Many expats end up in their new country because of work, going or being sent where their skills are best appreciated and most needed. Others move abroad for entirely different reasons, from business to personal and everything in between, which means they have more choice.
How do you decide where to move? There are all manner of practical and emotional considerations, including the standards and quality of health care available. If one country has poor healthcare and another has excellent primary healthcare facilities, your choice is easier, especially when you’re taking your family with you. You probably want to live in a healthy country, with good healthcare facilities and a general population that’s in good overall health.
How do you find reliable stats and facts about health care in the countries you’re considering? I thought it would be useful to take a look at places where you’ll find reliable, trustworthy health care statistics by country, to help you make an informed decision.
Health statistics by country
Which are the world’s healthiest countries?
What is a healthy country? It’s fair to assume that a healthy population means a decent healthcare system. So, for a start, I’m going to look at the world’s most healthy countries, where the general population is in good health compared to poorer-performing nations.
According to Bloomberg, the top ten healthiest countries on earth are:
“To identify the healthiest countries in the world, Bloomberg Rankings created health scores and health-risk scores for countries with populations of at least 1 million.
We subtracted the risk score from the health score to determine the country’s rank. Five-year averages, when available, were used to mitigate some of the short-term year-over-year swings.”
Forbes magazine, on the other hand, has rated Iceland the world’s healthiest nation, with Sweden and Finland coming close behind and Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Denmark, Canada, Austria and the Netherlands in the running. It’s interesting to see some countries on both lists, Forbes and Bloomberg.
“According to Forbes the region that is the healthiest in the world is northern Europe, including countries such as Iceland, Sweden, and Finland. Others include Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Canada, Austria, and the Netherlands. What makes these countries so much healthier? A lot of of has to do with their overal more nationalized healthcare system. They looked at statistics relating to air pollution, access to drinking water, poverty rates, infant mortality rates, prevalence of various diseases such as tuberculosis, as well as density of physicians. A very important statistic is infant mortality rates, where low ones indicate socioeconomic factors. All in all, healthcare is a major impact on the health of a country.” (emorysoc.com)
What are the best foreign health care systems?
It’s also fair to say that a country’s healthcare system probably has an effect on the population. Looking at things the other way around, which nations have the best health care systems?
Never assume! You might not expect it but Costa Rica, for example, enjoys one of the best healthcare systems in Latin America, constantly being upgraded and added to with a constant stream of new hospitals and ongoing staff training. It’s around a fifth of the cost of medical care in, say, the USA, which is very good but notoriously expensive.
In late 2009 PBS compared international healthcare systems across a bunch of countries including the Netherlands, Japan, the USA, Canada and Mexico, based on WHO research. Times may have changed but their healthcare models remain much the same, making it a useful resource. Here’s a link.
If you want to delve deep into the very fine detail there’s an excellent academic paper from the WHO which compares healthcare systems using resource profiles. And context.org compares various healthcare systems here, looking at what, exactly, makes a healthcare system ‘good’.
Back to the WHO again, who have ranked 191 countries’ systems in 2000 according to, “performance indicators to assess the overall level and distribution of health in the populations, and the responsiveness and financing of health care services.” Their list, which remains the latest list, is available on Wikipedia, and there’s plenty of extra detail about things like life expectancy, infant mortality and preventable deaths here, also on Wikipedia.
What about infectious diseases?
A healthy country is one that’s reasonably free from disease. Some nations have terrible problems with infectious diseases, especially when war and conflict have disrupted local and national health care facilities. Some countries suffer occasional outbreaks, others have ongoing issues with nasty things like malaria and dengue fever.
As a rule, the cooler the climate the fewer the infectious diseases. But climate change is bringing infections that were previously unknown to some countries for the first time. It’s always wise to check what your government is saying about travelling to or living in a new country. As the World Health Organisation says:
“During 1996, fatal yellow fever infections were imported into the United States and Switzerland by tourists who travelled to yellow fever endemic areas without having had yellow fever vaccination.
During the same year approximately 10,000 reported cases of malaria were imported into the European Community, with one fourth of them reported from the United Kingdom.
When cholera re-entered Peru in 1991, after a long absence, it found an opportunity to spread through the existing sanitation and water systems, causing over 3 000 deaths. Seafood exports were embargoed from Peru and tourism decreased, costing an estimated loss of at least US$770 million to the Peruvian economy in one year.”
Many developing countries are battling with pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria, all well-known child killers. How do you avoid such nations? In Britain, for example, the government publishes information about which countries are safe and which they recommend travellers avoid. If you’re moving abroad long term, it’s absolutely crucial to identify any previous, current and predicted health risks before making a decision. Your government probably supplies the same kind of information for travellers and expats as well as guidance about avoiding regions troubled by civil unrest, dangerous conditions, terrorist activity and conflict.
What about happiness?
There’s a growing body of scientific evidence proving that happiness affects our health and well being. So it seems sensible to also take into account a country’s happiness index. As reported by CNN in late 2013:
“Those looking for greater happiness and satisfaction in life should head to northern Europe, but steer clear of Egypt and countries worst hit by the Eurozone crisis, according to the 2013 World Happiness Report released Monday by Columbia University’s Earth Institute.
Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden are the world’s happiest countries, according to the survey of 156 countries. Rwanda, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Benin and Togo — all nations in Sub-Saharan Africa — are the least satisfied with their lives, the report said.
The United States came in at number 17 in the world in terms of overall happiness, but it still lags behind Canada (6), Australia (10), Israel (11) the United Arab Emirates (14) and Mexico (16), according to the Earth Institute.
The report ranks the United Kingdom as the 22nd happiest country in the world. Other major nations included Germany (26), Japan (43), Russia (68) and China (93).”
Which are the world’s wealthiest countries?
Does wealth affect health? It makes common sense. As a general rule the poorer the nation, the worse its health care system.
Global Finance magazine has published a list of the planet’s poorest and richest countries, comparing general differences in living standards using GDP per capita on a purchasing power parity basis. They estimate Qatar was the world’s richest nation in 2013, with a per capita GDP of more than $105,000. The poorest country on earth is the Democratic Republic of Congo, with a per capita GDP of less than $400.
International medical insurance is a must
Taking all these different stats into account, you might see useful patterns emerging. But no matter how healthy, happy and well looked after a country’s population, you will need good quality health insurance to protect your finances and ensure there are no delays getting the care and treatment you need. Once you’ve decided where to live, finding the best health insurance should be your next step. Any questions? We’ll be delighted to help.