Breaking down the cost of healthcare in different countries

Ever wonder where illness or injury abroad may set you back the most? Find out how much expats can expect to pay for various medical procedures in different countries. Hint: prices aren’t all the same.

Breaking down the cost of healthcare in different countries
Photo: Rawpixel/Depositphotos

According to a recent UN report, the number of international migrants has grown rapidly in recent years, peaking at 258 million in 2017.

Some of those people have no choice but to leave their homeland behind. Others may choose to move to a new country in search of someplace more in line with their own political beliefs. Love, too, can inspire people to uproot their lives and settle abroad.

More businesses than ever are sending employees abroad, with a full 98 percent of employers view a globally mobile workforce as important to achieving their objectives, according to a 2017 study conducted by international health insurance provider AXA.

Don’t get landed with huge healthcare charges. Find out more about AXA’s International Health Plans

If you’re moving abroad, regardless of the reason, you should get acquainted with the various costs of healthcare in your new country. Costs can vary greatly, and the last thing you want is an enormous and unexpected bill.

Perhaps one of the best ways to help avoid unpleasant and costly healthcare surprises is by taking out global health insurance. AXA offers several policies which cover treatment for new medical conditions that arise after you join. Find out more about each level of cover here.

Cost of healthcare in popular expat countries

In its most recent comparative price report, released in 2016*, the International Federation of Health Plans collected data from its 80 members in 25 countries to paint a picture of various healthcare costs.

The report documents the average price tag for selected prescription drugs as well as costs of several common medical procedures. And it may come as a surprise just how much the figures differ between the countries.

For example, a colonoscopy, a common procedure to evaluate the inside of the colon, was by far the priciest in the UK, averaging at $3,059. Compare that cost to Spain, where the procedure is a much more reasonable $589, or Australia where it comes in at just $372.

Graph: AXA

The UK, too, was the most expensive country among those surveyed for patients to get an abdominal CT scan, with the average cost weighing in at $860. The procedure was by far cheapest in Spain, where it costs less than 10 percent of the UK sum ($85).

Switzerland, which regularly tops the list of the world’s most expensive countries to visit, was, in fact, the cheapest surveyed for cardiac catheterisations which cost $181, compared to $3,196 in New Zealand and $4,406 in the UK.

Take out an international healthcare policy with AXA

When it comes to costs associated with childbirth, the study found that the US is by far the most expensive country in which to give birth, costing $10,808 for a natural delivery, or $16,106 for a C-Section. At the other end of the spectrum was South Africa, where it costs just $1,271 to deliver a baby naturally or $2,192 for a caesarean.

The US is also the most expensive country for both hip and knee replacements costing $29,067 and $28,184 respectively. Compare this with Spain, where a hip replacement costs $6,757, or South Africa where a knee replacement averages $7,795.

And if you’re planning to have a bypass surgery at any point soon, stick to Spain where it will cost $14,579 and stay clear of the States where you’ll get hit with a bill for $78,318.

Graph: AXA

When it comes to everyday accidents, treating a broken ankle can cost a crippling $8,305 in Hong Kong. If you’re prone to a tumble, you should consider moving to Italy where the treatment is less than half that ($3,790) or Canada where it’s a more reasonable $2,000.

If you find yourself in need of a hospital bed, spending the day in a US hospital can cost $5,220 while an overnight stay in an Italian hospital is much less at $661.

Now that you have a better idea of the potentially high costs of healthcare around the world, make sure you’re protected wherever you are. Find out more about AXA’s international healthcare policies and don’t find yourself lumbered with a huge bill when what you really need is some rest and relaxation.

* REFERENCE: International Federation of Health Plans, 2015 Comparative Price Report, ‘Variation in Medical and Hospital Prices by Country’

Presented by AXA.

AXA Global Healthcare (EU) Limited. Registered in Ireland number 630468. Registered Office: Wolfe Tone House, Wolfe Tone Street, Dublin 1. AXA Global Healthcare (EU) Limited is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.

AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited. Registered in England (No. 03039521). Registered Office: 20 Gracechurch Street, London, EC3V 0BG, United Kingdom. AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited is authorised and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority.


Meet the expat who is now Sweden’s youngest PhD

Stefan Buijsman, 20, just finished a PhD in the philosophy of mathematics. He tells The Local what his work is all about, and why Stockholm was the best place to do it.

