Healthcare in Colombia

Healthcare in Colombia has become known for its quality, coverage and accessibility. The country generally provides care of a very high standard at a relatively low cost and attracts numerous medical tourists looking for affordable treatment.

Health insurance is compulsory and all residents must be registered with a health service provider. Insurance is provided by both public and private companies to promote competition and a higher standard of service.


Public healthcare in Colombia

Public healthcare in Colombia can be of a high standard, but its quality and reliability tend to be inconsistent. Patients in public hospitals often face overcrowded emergency rooms, long waiting times, and a shortage of doctors. 

Despite this, the level of care in the major urban centres can be excellent, with well-trained doctors and well-equipped facilities, but access to healthcare in the more rural areas can be challenging. The majority of expats in Colombia opt to have some form of private healthcare plan as a back-up or for medical emergencies.


Private healthcare in Colombia

Expats living in Colombia will find that private healthcare is easily accessible and affordable, even on a local salary. The country boasts a modern private healthcare system centred on the major cities, and there is a range of insurance and treatment options for almost every budget. 

The private healthcare in Colombia also attracts a number of medical tourists, especially from the US, who are wooed by the high quality of care and the low prices. This is particularly true for cosmetic surgeries and dental work.


Pharmacies in Colombia

There are numerous pharmacies in cities and towns across the country. Many of these, particularly the large pharmacy chains, operate seven days a week and are open 24 hours a day. Many pharmacies offer a home delivery service and medication is available over the counter at relatively low prices compared to those in the US and Europe.

Pharmacies tend to be well stocked and many medications which require a prescription in other countries can be bought over the counter in Colombia. While there aren't strict regulations on bringing reasonable amounts of prescription medication into the country, expats are likely to find that purchasing their medication in Colombia will be significantly cheaper than it would be in their home country.


Health insurance in Colombia

Residents of Colombia must be insured under one of two regimes. The subsidised regime is for low-income families and is known as SISBEN (El Sistema de Selección de Beneficiarios para Programas Sociales). Meanwhile, the contributory regime known as EPS (Entidade Promotoras de Salud) is for those earning above the minimum monthly amount. Most expats will fall into the latter category.

The EPS contribution is part of an employee’s salary. Expats with a contract that meets the minimum salary requirements must join the contributory health system. The system requires appointments to be made in advance, and a referral from a GP is needed before seeing a specialist. Some services may require a small co-payment. 

Expats are also advised to take out private medical insurance, even if they pay into the national healthcare plan. Most health issues can be dealt with at one of the many hospitals or clinics, but in the case of chronic or long-term illness then it is advisable to have the extra cover in case specialist care is required. Private health insurance can be purchased from a number of local or international providers.

When moving abroad with an employer it is likely that a corporate healthcare plan will already have been put into place. If moving independently, expats should consider purchasing private insurance to top-up the services available on the public system.


Health hazards in Colombia

The tap water in major cities is generally safe to drink, although many houses and apartments have small water filtration systems installed. Expats should not drink tap water outside of the major urban centres unless it has been boiled, filtered or sterilised. 

Mosquito-borne viral diseases, including yellow fever, dengue fever, Zika and chikungunya, pose a significant threat in Colombia. Malaria is also prevalent in some regions, and expats should take the necessary precautions. When travelling to high-risk areas of the country, expats should use insect repellent, wear long sleeves and pants, and make use of window and door screens.


Pre-travel vaccinations for Colombia

The following vaccinations are recommended for expats travelling to Colombia:

  • Yellow fever

  • Typhoid

  • Hepatitis A

  • Routine vaccinations, if not up to date (measles, tetanus, poliovirus etc.)


Emergency services in Colombia

In Colombia, every clinic or hospital must provide immediate medical care to anyone who requires emergency medical attention.

In case of an emergency, expats can call the national emergency number (123) and will be redirected to the appropriate service. For English-speaking operators, it's best to contact the Colombian tourist police.

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