Under Chile’s Ministry of Health, the Superintendencia de Salud largely manages the country’s healthcare options. Healthcare in Chile consists of a mix of a public and private systems, including FONASA (Fondo Nacional de Salud), private insurance called ISAPRES and alternative specialised insurance programmes such as those for the Armed Forces.
Expats can expect affordable and high-quality medical treatment from both sectors. That said, the quality of healthcare in Chile tends to vary regionally, with modern equipment and facilities available in Santiago and other major cities, but significantly less so in smaller towns and rural areas.
Public healthcare in Chile
Chilean nationals and legal residents have access to free and subsidised public healthcare. This is managed through the government-run FONASA scheme with additional cover via privately run health insurers.
FONASA is publicly funded through a deduction from employees’ monthly income and those who are unemployed may be eligible to a grant. There are also several other government offices providing niche services to the healthcare market, such as Primary Health Organisations.
Government hospitals are required to provide free healthcare to members of the population who do not have healthcare coverage. However, the facilities available are not usually as sophisticated as those found in private healthcare facilities.
State hospitals can be crowded, and while they do offer an acceptable quality of care, private hospitals are more likely to offer the standard of care that expats will be accustomed to.
Private healthcare in Chile
Most expats won’t have access to free public healthcare benefits unless they have residency and pay taxes in Chile.
Most doctors in the private and public sectors alike are well trained, many of them educated overseas and able to speak English. Patients do not need a referral to see a specialist and expats may find that the concept of a local General Practitioner in Chile is not that common, as most doctors specialise in a particular aspect of medicine.
Chile has one of the best healthcare systems in South America, offering especially high-quality private care. Several hospitals in Santiago are recognised internationally.
Health insurance in Chile
Public health insurance is administered by the Chilean government and is available through the FONASA.
Various private health insurance companies in Chile allow members access to private healthcare. These are popular among expats who don’t qualify for FONASA and are called ISAPRE (Instituciones de Salud Previsional).
Because each ISAPRE covers different plans, families, single individuals and couples are likely to choose different ones and should do their research. Banmédica, Colmena Golden Cross and Ferrosalud are some of these ISAPRES.
There are also large foreign-owned health insurance providers that operate internationally such as Cigna and Bupa who can be consulted.
Pharmacies in Chile
It is not difficult to find pharmacies in Chile, and many of them are open 24 hours a day. Pharmacists are usually well trained and speak English.
Many drugs that may require a prescription elsewhere are available over the counter in Chile, but these should only be taken with proper medical advice.
Expats should be sure to note down the generic names of any prescription medication they may be taking, as brand names tend to vary from country to country. When travelling with prescription medication, especially in large quantities, it’s better to be safe than sorry: clearly label all medication and carry a signed doctor’s certificate and prescription.
Health hazards in Chile
Expats can rest assured that Chile has few health hazards and those that are present are generally well controlled.
Tap water is generally safe to drink, but expats should exercise caution in very remote or rural areas. On arrival, expats may experience a bout of travellers’ sickness but this is quite normal and is simply the body adjusting to unfamiliar food and water.
When travelling around Chile, necessary precautions should also be taken against mosquitoes.
Expats should be aware of the risk of earthquakes in Chile and research recommended safety procedures in case of one. Information on this is given by national and local authorities as well as large international organisations. Fortunately, building regulations mean that structures are well-designed to withstand seismic activity.
Santiago is known to have major pollution issues, especially in the winter months of June through September. This can cause both eye irritation and respiratory problems, and expats are strongly advised to seek medical care if issues arise.
Pre-travel vaccinations for Chile
Expats should consult a doctor or travel clinic before relocating to Chile for the most up-to-date information regarding possible health risks.
While there aren't any specifically required vaccines, some are still recommended. Apart from routine vaccinations such as polio and measles-mumps-rubella, new arrivals are advised to be vaccinated for hepatitis A, B, rabies and typhoid.
Emergency services in Chile
Most hospitals in Chile have emergency facilities and ambulances available. Expats should be aware that not all emergency facilities are operational 24 hours a day.
Upon arrival at a medical facility, the ISAPRE and insurance provider should be contacted.
Medical air evacuation within and from Chile is possible but can be expensive. It is recommended that new arrivals have additional travel and health insurance to cover the cost of air evacuation from Chile in the event of any serious emergency.
In the case of a medical emergency, dial 131.