Meet the expat who is now Sweden's youngest PhD
Stefan Buijsman. Photo: Anna-Karin Landin

Sweden’s youngest PhD has had a busy few weeks. Since completing his doctorate – becoming the youngest person in the country to do so – he has done plenty of media interviews about his work, appearing in over 50 publications.

“It’s been great, because you don’t normally see philosophy in the news!” he tells us when we meet in his office at Stockholm University. “And not many people have heard of the philosophy of mathematics.”

Summing up his thesis, Buijsman explains: “I'm looking at how we learn maths – and trying to understand what it is. Is maths about anything real, or is it just something we’ve been making up for 3000 years?”

Buijsman, originally from Leiden in the Netherlands, completed his work in just one and a half years (after finishing his Master's aged 18).

“The main reason was that I had lots of supervision from two very good professors; they were one of the reasons I chose to come to Stockholm. I wrote a chapter of my thesis every two weeks, then they’d tell me for three hours straight every single thing that was wrong with it. I’d write something new and then two weeks later we would repeat the process!”

The philosopher credits Sweden's more informal working culture with making this possible. Compared with the Netherlands, he says “getting help is easier here, people are very approachable. So it's much easier to go to a professor and talk about what you’re interested in or struggling with”.

Stefan meets the Dutch Ambassador after completing his PhD. Photo: Anna-Karin Landin

But what makes his speedy completion of the doctorate even more impressive is the fact that he didn't need to pull any all-nighters in the library to achieve it – quite the opposite.

“I try to limit very strictly how much I work,” says Buijsman. “In my experience, if I work more than 35 to 40 hours per week, it’s too much. Especially with work that’s mentally demanding, your brain needs long breaks so you have the energy to be creative.”

This relaxed – and very Swedish – approach to working hours has also given the academic plenty of time to get to know his new country and to meet people.

Why Stockholm attracts so many international researchers

He hasn't found that his age has been a barrier to socializing with fellow PhD's.

“I skipped my first class at the age of four, I have always been around older people so I don’t really know anything else. For the first two weeks, it’s a bit strange for everyone else, but then they get used to it – I’m doing the same kind of work so people forget that I'm 20.”

Despite being close to a decade younger than the average PhD in Sweden, Buijsman wasn’t nervous about his defence – the public debate with professors which marks the conclusion of the degree.

“It was a lot of fun!” he laughs. “One of the professors is designated as your 'opponent', and they question you on your ideas. We spent half the time just discussing my ideas and getting excited about what to do next.”

Indeed, Buijsman's work could prove very useful for teachers, psychologists, and everyone who has ever complained that they just don't 'get' maths.

He explains that the field of philosophy of maths has for a long time been dominated by two groups: “One group believes numbers are things which really exist, and that when we do mathematics, we discover things about them. The other believes they do not exist, and we just make everything up.”

Photo: Anna-Karin Landin

Buijsman's research looked at how non-experts use maths in everyday life, for example when shopping – and discovered that “absolutely none” of the theories philosophers had come up with can be applied to how ordinary people use maths.

“This means some people are making it all more complicated than it needs to be – and we don't have a good understanding of how people learn maths.”

Having reached this conclusion in his PhD, Buijsman's post-doctorate studies – which he started “pretty much immediately” after finishing celebrating – will look at how people do use maths in real life.

“What’s next is the interesting and useful bit,” he says, adding that he hopes his work will prove useful for teachers and psychologists, as well as students.

“It could be very helpful. Of course, telling people some philosophical story of what numbers are isn't very useful, but right now we don't have a story that everyone agrees on anyway. Understanding how we learn maths may help give us more effective teaching methods.”

The 20-year-old received offers from several universities when he was applying to do his PhD, and chose Stockholm not only because he was keen to work abroad – “getting to know a new culture is nice even though Sweden and the Netherlands are fairly similar!” – but also because Sweden is one of the few countries with funding for his field.

He hopes that other countries will start taking a leaf out of Stockholm’s book when it comes to research funding.

“In the Netherlands and other countries, the rationale for cutting funding to the humanities is that it isn’t producing anything economically valuable straight away.”

“Swedes have much more long-term thinking – they recognize that this work could be very beneficial to society, it just doesn’t produce something that you can sell one year after the research has finished. The system is also much more flexible so you there's a lot of opportunity to do whatever you are passionate about.”

As for whether he will stay in Scandinavia once his three-year post-doctoral studies have finished, he isn't sure. “It depends on job opportunities, which are always a very uncertain thing in the academic world,” says Buijsman.

“But I certainly wouldn’t mind if it became long term!”