Russian healthcare: The Russian healthcare system explained
A guide on accessing Russian healthcare as a foreigner, explaining the Russian healthcare system and how to find a Russian pharmacy, doctor or hospital.
Russian healthcare might seem similar on paper to the health system back home, with both state and private health insurance available for accessing healthcare in Russia. In truth, though, understanding how the Russian healthcare system works and ensuring you have adequate health insurance coverage can be a confusing and time-consuming business for expats relocating to Moscow or elsewhere in Russia.
The Russian Ministry of Health (министерство здравоохранения in Russian) oversees the Russian healthcare system, and the sector employs more two million people. There is a wide range of clinics and hospitals in Moscow and no shortage of dentists and Russian pharmacies around the country.
This guide provides a Russian healthcare system overview, explaining how to register with a family doctor, going to a hospital in Moscow, what to do in an emergency and how to collect and pay for prescriptions at a Russian pharmacy.
Russian healthcare system overview
The public Russian healthcare system has faced a great deal of criticism both inside Russia and from farther afield. Due to its poor organisational structure, lack of government funds, outdated medical equipment and poorly paid staff, many Russian citizens fail to access an acceptable level of healthcare in Russia.
A Bloomberg report ranked Russian healthcare last out of 55 developed countries based on the efficiency of state healthcare systems. Russian citizens seem to be of a similar opinion, with only two percent saying they were proud of the Russian healthcare system in a 2016 survey by Moscow-based polling agency Levada Center.
While it is by no means perfect, healthcare in Moscow is far better than in many parts of Russia, where some 17,500 towns and villages across the country have no medical infrastructure to speak of. This service gap could be exacerbated if the government realises its plans to cut an already-stretched healthcare budget by a third in 2017.
Russian healthcare system overview:
- Russia spent just 5.9 percent of its GDP on healthcare in 2014, according to 2016 OECD figures. This is significantly below the average of 9 percent spent by other major countries, and is down considerably on the 7.1 percent spent in 2013.
- A 2016 report from the Institute of Modern Russia claims that doctor training in Russia is very outdated, with many practicing doctors educated in Soviet times and qualifications lagging behind the west.
- Only 5 percent of Russian citizens had health insurance in 2015, most of them living in major cities.
- Average life expectancy in Russia is around 71 years, well below the OECD average of some 80 years.
How the Russian healthcare system works
Every Russian citizen and resident is entitled to free public healthcare under the Russian healthcare system via Obligatory Medical Insurance (OMI). OMI is financed by contributions from employers. Once you begin working in Russia, your employer will pay around 2–3 percent of your salary into a social tax, a percentage of which is paid into a national Russian healthcare fund. Once an employer pays this compulsory medical insurance, you have the right to free medical assistance from public Russian healthcare clinics.
Unemployed foreign citizens with a residence permit may be entitled to an OMI policy under certain conditions; check via a medical insurance company which is subscribed to the Russian healthcare system.
When you move to Russia, you’ll also need to take out voluntary healthcare insurance (VHI). VHI is voluntary in name only and covers the minimum level of medical coverage required by law. At its most basic level, VHI might not be suitable for your medical needs, so it’s highly recommended to consider if private medical insurance is required to receive the comprehensive nature and standard of care you are accustomed to back home.
Read Expatica’s guide on Russian health insurance for more information on public and private health insurance options in Russia.
Russian healthcare coverage for foreigners
As of January 2016, the previous reciprocal healthcare agreement between the UK and Russia is no longer in effect, so while you were once able to access Russian healthcare with your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), you must now consider travel insurance for Russia or private medical insurance before travelling. Other EU residents who carry an EHIC should check with their home government whether they can access Russian healthcare before coming to Russia.
For non-EU citizens, you will need to check if your home country has a reciprocal healthcare agreement with Russia and, if so, what you are entitled to. Otherwise you will typically need to show proof of healthcare coverage when applying for a Russian visa.
American citizens will also typically need to take out travel insurance for Russia, as the US and Russia don’t have a reciprocal agreement. The US Embassy in Moscow has provided a list of Moscow doctors, dentists, opticians, pharmacies and hospitals in Moscow for expats and visitors to the city.
There are many international medical centres in Moscow where English is spoken, but generally these clinics are more expensive. Some foreign healthcare insurance providers may also only have contact with a limited number of medical clinics, meaning you may be forced to use certain healthcare providers while in Russia to get a reimbursement.
Unless your insurance company has a direct billing agreement with the medical clinic you intend to use, you will have to advance the payment and claim reimbursement from your insurance company later. Some providers require pre-authorisation, meaning that you must contact your insurance company before using medical services in Russia.
How to register for healthcare in Russia
Once you’ve sorted out your employment and accommodation and have made the move to Russia, it’s your employer’s responsibility to ensure you are properly registered for state healthcare in Russia.
