Dubai, one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has a high standard of healthcare. Life expectancy in Dubai is 76 years and the infant death rate, which is used as an indicator of how good healthcare is in a country, is seven per 1,000 births. This is comparable to countries that have the 57th lowest rate in the world for this measure.
The healthcare services available in Dubai are either public (government-owned) or private. Both offer high standards of medical care, but may differ in the services offered, service levels (for example, waiting times) and facilities.
The majority of expatriates living in Dubai use private healthcare facilities. Expatriates can use public healthcare facilities, but they need to apply for a health card to be eligible for government healthcare subsidies.
Before you go
You may need vaccinations or other preventive medicines before you leave for Dubai, particularly if you are also visiting other countries in the region. Your doctor will advise you on which vaccinations you need. He or she will ask you about your general health, what vaccinations you have had in the past, which countries and regions you will be visiting, and what activities you have planned. See your doctor at least four to six weeks before you travel to ensure that there is time for your vaccinations to take effect.
No vaccinations are required for travel to Dubai.
It is important to check that any boosters or routine vaccinations are up to date before you travel. This may include the combined DTP vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis – also known as whooping cough), measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and polio.
It is also advisable to be vaccinated against hepatitis A, and possibly hepatitis B and rabies for travel to Dubai (depending on your activities in the country).
Hepatitis A occurs in Dubai. As well as getting vaccinated against this disease, it is important to take strict food, water and personal hygiene precautions. Around two to seven percent of the population of the UAE are carriers of the hepatitis B virus. Hepatitis B is transmitted by infected blood or bodily fluids. You can be exposed when receiving medical or dental treatment, via direct contact between open skin lesions, or if participating in risk behaviour such as sharing needles, unprotected sex or contact sports. Healthcare workers are also at a higher risk.
Malaria is not found in Dubai, so you do not need to take any preventive medicines. However, talk to your doctor about malaria prevention if you are planning to travel to other countries in the region.
Updates on disease outbreaks
Please note, vaccination recommendations are based on the information available at the time of publication. For up to date advice on disease outbreaks in Dubai, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and view the latest travel notices
Take copies of your medical records with you to Dubai. You can ask for either print or electronic copies from your doctor before you go. Having your records with you will ensure that if you need to see a doctor, he or she will have access to your medical history, including details of any conditions, tests, treatments and vaccinations.
Expatriates are tested for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and hepatitis B by law. If your test results are positive, you will be deported. There is no appeal system against this process. You may prefer to have a blood test prior to entering Dubai.
Some prescribed and over-the-counter medicines that are available in countries such as the UK are considered controlled substances in Dubai. You will need to get permission from the UAE Ministry of Health to bring any such medicines into Dubai. If you fail to seek permission, you will not be able to enter the country with the medicine and you could be prosecuted under UAE law. Once you have sought permission you can take up to 30 days’ supply.
If your prescription medicine is not considered a controlled substance, you can take up to three months’ supply.
For all medicines, ensure you keep your medicines in their original packaging. Carry your prescription or a letter from the doctor who prescribed your medicine stating that it is prescribed for you, the purpose of the medicine and that the medicine is essential.
For information on the UAE’s laws and the list of controlled medicines, visit the Ministry of Health’s website.
Private medical insurance
The Health and Medical Services Department provides medical care for all UAE nationals, visitors and resident expatriates but you will need a valid health card, which is available from the Dubai Health Authority.
Many employers provide private medical insurance for their employees while they are abroad.
There are 20 health centres and peripheral clinics in Dubai.
General practitioners (GPs) do not work in GP practices but instead work in medical centres or clinics, sometimes based within hospitals. Most GPs offer a walk-in service, so you do not have to make an appointment.
Unlike in other countries, you do not have to register with just one GP, you are able to visit different GPs. However, it is recommended that you try to stick with the same GP so that he or she is familiar with your medical history.
Bupa Global’s medical team can help our members find a GP. Alternatively, you can find a GP through personal recommendation or via internet and telephone directories.
To see a specialist in Dubai, you do not need a GP to refer you. You can make an appointment directly with the specialist at a public or private outpatient clinic. However, there are advantages to having a GP referral. Your GP will be able to recommend a specialist for your condition, as well as provide the specialist with relevant information about your medical history, including details of previous test results and treatments.
Bupa Global’s medical team can assist our members in finding a suitable specialist.
Alternatively, you can find a specialist by talking to your GP, through personal recommendation or via ‘specialist directories’ available on most hospital websites.
See Bupa Global facilities finder for details of Dubai hospital websites.
There are three main public hospitals in Dubai (run by the Dubai Health Authority). These general hospitals provide inpatient and specialist outpatient services, and each has a 24-hour accident and emergency (A&E) department. There are also eight specialist centres for genetics, thalassaemia, fertility, blood donation, cord blood and research, trauma, elderly and dental care.
Dubai has around 18 private hospitals, which offer inpatient facilities, outpatient clinics (specialist and GP consultations), diagnostic services and 24-hour A&E departments.
