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Essential Guide to the Health System in Japan

Discover the realities of the healthcare system in Japan and how it may serve expats, digital nomads, retirees, and others who relocate or reside in the country.
|-Essential Guide to the Health System in Japan

Japan has a comprehensive healthcare system that provides both public and private healthcare options. The public healthcare system is known as the National Health Insurance (NHI) and is used by the majority of the population. Foreigners (expats and digital nomads) are allowed to use the public healthcare system in Japan, however, many expats opt for private healthcare due to the language barrier and the fact that private hospitals are more likely to have English-speaking staff. Public hospitals are generally recommended for serious medical emergencies and major surgery, however, private hospitals are often preferred for more minor medical issues.

Japan’s Public Healthcare System

The National Health Insurance (NHI) is Japan’s public healthcare system. It is funded by taxes and premiums paid by citizens and residents. The NHI covers a wide range of medical services, including hospital stays, doctor visits, and prescription drugs. The cost of public healthcare is relatively low, with most services costing around 30% of the total cost.

Japan’s Private Healthcare System

Private healthcare in Japan is more expensive than public healthcare, but it is often preferred by expats due to the language barrier and the fact that private hospitals are more likely to have English-speaking staff. Private hospitals are generally recommended for more minor medical issues, while public hospitals are generally recommended for serious medical emergencies and major surgery. Private health insurance is available from a variety of companies, including Japan Post Insurance, AIG Japan, and MS&AD Insurance Group.

Japan’s Top Hospitals

Japan has a number of top hospitals, both public and private. Some of the most well-known hospitals include:

  • Tokyo Medical and Dental University Hospital (public, Tokyo)
  • Kyoto University Hospital (public, Kyoto)
  • Kobe City Medical Center General Hospital (public, Kobe)
  • Keio University Hospital (private, Tokyo)
  • St. Luke’s International Hospital (private, Tokyo)
  • Kameda Medical Center (private, Kamogawa)
  • Kurume University Hospital (public, Kurume)
  • Kawasaki Municipal Hospital (public, Kawasaki)

Health Insurance Companies in Japan

The most popular private health insurers in Japan are Japan Post Insurance, AIG Japan, and MS&AD Insurance Group. Expats and digital nomads typically use these companies or specialized expat health insurance providers.

Insider Tips from Expats in Japan: How to Navigate the Health System

“It is difficult to find English speaking health providers, but they do exist. The healthcare culture is very rushed and you must be clear about what you need, otherwise the doctor isn’t going to take the time to figure it out for you,” commented one expat living in Tokyo, Japan.

“In Japan, medical services are highly advanced and of a very high quality. The country has a comprehensive healthcare system that provides access to a wide range of medical services, including preventive care, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation. Japan also has a well-developed network of hospitals and clinics, staffed by highly trained and experienced medical professionals. Patients can expect to receive personalized care and attention, and the latest medical technology is often used to ensure the best possible outcomes,” mentioned one expat living in Japan.

“Research clinics and hospitals online that are English-speaking beforehand. Contact clinics to ask if they perform certain procedures. Learn some common words to ask for specific things if you have to go to a Japanese-speaking clinic or hospital. Hospitals will not coddle you – you must advocate for yourself and be firm if you are having certain issues. Otherwise they may rush you out after a quick once-over,” commented one expat living in Tokyo, Japan.

“I tell them that everyone is under the same health insurance and not to worry about choosing from medical insurance plans. Also, for those with chronic diseases, I would advise them to check if their medicine and care is available in Japan, as a lot of medicine that is available in America is not available in Japan,” mentioned one expat living in Japan.

“Healthcare services in Japan are generally of a high quality and are provided by both public and private institutions. The public healthcare system is funded by taxes and is available to all citizens and foreign residents. It covers a wide range of services, including preventive care, hospitalization, and long-term care. The quality of public healthcare is generally good, with access to modern medical technology and highly trained medical professionals. Foreign residents are eligible to use the public healthcare system, although they may need to pay a portion of the cost. Expats in Japan can use the public healthcare system by registering with their local municipality and obtaining a health insurance card. This card allows them to access public healthcare services at a discounted rate,” said an expat in Japan.

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

Additional Information:

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