You can also register for Russian healthcare yourself by visiting your local provider, although it is advisable to take a Russian speaker along with you. You can register your child on your OMI plan by supplying your passports, residence permit and your child’s birth certificate to the Ministry of Health (министерство здравоохранения).
Visiting and finding Russian doctors
Russia boasts some excellent doctors, although they can be hamstrung and frustrated by the system, with poor salaries and long working hours among the biggest issues.
Facilities in state hospitals are often substandard and waiting times can be very long, although arranging to see a doctor under private medical insurance will be quicker; you can usually make an appointment by calling your clinic, and appointments are available both in the daytime and in the evening in some cases. Your family doctor in Russia should have your medical records already, and you’re likely to get better customer service than you would in a state clinic.
If you visit a state Russian healthcare clinic, you might need to show up first thing in the morning to try to get an appointment for the same day. If this fails, you might not be able to schedule an appointment for a different day, and this can be a highly time-consuming and frustrating experience if you have to return. Some clinics provide duty Moscow doctors for medical issues out of hours.
As a foreign citizen, when visiting your family doctor, it makes sense to always have phone numbers for your insurer, the clinic and your embassy in case something goes wrong. If you require the assistance of an English-speaking family doctor, read Expatica’s guide on how to find English-speaking doctors abroad.
Registering with a doctor in Russia
You can choose which family doctor (vratch) you register with, although if you’re using a state healthcare scheme you’ll need to ensure your doctor is contracted to provide state healthcare. When you register with the doctor (and later when you visit), you should provide proof of your health insurance cover.
Some health centres (polyklinika) in Moscow are associated with hospitals in Moscow, and employ both GPs and specialists. As in many other countries, a family doctor can refer you for further treatment, or provide you with a prescription allowing you to pick up medicine at a Russian pharmacy.
Hospitals in Moscow
Moscow boasts the vast majority of Russia’s best hospitals, according to rankings from the CSIC, with the Russian Children’s Hospital Moscow, Centre of Neurology Moscow and On Clinic among the highest achievers. The European Medical Center Moscow (EMC) and American Medical Center Moscow (AMC) are also two popular options for expats seeking healthcare in Russia.
There are generally three types of available hospitals in Moscow – state facilities, private facilities and western-oriented private facilities. Private hospitals in Moscow generally provide the highest level of customer services, shorter waiting times and English-speaking staff, but some clinics are only able to deal with non-complicated cases and can’t provide inpatient care, so would need to transfer you to a different hospital if you have a more severe medical issue.
Finding a Russian pharmacy and opening hours
In total, Russia has more than 17,000 pharmacies, with 60 percent belonging to municipal authorities, 23 percent to regional governments and 17 percent owned privately. A Russian pharmacy is known as apteka, and a prescription is called a retsept. Pharmacies are designated by the internationally-recognised green cross sign, and can be easily found all around Moscow and to a lesser extent around Russia.
In addition to standalone pharmacies, you can also find Russian pharmacy kiosks in major supermarkets and some metro stations, although medical kiosks can only sell medicine that doesn’t require a prescription. Russian pharmacies are usually open the same hours as shops, although Moscow has many 24-hour pharmacies, with Stariy Lekar, A5, 36,6 and Rigla among the most common. You can find a list of pharmacies and locate the nearest Russian pharmacy using the map service provided at vapteky.ru.
Some medicines you might need a prescription for back home can be bought over the counter in Russia, although you will need a prescription from your doctor for certain types of Russian medicine such as pain killers and anti-depressants. While pharmacists can give basic medical advice, they can’t write you a prescription.
Medicine in Russia may differ from those you’re used to at home, but in most cases equivalent Russian medicine is available. It can be useful to check if the medicines you use in your home country are easily available in a Russian pharmacy before you move. Remember that it could also be sold under a different name or brand. If you need to bring medication along, be sure to have documents with you proving that it is for your personal use only.
Medicine costs have increased steeply in Russia. According to research by Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, the pride of Russian-made essential medicines increased by a staggering 28.9 percent in 2015, while imported drugs increased in cost by 4.9 percent.
Medications for homeopathic treatment can be found in specialised homeopathic pharmacies. There are also specialised optic and veterinary pharmacies.
Visiting the dentist in Russia
Dental care in Russia is usually paid for either separately or as an additional extra on a private healthcare insurance package. If you decide to go to a non-private dental clinic, you might need to take a Russian speaker with you. Dental clinics in Russia offer everything from preventative and restorative treatment to cosmetic treatment, and some even open 24/7.
