Although most expats find private healthcare to be of a higher standard than public healthcare, it comes at a cost. Private healthcare in Brazil has earned the reputation of being among the most expensive in Latin America. Expats are encouraged to secure private medical insurance to access private healthcare at a reasonable cost.
Thanks to the shorter waiting times, availability of English-speaking practitioners and excellent facilities as well as medical equipment, private healthcare has gained popularity among expats in Brazil. The range of specialists available in Brazil depends on the city. Larger cities have a variety of private practitioners to choose from, but fees are also higher. On the other hand, smaller towns are cheaper, but there are fewer options.
Health insurance in Brazil
Due to the massive costs associated with private healthcare, health insurance is vital for expats in Brazil. There are a number of international health insurance companies for expats to choose from when looking for a healthcare plan in Brazil.
The amount expats will pay for their medical insurance will depend on the region they live in, the provider they choose and how comprehensive the coverage is. Some expats are lucky enough to have their health insurance covered by employers, newcomers are encouraged to include an allowance during their contract negotiations.
Pharmacies in Brazil
There are many pharmacies in Brazil, particularly in the larger cities and towns. Most general and prescription medicines are available at pharmacies. The government continues to invest large amounts in the production of generic drugs to reduce the impact on consumers' wallets.
Brazilian pharmacists tend to be knowledgeable and helpful. Pharmacies are generally open from early morning to well into the evening. Some pharmacies in the larger cities are open 24 hours a day.
There are also federal pharmacies, popularly known as the 'People's Pharmacy' (Farmácia Popular), that provide free or low-cost prescription medications for the low-income population.
Health hazards in Brazil
Mosquito-borne diseases remain a risk in Brazil, particularly in the tropical regions during the rainy season. There are no vaccines available for malaria or dengue fever. Expats should ensure that they take adequate precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
Outside major urban centres, food safety can also be an issue. Expats should be cautious and make sure that all food has been cooked through. Additionally, it is recommended that expats stick to bottled or filtered water in most areas of the country.
Vaccinations for Brazil
The following vaccinations are recommended prior to travel to Brazil:
Routine MMR and tetanus vaccines
The above list is only a guide. Expats should consult with a medical professional prior to departure for further information on vaccinations for Brazil.
Emergency services in Brazil
A public ambulance service, SAMU, is available throughout the country. This is available to all residents and can be contacted on 192. Most major private hospitals also have their own ambulance services, which can be called directly in the case of an emergency.
►For an overview of the schooling system, see Education and Schools in Brazil
"Public healthcare is universal here, but its quality and speed is mediocre compared to private options. I’ve actually never gone to a hospital or health clinic in Brazil. One thing I’ve had trouble with is obtaining certain medications at pharmacies here, but a lot of medications you’d need prescriptions for in the US don’t require prescriptions here." Read more of Elliot's expat interview.
"If you want to make sure you are always well taken care of in a sensible timeframe, it is important to have a private health insurance/healthcare plan. In hospitals like Einstein or Sírio Libanes you get world-class doctors, equipment and treatment. They are very costly, though, so be prepared and get a good health plan if you can!" Check out Dona's expat interview about São Paulo.
Are you an expat living in Brazil?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Brazil. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Expat Health Insurance
If you’re thinking about taking out private health insurance, our trusted partner Cigna Global is very aware of all the difficulties that expats can face when it comes to healthcare in a new location, so they have created a range of international health insurance plans specifically designed for expats, which you can tailor exactly to the needs and ensure access to quality care for you and your family.
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