Tokyo health care: the essentials

I was asked by a number of readers who liked My Sanno Hospital Experience post about Tokyo healthcare and which international provider I was with. I`d like to introduce to you a guest post from Bupa International, my international health provider. If you’re living in Japan or planning to move here at any time in the future and are without health insurance coverage, I`d suggest doing your research on health care in Tokyo and international healthcare providers. Bupa International explains more about all this below.


Tokyo is one of the world’s most exciting cities. There’s always something happening in Japan’s capital – which is why so many people move to Tokyo to experience life in the country as an expat. However although a move to Tokyo might be driven by dreams, the reality of living in another country means you’ll have to learn about the practicalities of everyday life – which is where our guide to Japanese healthcare comes in…


There is something in the air and on the streets of Tokyo – an energy which gives the city an atmosphere like no other place in the world. It’s no wonder the place is so popular with expats.

In fact, many people would claim that Tokyo is the best city in the world, and they go to great lengths to explain why this is the case. Even if you don’t subscribe to that view the fact remains, Tokyo is a fantastic city and a big hit with international settlers. And that is something which is only likely to increase after the recent news that Tokyo has won in its bid to hold the 2020 Olympic Games.

If you are one of the many people who yearly board the plane to Tokyo’s Narita Airport to start a new life in the city then you may be prepared to dive into the culture of the country.

Maybe you’re planning on how to learn the language, or looking forward to exploring the city’s famous culinary scene… well before you do any of that you should have a think about one of the most important aspects of your new life in Japan – healthcare provision.

The lay of the land

Before we look at the options available to expats living in Tokyo when it comes to healthcare, we’ll take a look at the general state of health provision in Japan and its capital city – something which you’ll be pleased to find out, has a lot going for it.

It is generally accepted that Japan has an excellent healthcare system with a range of modern amenities and services which are at the standard of any other country in the world. Certainly the nation has a famously healthy reputation and enjoys some of the longest average life expectancies in the world, a fact that some have attributed to the countries investment in its public health service.

You can feel safe that should you need some medical attention while in Japan, you’re going to get a high standard of care, and this is as true in Tokyo as it is anywhere in the country. Across the city there are many hospitals and clinics which all offer excellent service.

When it comes to the nature of this service, where the standards of care you receive in Japan are likely to be high, there are a couple of things you should be aware of. The first of which is the duration of treatment in Japan is often much longer than that in western countries. However, the effects of this is somewhat mitigated by the fact that it is relatively cheap to stay in hospitals. The next thing to be aware of is more of a cultural shift that expats often notice. Japanese doctors sometimes have a reputation for being rather more brusque in their bedside manners than western counterparts but this is by no means a universal thing.

How the system works

The Japanese healthcare model employs a mix of private and public involvement. Essentially healthcare in the country is publicly funded and privately delivered. Hospitals and clinics are privately owned and run and paid for through a massive publicly managed health insurance scheme which just about everyone in the country signs up to.

Most people enrol through their employer who tends to pay a larger contribution to the insurance scheme. As far as your position as an expat in the country – you will be required to join this system too, but only after a year of living in the country. If you are staying in the country for less than that then you’d be best advised to pick up private health insurance (more about this later). If you are in Tokyo for the long term though, you can sign up at any time and it might be worth chasing up earlier in your stay rather than later.

The health insurance program in Japan covers most of the cost of treatments – but not all of it. The public must typically pick up 30 per cent of the costs of any treatment they receive from the healthcare service, which brings us back to private insurance providers.

Bolstering your healthcare support

There are many reasons why looking into a private expat insurance policy is a good idea and they can be highlighted in a few major examples:

  • A shorter stay: As we mentioned before, if you are planning on staying in Tokyo for less than a year you may find that getting a private insurance policy is the best way to handle your healthcare. Getting your medical bills dealt with at one source, rather than splitting them between the state insurance system and a private provider can be a far more convenient approach.

  • Topping up your costs: Even if you sign up for the public system, private insurance policies are a useful way of bridging that 30 per cent payment gap left behind after receiving treatments. If you get a good policy then you’ll be able to make sure that you aren’t out of pocket when the bills come in.

  • Making things easy: Finally, international health insurance policies could help you negotiate any cultural worries you may have when it comes to dealing with healthcare in a language you’re not entirely comfortable with. The level of support offered by private insurers could help you find English-speaking hospitals and help you understand the ins and outs of the services you’ll be using. That’ll leave you to focus on the important things – like enjoying an exciting lifestyle in one of the world’s great cities.

Are you planning on starting a new life in Tokyo?

** This content was originally published on Tokyo Stroller which has now merged with Best Living Japan. We hope you enjoy the new combined site. **





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