You can find details of some of Moscow’s dental clinics aimed at expats:
- American Dental Centre
- Dental Art
- American Russian Dental Centre
- Dental Land
- European Medical Center
- French Dental Centre
- German Dental Care
- German Dental Centre
- On Clinic International Medical Centre
- US Dental Clinic
You can also read Expatica’s guide on dentists in Moscow for children.
Russian healthcare for pregnancy and maternity
Maternity leave in Russia is allowed for 70 days before and after the birth, and employees receive an allowance from the Russian Social Security Fund during their maternity leave. After this, employees can take unpaid leave to look after their child.
Maternity hospitals in Russia are called roddoms. While you’re pregnant, it can be helpful to attend childbirth classes; while most hospitals run classes in Russian, you can ask your international healthcare centre about English-speaking pre-natal classes.
You can either give birth in state or private hospitals in Russia. State-run hospitals and clinics offer free maternity services for foreign nationals with permanent residence rights. Some expats, however, choose to give birth in a private hospital anyway, as they typically offer higher standards of care and more frequent examinations.
Private maternity care can be expensive but will often be covered if you have an adequare private health insurance plan. As with other medical needs, you’ll need to check your desired maternity clinic is one of the registered providers under your health insurance plan.
To read more about giving birth in Russia, including how prenatal and postnatal care works and how to register the birth, check our guide to maternity in Russia.
Russian healthcare in an emergency
In an emergency in Russia, you should dial 112 and ask for the ambulance service. Unfortunately, these lines are operated entirely in Russian, so it’s best to have a Russian speaker with you if possible to explain exactly where you are and what the problem is.
A doctor will come with the ambulance and if required take the patient to the local hospital, or a private hospital if they have adequate private insurance. There is also a paid ambulance service in Moscow, which can be reached by calling (495) 777 4849.
Regardless of your health insurance status, you can receive initial medical care for free in emergency situations.
Here are some useful numbers in case of emergency:
- Medical emergency number: 03
- Moscow emergency medical care: 628 0003
- Find a list of emergency phone numbers in Russia for all types of accidents and emergencies.
Russian healthcare issues
Allergies and seasonal issues
During spring and summer, Moscow suffers from an excess of poplar tree seeds in the air, bringing discomfort to people with allergies. If you are sensitive and suffer from hay fever, you should bring medication for it.
During the winter, days are very short and daylight is scarce. The weather changes can also be extreme, so taking some extra vitamins during the winter season can be wise.
Vaccinations in Russia
You should be vaccinated for diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella, polio and tetanus before going to Russia. Vaccinations against hepatitis A, typhoid and immunoglobulin are also recommended. If you are planning on visiting Siberia, you should check the precautions for tick-borne encephalitis and Lyme disease.
Expats offen have difficulty in adjusting to the dry air conditions. Women complain of dry skin and broken fingernails. You may need to use extra face cream, and it can help to place pans of water around your apartment.
Russia's dry, cold and polluted air is hard on eyes, especially if you wear contact lenses, from which a rest is advised from time to time. It is advisable to bring spare lenses or glasses with you to Russia. Otherwise, you can purchase most types and brands of contact lenses and glasses at any larger optician's shop. Most of them have qualified opticians on staff and sophisticated equipment, so they can carry out a complete eye exam before fitting you with contact lenses or glasses. Fees for eye exams are moderate.
Living in a foreign country is always challenging and stressful. Everyone – from working partners to spouses and children – can be affected. Problems frequently experienced by expatriates on international assignments include stress, anxiety and loneliness.
A problem specific to northern countries, such as Russia, is SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). If you find yourself in any situation you feel you cannot cope with, please call someone. This someone can be a friend, a member of your women's club, a nurse or a doctor at your medical centre, or fellow expats in your area. To read more about culture shock, check how to cope with culture shock, prepare for Moscow culture shock and manage culture shock in three easy steps.
Emergency Russian healthcare terms
- Help! – Pomogitye!
- Call an ambulance! – Pozvonitye v skoruyu pomosh'!
- Hospital – bolnitsa
- Excuse me, I need help! – Izvinitye, mnye nuzhna pomosh'!
- Doctor – vrach
- General Practitioner (GP) – terapevt, semeynoy
- Duty doctor – dezhurniy vrach
- Dentist – zubnoiy vrach
- Pharmacy – apteka
- Medicine – iyekarstvo
- Prescription – ryetsyept
- Health centre – polyklinika
- Insurance (s) – strakhovka
For more terms to visit a doctor, see Expatica’s Russian medical dictionary.
Compare Russian healthcare to other countries
Click to the top of our guide to Russian healthcare.
Learn more about the health insurance in other countries
- Health insurance in Belgium
- Health insurance in Germany
- Health insurance in Luxembourg
- Health insurance in the Netherlands
- Health insurance in Portugal
- Health insurance in South Africa
- Health insurance in Spain
- Health insurance in Switzerland
- Health insurance in UK
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