Bupa Global has assessed hospitals in Dubai as part of our Hospital Quality Assurance programme. The programme is designed to ensure that customers have access to safe, high-quality healthcare wherever they are in the world.Bupa Global’s medical team can assist Bupa Global members in finding a quality assured hospital or clinic. On the map below you can see the hospitals in Dubai that have already been quality assessed [link to Alf’s map of hospitals in Dubai]
If you have a life-threatening emergency, dial 999. This is the telephone number for the government emergency ambulance service, which will take you to the nearest public hospital.
You do not need to have an appointment to get treatment at an A&E department. You can either walk in or arrive by ambulance. When you first arrive, you will be assessed. If you have a serious medical problem, you will be seen straight away, otherwise you may have to wait. Long waiting times in public A&E departments are not uncommon. Therefore, if you have a minor medical problem, you may choose to go to an A&E department in a private hospital.
Bupa Global’s medical team can help our members to find a suitable emergency hospital or clinic.
Second opinion service
All Bupa Global members have free access to a second medical opinion service from Advance Medical. A leading expert in the relevant field will thoroughly review your diagnosis and treatment plan.
This service is designed to help you understand:
- what your diagnosis means
- that your diagnosis is correct
- that the proposed treatment is correct
- further available information about your condition
- alternative treatments that may be better for you
Find out more about the second medical opinion service.
Healthy living advice for expats
The medical director of Bupa Global, explores some of the health issues particular to the new Dubai resident. Dubai is one of my favourite places to visit. I love its modernity and constant strive to be the biggest and best at everything it does, whether that be in the recent unveiling of Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, or just to watch the exquisite fountain dance next to the Dubai Mall. On my travels as medical director for Bupa Global, I’ve met many people who have made the life changing leap and relocated to Dubai; the city stills attracts people from all corners of the globe to live and thrive in its abundance. Many of the health challenges they face are similar to other expats around the world, others are unique to this irrepressible sheikdom.
A developing health problem
In the last few decades Dubai has risen from the desert to become the cosmopolitan hub of the Middle East. However, this harsh desert environment combined with a booming construction industry has brought with it a sizeable health problem – an increase in respiratory-related illnesses, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Air pollutants from concrete batch plants, demolition, unpaved roads and the surrounding desert are thought to be affecting the lungs and airways of Dubai residents, aggravating respiratory conditions. This situation has prompted the University of Sharjah (with the backing of UAE health authorities) to undertake a comprehensive study examining the rise in respiratory-related illnesses in Dubai.
If you are an expat working in the construction industry, you may be particularly affected by this problem. However, if you live or work in an area where there is heavy construction going on, you may also be at risk. My advice is to exercise common sense, and avoid areas where the air is particularly polluted. You can, for example, check your local weather forecast and air quality index on a daily basis and modify your activities accordingly. On particularly hot days the air quality tends to be poorer; you will naturally try to stay indoors as much as you can, and an air-conditioned environment is luckily the best to minimise the effects. If you have to go outside, try to choose times of the day when the air pollution is lighter, ie first thing in the morning. But most importantly, listen to your body. If you feel symptomatic, for example if you’re tired or are having trouble breathing, stay indoors, rest and take any medicines your doctor has prescribed for your condition.
Feeling the heat
Working in a country with temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celcius in the summer can pose serious health hazards. Recent media reports of workers falling ill and dying of heat stroke have brought this reality to light. Heat-related illnesses occur when your body is unable to regulate its temperature. Physical activity in extreme temperatures or exposure to heat you are not used to can cause ailments that are minor (like prickly heat rash and heat cramps), or major, and life-threatening conditions such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
In recent years, the Dubai Municipality has been taking these risks extremely seriously and launched the ‘Safe and Healthy Summer’ campaign. The campaign runs each summer and aims to raise awareness about the dangers of heat-related illness among workers and other people at risk. Activities often take place in work places, shopping malls, bus stations and other public spaces, so look out for them.
Be sensible in the heat. Minimise the amount of heat you are exposed to and stay out of the sun in the middle of the day. Stick to the shade as much as you can and take advantage of air-conditioned or cool areas. Try not to do intense physical activity in high temperatures or under direct sun light. Generally in Dubai, air-conditioned gyms are a much better idea than trying to exercise outside. I’m afraid that the heat cannot be the final excuse for forgetting to take regular exercise.
An issue that often isn’t discussed in relation to expat health is ‘relocation depression’. Moving away from family and friends, the pressures of a new job, and adapting to a new way of life and culture can be difficult. Relocating abroad is not like being a tourist, although it may feel like it at first, especially in a country like Dubai. Once the excitement and newness of your surroundings has worn off, you may be left feeling unsettled and anxious. For some people this can even develop into a form of depression; it is also well documented that expats tend to have alcohol playing a more significant role in their life than before.
Being prepared and proactive will help stave off any negative feelings. Try to make contacts in Dubai before you move. If you’re already there, join communities, clubs, a gym or classes in your area; the internet has a wealth of useful information. Take care of yourself – eat right, set yourself positive, achievable goals, and keep fit and active. If all else fails, don’t suffer in silence. Ask your employer if they have an occupational health department or access to an employee assistance programme or similar scheme.