The healthcare system in Brazil

Updated 2022-03-28 15:23

If you are traveling to Brazil, then you should consider whether it makes sense to obtain traveler's insurance or not. This is particularly true if you'll be heading off the beaten track or engaging in any activity that might put you at risk. Brazil has a mix of developed and underdeveloped areas. While it has a public healthcare safety net that you might avail yourself of, you should consider getting private healthcare insurance.

Travel insurance

For peace of mind, before leaving for Brazil, you may wish to obtain insurance that covers medical emergencies and repatriation. This is especially true if you might be exploring beyond the usual tourist areas or engaging in any activity that might put you at risk of physical harm, such as hang gliding, SCUBA diving, or hiking on rough trails. You have many insurance options.

First, consult your current healthcare provider to see what you might already be covered for. Trips of short duration (two weeks, for example) may be covered, at least partially. Or you may be able to add a temporary rider to your existing policy at a very reasonable cost.

If your trip is organized by a travel agent, ask for advice on travel insurance options. Be sure to inquire specifically about what is and isn't included, as some policies are designed more to cover things such as trip cancellations and lost luggage. You'll want insurance that specifically covers medical treatment and ideally, provides repatriation as well.

Private health insurance in Brazil

To benefit from optimized health coverage, foreign nationals are advised to subscribe to private international health insurance before moving to Brazil.

There are many insurance companies to choose from, according to your needs and budget.

Some of the leading health insurance providers are:

Consider having a look at their offers according to your needs and get a free quote on's Health Insurance for Expatriates in Brazil page.

Long-term healthcare

If you're staying longer in Brazil, your insurance needs will, of course, be different. In that case, you'll need to evaluate your options.

Brazil does provide a public healthcare safety net, which is open to all citizens and legal residents. This means that you're able to get healthcare for free when you need it. In fact, it's unlikely that anyone needing emergency care would be turned away, even a tourist. However, Brazil is suffering from a recent severe economic crisis, one result of which is that many of its public hospitals and clinics are underfunded. Long waits are common, and sometimes, basic supplies may be unavailable. Don't be surprised if the doctors tell you there's a waitlist of up to two years. That said, if you have an emergency and a public facility is close by, use it.

Those in Brazil who can afford it opt to obtain private healthcare coverage. Private care is good, and in fact, Brazil has many fine hospitals that can handle even major surgeries. Policy costs will of course vary, depending on your age, location, and whether you select regional or national coverage. But in general, policies aren't expensive in comparison to those available in developed countries.

Good to know:

Because medical costs in Brazil are considerably lower than in other countries, many travel to Brazil specifically for plastic surgery at clinics such as the renowned Pitanguy Clinic in Rio de Janeiro.

How the Brazilian public healthcare system works

The public national health system (Sistema Unico de Saude, or SUS) allows you to get free access to medical care. It was first developed in the 1980s and covers almost 200 million residents. If you want to go to private sector enterprises or healthcare providers, you can do so as well, although it won't be for free.

If you ever find yourself in a tough financial situation, you won't have to worry, as the public healthcare system gives you free checkups and treatments. And if you ever need to have surgery, stay in the hospital for treatment, and/or need prescription medications, you won't be responsible for these costs either.

What's interesting to note is that the public health system actually relies heavily on the private sector. Many of the medical procedures are done at private hospitals, and then the states reimburse the hospitals afterward. Another interesting note is that many of the public healthcare doctors also work in the private sector, so if you're from the UK or have used the NHS before, it's similar to how the healthcare system works there as well.

Overall, the federal government oversees all general healthcare policies. However, the individual states run the public hospitals in their areas. So while all healthcare policies might be uniform in the country, the quality of treatment you receive in one state might differ greatly from the quality of treatment you receive in another.

As we've pointed out above, the public healthcare system is very overwhelmed. It's very likely that no matter what state you're in, it'll be difficult to find prompt care. In addition, if you don't know Portuguese, communicating effectively with a public healthcare professional will be challenging, as there aren't many English-speaking doctors. Again, if this doesn't sit well with you, you might be better off with private healthcare in Brazil.

How the Brazilian private healthcare system works

As we've covered earlier, there are some leading companies you can buy private health insurance policies from. But how does it work and what else should you know about the private healthcare system in Brazil?

Well, while the public healthcare system leaves much to be desired, the opposite is true of the private healthcare system. In fact, you'll find some of the best care in all of Latin America here. And you'll certainly be paying dearly for it as well. Despite this, around 25% of Brazilian residents have private health insurance, so that should tell you something.

