What would happen if you fell ill while in Turkey? Would you have to pay for your treatment – and could you afford it, if so? It’s not a question that tends to concern holidaymakers, as there are generally travel company reps or hotel staff who can help you. If you’re considering living here permanently, however, or buying property to enjoy extended or out-of-season trips, it is something you’ll need to consider.
There are several options, depending on your circumstances and how long or how often you plan to be here. If you want to live in Turkey full time, health insurance is mandatory in order to obtain residency. If you intend to holiday for short periods, you might be covered by your usual travel insurance. While it’s a good idea to talk to other people about their experiences, remember a different solution might suit you better.
Visiting the doctor
Whether you’re resident in Turkey or just visiting, you can see a doctor free of charge by registering with your ikamet if you live here, or by showing your passport if you’re a visitor. Most areas have a sağlık ocağı, or health clinic.
The advantage is that the consultation is free, as are relatively minor checks such as blood tests. However, there may be a language barrier as you’re not guaranteed anyone will speak English. There’s also no appointment system – you simply go along and wait your turn.
You could also consult a private doctor, but there will be a charge for the initial consultation as well as any treatment.
Chemists and hospitals
Pharmacies in Turkey hold a wider range of over-the-counter medicines and treatments than many countries; until fairly recently, it was even possible to get antibiotics without prescription, although that is no longer the case. You can also get your blood pressure or blood sugar levels checked free of charge, which is handy if you don’t want to wait to see a doctor. In some areas, larger pharmacies offer other services such as vaccinations.
If you visit a hospital, costs will depend on which type you choose and the insurance you hold. Those with SGK (see below) can expect discounted or free treatment, but a consultancy fee will apply even at the devlet (state) hospitals. This was previously 50 TRY for residence permit holders but rose to 200 TRY in January 2020. Not all private hospitals will accept health insurance of any kind, so be prepared to pay for treatment and ask for a cost breakdown before you consent to anything. Some hospitals have ‘tourism’ offices with translators to help with language issues.
Private health insurance
You’ll need health insurance if you intend to apply for residency, unless you are aged over 65. If you choose private insurance, only policies from a Turkish insurance company or from a foreign company with representation in Turkey – such as Allianz or Groupama – are accepted. Your policy must be dated correctly and tied in with your residency application.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of private health insurance available to foreign residents.
Some insurers offer a policy specifically designed to meet the minimum requirements for residency. These offer identical, very basic cover so tend to be fairly cheap. Some people choose this and either have savings or put money aside regularly to cover any medical treatment they may need.
The other option is a full-cover policy tailored to you. While more expensive initially, it could save money in the long run. Talk to different insurance brokers and shop around to find the best one for you.
Some policies give better coverage the longer you have them and may even include life insurance. They can also cover the whole family. The disadvantages are that private cover is not usually available for over-65s and not all private hospitals accept it. If you own property in Antalya, check how the hospitals closest to you operate.
SGK is health insurance from the Turkish government, available to foreigners with at least one year’s full-time residency in Turkey. It’s paid monthly at a fixed rate, with annual increases; as of January 2020, it costs 706.32 TRY per month.
Married couples can be covered by one policy, along with any under-18s in the family. As well as treatment at state hospitals, you can receive heavily discounted treatment at private hospitals – sometimes by as much as 70%.
There’s a comprehensive application process that involves a full medical assessment, and couples will also need a translated, notarised copy of their marriage certificate. SGK doesn’t cover pre-existing or chronic conditions and the rules change frequently, so it’s imperative to check the current situation before you sign up.
Once you opt into SGK, you can only leave by either providing proof you have joined an official private health scheme, by deciding to leave Turkey and showing you have officially cancelled your resident’s permit, or through death.
Holiday and travel insurance
If you only intend to stay in Turkey in line with the current 90-day limits, you might find your usual holiday/travel insurance is enough for your health needs while you are here. Read the fine print to make sure you’re covered for any extreme sports – for example, if you intend to paraglide from Tahtalı or go skiing in Saklıkent – and for repatriation to your home country. Some hospitals and health care providers may require you to pay up front, leaving you to claim on your insurance later.