Healthcare in Japan is both accessible and compulsory for expats who have a resident’s visa or a work permit. Expats are likely to fall under one of two public schemes – one for salaried workers and one covering the remaining population. In addition, expats also have the option of obtaining private health insurance in Japan. It's mandatory for expats with a visa exceeding three months (90 days) to be registered on a public insurance scheme. 

Health insurance in Japan

Most expats will fall under one of two major healthcare schemes in Japan – Employees' Health Insurance (Shakai Kenko Hoken) or National Health Insurance (Kokumin Kenko Hoken). In these two schemes, healthcare expenses are covered up to 70 percent. There is also the Advanced Elderly Medical Service System (Choju Iryo Seido) for those over the age of 75, which funds up to 90 percent of medical expenses.

Under the Employees' Health Insurance programme, it's compulsory for a company to provide its employees and their families with medical insurance and healthcare in the event of injury, sickness, death or childbirth. The National Health Insurance scheme covers those other than salaried people and workers, like those who are self-employed or unemployed.

Expats will need to register at their local municipal office or local city hall in order to start receiving healthcare in Japan. A Health Insurance Certificate will then be issued and delivered. This document is needed when using public hospital facilities for anything from consultation to surgery.

It may be worthwhile for expats to take out additional private health insurance to cover any remaining costs not covered by the public schemes.

Public and private hospitals in Japan

The medical system in Japan is one of the best in the world, and expats should not be concerned about the standard of practice. However, in many cases private medical treatment is still recommended, if only for the extra creature comforts it allows.

Many Japanese doctors have studied overseas and speak good English, while others might be less proficient. There are medical services in Tokyo that will direct expats to their nearest English-speaking doctor. In other cities, it may be necessary to take a Japanese friend or colleague along to act as interpreter.

Medicines and pharmacies in Japan

Pharmacies can readily be found on all major streets or in shopping malls in Japanese cities. Pharmacies tend to be well-stocked and are open from 9am to 5pm. Pharmacists are generally very knowledgeable. However, not all pharmacists speak good English so expats may struggle if they have lots of questions. The prices of most medicines in Japan are subsidised by Japanese health insurance, making the price significantly cheaper.

Expats moving to Japan should note that there is a clear difference between pharmacies and drugstores in Japan. Drugstores only sell certain medicines and a variety of healthcare goods. The medicines and products available at drugstores in Japan are not covered by Japanese health insurance. In contrast, pharmacies in Japan only deal with medicines and sell no other merchandise. 

Health hazards in Japan

There are no major health hazards in Japan. However, expats are advised to ensure that their routine vaccinations are up to date.

Air pollution is arguably the region's biggest issue. This is particularly bad during the winter months. Those with respiratory issues or asthma may find their symptoms become heightened when they move to Japan. 

Emergency services in Japan

In the event of a medical emergency in Japan, expats can call an ambulance on 119.

Outside Tokyo, the operator answering an emergency call may not have a good command of English and therefore expats will benefit from learning a few basic Japanese phrases to use in an emergency.

The response times of the Japanese ambulance services are fairly good, especially in urban locations. Again, expats should bear in mind that while medical staff are well-trained in Japan, they may not speak English fluently.