11 Dec 2017

Q&A on Health Insurance in the UAE

Authored by: Sarah Anderson

Q&A on Health Insurance in the UAE

In brief:

  • Considers the provision of health insurance in the Emirates, and in the free zones
  • Looks at the availability of health insurance and national pension funds
  • Considers the future of health tourism in Dubai

1.  Do rules governing health insurance differ between the individual Emirates?

Individual Emirates have their own laws in respect of some matters (such as health insurance) which are Emirate specific and only apply within that specific Emirate. For example, Dubai Law No. 11 of 2013 (“Dubai Health Insurance Law”) requires all Dubai employers to provide health insurance for their employees and the equivalent in Abu Dhabi is Abu Dhabi Law No. 23 of 2005, together with its supplemental executive regulations (“Abu Dhabi Health Insurance Law”). While both laws make it compulsory for employers/sponsors to provide health insurance, there are differences between the Emirates in terms of the level of cover required; for example, in Abu Dhabi employers are required to cover the employee, their spouse and up to three dependents, whereas in Dubai employers need only cover the employee.

2.  Do rules governing health insurance differ between onshore UAE and the free zones?

As discussed, laws in relation to health insurance are specific to each Emirate. While free zones are separate economic zones which do have some of their own rules and regulations, they are not unregulated, and are still governed by any Emirate-specific laws and Federal laws.  Accordingly, provisions such as mandatory health insurance apply equally to companies based in a free zone or onshore.

The free zones do have flexibility to issue their own supplementary rules and regulations and we are aware that following the introduction of the Dubai Health Insurance Law in January 2014, some free zone authorities acted early and made it a prerequisite for sponsors to ensure health insurance was in place for every employee at the point of their visa application.  At the time, this significantly predated the deadlines specified by the Dubai Health Insurance Law.

3.  Are there any national insurance funds which support the unemployed or the sick or disabled? If so how do they work and who is entitled to benefit from them?

Unlike many jurisdictions, in the UAE there are no national insurance or income tax contributions which are intended to fund payments for the unemployed or those with sicknesses or disabilities. However, some financial support is available from the Community Development Authority for low income earners. In practice, our understanding is that support is limited to UAE nationals or those with disabilities. 

In addition, although most residents in the UAE will have in place health insurance (employers / sponsors must provide this), the Dubai Health Authority permits low-paid residents to obtain a health card which entitles residents to low cost medical treatment at public hospitals and clinics. 

4.  Are there any national pension funds which support the aged?  If so how do they work and who is entitled to benefit from them?

Only eligible UAE nationals and GCC nationals who are working in the UAE must be enrolled in the state pension scheme. 

5.  Are employers required to make specific payments into pension funds for their employees? Does this differ for national, GCC national and non-national employees?

In the UAE there is no blanket requirement that employers must provide all employees (save for employees of certain nationalities) with access to a pension or to make contributions on their behalf. In addition, there is no state pension into which all employees must pay social security contributions.

However, any UAE employer who employs “eligible” UAE nationals and GCC nationals working in the UAE must register itself with the relevant pension authority – the General Pension and Social Security Authority (“GPSSA”) in Dubai and the Abu Dhabi Retirement and Pension Benefit Fund (“ADRPF”) in Abu Dhabi. It must then ensure that it registers any “eligible” UAE nationals or “eligible” GCC nationals.

Eligible UAE Nationals are those who hold a family book (i.e. those with a long-standing connection to the UAE). Eligible GCC nationals are GCC nationals who are working in the UAE – there is no requirement for these nationals to provide a family book. Employers must register employees within a set period after they commence their employment, and there are fines and penalties for late registration or failure to register. 

In respect of registered employees, employers must also make pension contributions (of varying percentages depending on nationality) on the employee’s behalf. Employees are generally also required to make contributions and the state will also make contributions.

6.  Dubai has been taking steps to develop its health tourism – are there any rules regulating this particular industry?

Dubai has made moves to facilitate more medical tourism by providing “medical tourist” visas for non-residents lasting for 3 months, with the ability to extend if needed. There are different categories of visa available depending on the type and specialism of the treatment being sought by a foreign patient, and a hospital ranking system is being developed so that a potential patient can decide on their treatment facility options based on price, star-rating and quality of services.

The hospitals authorised by the Dubai Health Authority will sponsor the patient and their families under these visas with a choice of travel and accommodation packages, including hotel stays and activities.

Furthermore, in the lead-up to Expo 2020, Dubai is set to build a significant number of new hospitals and hire thousands of new personnel to generate more foreign investment in the healthcare industry.


This article, including any advice, commentary or recommendation herein, is provided on a complimentary basis without consideration of any specific objectives, circumstances or facts. It reflects the views of the writer which may, in some cases, differ from those of the firm, especially in the developing jurisdiction of the UAE.