If you have a well-paying job, and/or you know you'll have lots of health issues to deal with while in Brazil, it'll be worth it to seek out private healthcare. It's on par with the service you'll get in the US and Europe, sometimes even better. Some are even renowned worldwide. And truth be told, the costs aren't as much in those countries. This is why medical tourists are very common in Brazil, especially in larger cities with the best hospitals. São Paulo in particular has a high number of medical tourists since it has most of the top hospitals in the nation. So if you need treatment, try to seek a hospital in this area.

Here's a general idea of how much you can expect to pay for private healthcare:

  • GP consultation: R$120 to R$500 (R$ is the Brazilian real, the currency used)
  • Specialist consultation: R$280 to R$400
  • Dentist consultation: R$150
  • Simple surgical procedure: R$14,000 to R$28,000
  • Stay in a hospital (one day, excluding treatment and tests): R$2,500 to R$9,000

Of course, the exact costs will depend on which state and even city you're receiving treatment in. But expect prices to be much higher in São Paulo, as all the best doctors and facilities are there, and their services are high in demand.

How to have proper medical coverage

As you've seen above, you can get proper medical coverage by having private health insurance in addition to using the public healthcare system. We've shown you two companies you can try, but there are 15 in total to choose from in Brazil. With any insurance plan from these companies, you won't be restricted as to the network or the geographical area you go to.

In addition to private health insurance, there are actually three other ways to have proper medical coverage in Brazil. Explore them more in detail below.

Group medical insurance

You can get on medical plans (planos de saúde) that are considered group medical insurance. If you find private medical insurance too expensive, this is a good alternative, as the costs aren't as high.

However, you should be aware of two things. If you need treatment, you need to seek doctors and/or medical facilities that are preapproved by the insurance company you're with. In addition, you'll be restricted to a certain area in Brazil and network of both doctors and medical facilities.

Company plans

Company plans (also known as self-management plans) are what they sound like. They're arranged by your employer, and they'll get a direct contract with specific hospitals and doctors in the area. While this means you're restricted to the medical professionals you can see and the facilities you can go to, you won't have to worry about arranging for all this yourself. And if your company covers medical, then you won't have to pay for it either.

Medical cooperatives

With medical cooperatives, you'll also be severely limited, seeing as you'll only be able to see a group of doctors who own particular medical facilities. However, if you've had experience with these doctors and facilities, and enjoy what they have to offer, this can be a small sacrifice. Paying for coverage at these medical cooperatives can also be cheaper than private insurance coverage.

International health insurance

If you're an expat who plans on traveling regularly out of the country (for instance, to visit family and friends in your home country or elsewhere), then international health insurance might be better for you. Not only do you get to see any doctor and go to any medical facility in Brazil, but you'll also have that choice in other nations as well, depending on your specific plan.

With many plans, you'll be able to receive medical care in the country of your choice, and your insurance company will reimburse you. This makes it good for not only expats who travel often, but also for expats who don't plan on making Brazil their permanent home. When it comes time to pack up and move to another country, many international health insurance plans can continue uninterrupted, which eliminates some paperwork after you move. Just make sure you check with the local legislation so you're sure you have coverage there.

Specific health risks

Prior to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, there was much news coverage about the Zika virus, affecting pregnant women heavily, due to the threat of microcephaly to the fetus. The reported cases of Zika are dramatically down now. That said, mosquito-borne diseases do represent a concern for travelers, especially those who may wish to visit more remote locations. The same mosquito that carries Zika (Aedes aegypti) also carries yellow fever, dengue, and chikungunya, which can be threats in parts of Brazil.

Of these diseases, there's currently only a vaccine for yellow fever. The best treatment is prevention. Travelers to areas with high mosquito activity should cover up and apply a repellent containing DEET. If possible, stay inside with windows closed around twilight, when mosquitoes are quite active.

Good to know:

Areas near the beach are at low risk, as mosquitoes (including Aedes aegypti) don't breed in saltwater and avoid areas with strong breezes.

Besides mosquitoes, travelers should follow the usual guidelines to drink bottled water and avoid eating unpeeled fruits and vegetables. Be cautious when buying food from street vendors, particularly chicken, which might be undercooked, or shrimp, which might've been in the sun.


There is a high incidence of HIV/AIDS in Brazil.

Despite these warnings, your greatest health danger in Brazil is probably overexposure to the sun. Much of the country lies in the tropical or subtropical zones, and sunburn and sunstroke can happen, especially when drinking alcohol and having fun.

Important numbers to know

If you have an emergency, you should know the numbers to dial. If you need an ambulance, dial 192; if you need the fire brigade, then dial 193.

Do note that private hospitals have their own ambulance services. If you have a medical emergency and have private insurance, dial their number instead to get direct treatment from them.

Useful links:

Ministry of Health of Brazil

International Medical Group

World Nomads

Global Voyager

April International

ASFE Expat

Health Care International

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.