Bogota expat guide and healthcare in colombia

Healthcare System in Colombia for Expats

Colombia is known for its majestic destinations that host thousands of tourists every year & also has one of the most developed economies in South America. But that’s not the only reason that makes Colombia an amazing travel destination. The country is also known for its superior healthcare system and institutions that are equipped with modern facilities and top-notch medical care. Many expats travel to Colombia solely to avail the country’s outstanding healthcare services. During your stay in Colombia, it’s a must to buy health insurance to have easy access to various healthcare facilities across the country.

Major cities of Colombia today have one of the most advanced healthcare systems in the world. Expats can buy their health insurance from several local or international providers. Private healthcare facilities are top-notch and employ proficient, bilingual doctors and staff. The overall cost of health services is also very affordable. Most doctors are required to speak English, the textbooks and training in the medical schools is all in English.

Some ex-pats buy local private health insurance (Medicina Prepagada) in Colombia, which can help cover healthcare but also reduce waiting time at the clinic, have access to a wider range of top-notch institutions and treatments, get prompt assistance during emergencies, have a reduced financial burden while availing medical treatment, and much more. Private insurance plans also enable you to consult a specialist directly without consulting a general physician first, which is usually the procedure followed. For expats, a global health plan from one of our insurance providers is critical. Check out the Healthcare System Recommendations from the World Health Organization.

Overview of the Healthcare System in Colombia

Colombia’s healthcare system currently ranks 22nd in the world, according to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), which evaluated the healthcare systems of as many as 191 countries. This also means that the country’s modern system devised post the 1980s ranks higher than any other country in South America. Even the pharmacists in Colombia know a lot more than simply filling a prescription. They are also trained to identify symptoms and make subsequent recommendations. Many medications can be bought over the counter at very reasonable prices without a prescription from a doctor.

Colombian healthcare facilities use an electronic medical record system, which ties all of your information to your unique cédula number. This allows physicians to access all necessary information using the same system. However, while private facilities have bilingual staff, the staff at public institutions may only speak Spanish.

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How the Colombian Healthcare System Works for Expats

Most of the expats in Colombia need to buy some private health insurance. However, those under an employment contract are bound to join the contributory health system, wherein they pay a third of the 12% of their declared income, with the remaining two-thirds being paid by their employer. Those who are over the age of 60 and have pre-existing health problems would not be eligible for private health insurance and would need to pay from their pockets. They would still be eligible for healthcare under the Entidades Promotoras de Salud (EPS), system.

Most Colombian expats prefer going for private health insurance because of its low cost and ease of convenience. The cover can be secured by anyone holding a valid passport. Despite that, EPS, the public healthcare system, is mandatory for everyone. Some providers may even ask for proof of EPS enrollment.

Key Medical Information for Expats in Colombia:

  • The healthcare system in Colombia is excellent in major cities, but quality can vary elsewhere.
  • Health care in rural areas can be difficult to obtain, and adequate medical care can be provided far off the road.
  • Pharmacies stock most drugs and are generally very reliable.
  • Medical staff in urban clinics are generally well trained. The level of training for staff in rural areas is pretty good but can vary.
  • Serious illness or accidents may require evacuation out of the country or evac to Bogota, but again, medical care in the capital is very good.
  • Equipment, especially in clinics outside of the major cities, is outdated and poorly maintained.
  • There have been several cases of unregulated or counterfeit pharmaceuticals causing illness amongst travelers, but generally not a problem if you get medication from a reputable pharmacy chain.
  • Donated blood is tested, but these tests may not be as accurate or comprehensive as those in more developed countries.
  • The level of hygiene can vary greatly. Urban hospitals are well sanitized, with some private clinics having high hygiene standards. Rural hospitals may not be up to Western standards.

Some Important Considerations for Global Citizens in Colombia

We have put together some points to consider when moving to Colombia and considering your medical coverage:

  • Remember to buy global health coverage before you arrive – usually up to 45 days prior to moving to Colombia
  • You must have health coverage that covers you in Colombia to apply for a VISA and your renewals
  • Once you receive your Visa and Cedula you can apply for the EPS/Sura medical coverage
  • Check your immunizations and vaccines and make sure you have the necessary shots for the region
  • As of a few years ago there is a full coverage plan that compliments the EPS coverage for people over 60 years old, called Plan Complementario 60  Plus
  • Bring your medications and provide access to your medical history for your new doctor in Colombia –  you may want to consider having the records translated into Spanish.
  • Know the emergency numbers, including 123 for police, 132 for fire, and 125 for medical emergencies. Have your insurance information readily available.
  • Understand cultural norms and expectations related to healthcare to ensure respectful interactions with local healthcare providers
  • Talk to a travel clinic before moving to Colombia.
  • Note that many doctors and nurses may not speak your native language
  • If living in high-altitude areas like Bogotá, be aware of potential altitude-related health issues and acclimatize gradually.

Necessary Insurance Paperwork for Expats

You need a visa for Colombia and your cédula number to sign up for an EPS plan. However, you can sign up for a plan without the visa, and for that, you only need your passport to buy private health insurance. It is also possible to sign up for SURA health insurance, the most popular public health insurance, by yourself. However, its forms are in Spanish and a bit complicated, so you may need an expert insurance broker to help you out here.

Most global nomads and expats usually pay around $85 to $100 monthly as EPS public insurance premiums. This cost may go higher for older people and for those who have a pre-existing medical condition. Even then, you will find that the healthcare system in Colombia easily costs you 50-70% less than the North American healthcare system – but expats should still purchase a global health plan from one of our top three global providers.

Best Private International Medical Insurance for Expats in Colombia

Opting for a private international health insurance plan would mean that you will be able to avail of various benefits apart from the ones that are included in your local plans. It would also help you to have access to a wide range of healthcare services from medical specialists or doctors. As an expat in Colombia, you can opt for the Cigna Global international health plan, which is a reputed global insurer offering impeccable service and assistance & excellent rates. Another great option is the Allianz plan for European expats or the GeoBlue Xplorer for American expats who want a US-based provider.

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