The last decade has seen the implementation of a sweeping health reform programme in Turkey, aimed at increasing the ratio of private to state health provision and making comprehensive health care available to all. As a result, anyone deciding to relocate to Turkey has a choice of joining the state healthcare system (by making regular contributions) or accessing the growing network of excellent private hospitals and clinics. Many Turkish doctors have received at least part of their training abroad and a growing number of heath tourists are invading Turkey’s shores, attracted by a high quality service and competitive prices.
In the past, the state system has been criticised for not coming up to the standards of Western Europe and North America. Increased competition from private providers has started to change that, though outside of the major cities and resorts, the quality of healthcare can vary alarmingly. The Ministry of Health (Sağlık bakanlığı) is responsible for the delivery of health care in Turkey and oversees the operation of state hospitals, the production of medications and all pharmacies.
To access the state system, foreign nationals need to be residents for more than a year and make Universal Health Insurance (UHI) contributions by registering with the state social security scheme via their local SGK office (Sosyal Güvenlik Kurumu, social security administration). Legislative changes in 2012 caused some confusion and, at one point, suggested that all expats would be compelled to join the state system, even if they had made their own private insurance arrangements. As the dust settled, it became clear that registration would be voluntary for most expats (though this could change at any time). Regulations vary depending on your nationality, and the safest advice is to check with your relevant embassy. For example, the British Embassy in Turkey issued the following advice: Update on health insurance regulations.
If you are working in Turkey, your employer should be paying your social security contributions for you (you’re advised to check). If you are registered with SGK, you will be entitled to free healthcare in all state hospitals and clinics as well as reductions in some private facilities. As with most countries, state hospitals tend to more overcrowded and less appealing that the private sector though this doesn’t necessarily mean that the standard of medical care will be different. Turkey remains outside of the European Union so the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which provides free medical treatment in EU countries, is not valid in Turkey.
Turkey has a large and growing network of private hospitals and clinics. You have the option of simply turning up and being charged for your consultation and treatment or taking out an insurance plan in advance. Most of the larger hospitals and clinics will be able to advise you of the options (in English) and many Turkish insurance companies and banks will offer a variety of health insurance plans, each offering different levels of cover (from accident and emergency to comprehensive care). These are usually renewed annually. Costs will vary, but are considerably lower than comparative fees in Britain and elsewhere and usually include a discount on the cost of drugs.
For more information on picking an insurance plan, read How to Choose Expat Health Insurance.
Doctors and Pharmacies
Local Doctors (doktor) are plentiful in Turkey and most cities, main towns and resorts will have English speaking doctors and pharmacists. There is no central online resource (in English) to find a doctor, but most consulates in Turkey will be able to point you in the right direction, usually by giving you a contact at your nearest hospital. Alternatively, just ask around. If your need for a doctor is urgent, dial 112. Major urban areas will have a pharmacy (eczane) providing a 24 hour service and an increasing number of private hospitals are providing dispensing services. Depending on your insurance arrangements, you will usually be charged by doctors for consultation and treatment but costs are reasonable. Pharmacies stock a wide range of medications available over the counter, and many of these are available without prescription.
It is relatively easy to find a dentist (dişçi or diş hekimi in Turkish) in Turkey. In the major cities and along the western fringe where most foreigners live standards are generally high. Most dentists will provide a full range of services from general hygiene, emergency treatment and implants. Costs are considerably lower than in Europe or North America and there is a growing health tourist industry taking advantage of this, particularly for cosmetic dentistry. These days, most established dental surgeries who wish to attract foreign patients have a website. Whatclinic.com is one of several websites with English listings of dentists in Turkey. If in doubt, ask around. Many expats will know about the best dental practice in their area.
Dial 112 for the state ambulance service. For private ambulances you will need to dial the number given by your local private hospital or insurance company. In practice, many people will simply ring for a taxi – it can often be quicker.
By Jack Scott, author of Perking the Pansies, Jack and Liam move to Turkey, a bitter-sweet tragi-comedy recalling the first year of a gay couple in a Muslim land.