In a small place with a large population, healthcare in Hong Kong is designed to be fast, efficient and accessible. There’s a good mix of both public and private options, as well as a multitude of private insurance providers. This means that you have quite a lot of room to make your own choices about your healthcare, whether it’s just seeing a doctor for a flu, filling a prescription or even having surgery.

Getting into the public system

All holders of a Hong Kong ID card and their dependents, regardless of whether you are a citizen, permanent resident or holder of a work visa, are eligible for public healthcare. Each district in Hong Kong has its own General Outpatient Clinic, and typically its own hospital, though this may not apply in rural areas (but rest assured, a hospital is always nearby).

How to register

If you’ve recently moved to Hong Kong, find your nearest General Outpatient Clinic, and register in person as a new patient.

You will need to bring:

  • Your Hong Kong ID
  • Your passport, which shows the pink work visa sticker from Hong Kong Immigration. This will prove that you are eligible for public healthcare.
  • A bill or a rental agreement that shows your address in Hong Kong, as you should register at the clinic in your area
  • You will be asked to fill in a form with your medical history. All documents are available in Chinese and English.

    How to visit a clinic

    The General Outpatient Clinics have their own system for seeing the doctor. Registration for the day starts 15 minutes before the clinic opens, so it is common to see people (especially old people) lining up a early to ‘get their spot’. Clinics do have a quota because space and time are both limited and doctors can only see so many patients per day. The cashier will need your Hong Kong ID, and you then pay the consultation fee of HK$50.00. You will be handed a ticket which shows your ‘spot’ and what time you are likely to see the doctor. This can sometimes be many hours later. Don’t miss your spot or else they will have to squeeze you in after seeing other patients.

    All General Outpatient Clinics have their own on-site pharmacy. After seeing the doctor, if you get a prescription, simply take it to the pharmacy counter and they’ll fill it in for you right away. This system makes it fast and easy to get the medicine you need, and generally the medicine is covered by the consultation fee.

    If you’ve gotten in a small accident, for example if you need stitches or have a wound that needs to be dressed, there are additional fees, but they are very minimal.

    Going to a hospital in Hong Kong

    If you have a more serious ailment, you will still need to go to the General Outpatient Clinic and see a doctor in order to get a referral to a specialist. The doctor will refer you to a specific hospital or provide a list of which hospitals you can go to. But be warned that because the public healthcare system already has waiting lists full of people, you may not be able to see the specialist for months.

    In an emergency

    In case of a medical emergency or accident, or if you need an ambulance, call 999 for emergency services. The fee to be admitted to emergency services at a hospital is HK$180.00. What you ultimately end up paying will depend on how long you may stay at the hospital, but the price for general inpatient care is HK$75.00 per day. You won’t have a private room while you recover, however.

    Pros and cons of the public system

    One of the biggest pros is, of course, the very small fees that residents pay for services. People who come from countries with no public health care are always amazed at how cheap it is to see a doctor, or deliver a baby, or have an MRI. Hospital fees can be so low that people often pay their bill with their Octopus card!

    The biggest cons are the wait times, and the lack of a close relationship with a doctor. In terms of wait times, when you go to a General Outpatient Clinic, you can expect to spend half the day there, especially if your ‘window’ is later in the day. As for your relationship with a doctor, there is none. You won’t have a family doctor who knows all about your medical history. The doctors are there to deliver a straightforward service and typically only budget 10–15 minutes per patient. So don’t expect to find a doctor who personally knows (or cares) about your situation.

    Hong Kong Ambulance
    Ambulance in Tsim Sha Tsui | Photo by iStock.com/Andrius Kaziliunas

    Private healthcare in Hong Kong

    Many people on work visas in Hong Kong, especially those who work for large international corporations, will often have private healthcare insurance provided by their company. If you happen to be one of those people, then you are free to visit either the public clinics or a private health clinic.

    Private clinics are everywhere in Hong Kong, and tend to be a lot nicer than the General Outpatient Clinics. To register as a new patient, simply visit a clinic with your documents (HKID, passport, proof of address, and your insurance card) and fill in the forms. Most people choose a clinic close to their workplace or home to make it more convenient. However, with private healthcare you can go to whatever clinic you want, regardless of the location.

    Some of the biggest private clinics, such as Quality Healthcare, have dozens of branches all over Hong Kong. This means that even if you move, you can expect to find the same care and service in your new neighbourhood.

    It is definitely faster to see a doctor in a private clinic, somewhere around 30 minutes to an hour. Certain clinics are busier than others, such as those in urban centres and business districts. You can call ahead to make an appointment and many have online systems to make appointments over the internet.

    Buying health insurance

    If your company doesn’t provide private health insurance, or if you are simply a Hong Kong resident who wants more options than the public system provides, there are a multitude of private insurance providers. Shop around for the best price, or if you have a specific health issue, be sure to ask if that particular issue will be covered by insurance.

    Private hospitals

    In addition to public hospitals, there are private hospitals which some have compared to five-star hotels. If you’re lucky enough to have private hospitals included in your healthcare insurance, then you can expect top-notch care, amazing food and luxurious private rooms.

    This, of course, comes with a huge price tag. To give you an idea of how much it really costs, at one famous hospital in the Mid-Levels, a hip replacement will set you back HK$175,000.00. So private hospitals are out of reach for most Hong Kong residents, unless you have the best insurance coverage.

    What about tourists?

    Photo by Gregory Lane

    Tourists and non-residents who want to see a doctor can go to either a public clinic or a private clinic and pay the respective fees. It costs HK$445.00 for non-residents to visit a public clinic and have a general consultation with a doctor. For private clinics, the costs vary, so you’ll need to give them a call and shop around to find out the prices.

    If it’s an emergency, non-residents can still go to a public hospital, including Accident and Emergency, or call 999 for an ambulance. All of these hospital fees will be out of pocket. Tourists pay a daily fee for hospital stays (meaning overnight in the hospital ward), which starts at HK$5,100.00. A visit to Accident and Emergency costs HK$1,230.00 which, for some people, is still a lot cheaper than in their home country.