Being sick is bad enough in your own home and country where you may or may not have someone nearby to commiserate with or at least give you some kind of sympathy. Add a foreign country and a struggle with language to the mix with possibly very few friends around to help you, and it may seem as if the world is coming to an end!
Although in the West it is common for people to endure through minor symptoms to avoid having to pay for a doctor’s visit, especially if uninsured, the Japanese tend to be a bit quicker to seek medical advice. The difference is that most Japanese people have a form of National Health Insurance (NHI), either from their local ward or their companies.
If you are insured, then there is very little reason for you to not head straight to a doctor to get checked out, collect a prescription or just have peace of mind that you’ll be staying among the living for a while longer.
General costs for the insured
Of course, everything depends on what sort of treatment you are looking for; however, the first visit to a clinic will always be the most expensive. This means that you’ll pay no more than 30% of the uninsured fees.
Therefore, the most common first consultation fee at a local clinic (not catering to foreigners) will generally be between 3 to 5,000yen and then follow-up visits might be around 600yen or thereabouts. You may end up paying the consultation fee plus a follow-up fee the first time, but then it will just be the 600yen after that.
Those that cater to foreigners are often higher and can range up to 10,000yen for the first time even with the national health insurance.
Note that you will pay initial consultation fees every time you visit a new doctor. Therefore, it is worthwhile to shop around a bit for a doctor that you’ll be happy with, so you aren’t paying the initial fees over and over again.
For clinics that cater to foreigners, but also accept NHI, then the costs may be more, with some starting at around 10,000yen for the first consultation.
General costs for the UNinsured
Although it will again depend on the clinic and your health needs, those without NHI can expect between 10,000 to 50,000 upfront costs.
Some clinics and hospitals may charge the same first time fee regardless of if you have health insurance or not. For example, St. Luke’s Hospital advertises on their website that the fee is 5,400yen without clarifying if this with or without insurance, so one can assume that it is a flat fee either way.
Most clinics will only be able to tell you the total charges after you see a doctor and are diagnosed. Just be sure to ask for the cost of any tests before agreeing to even have blood taken as there will be a cost to anything done outside of talking with the doctor. They can generally tell you over the phone what the consultation fees will be, though.
The following is what Tokyo Midtown Medical Clinic charges (based on price list available in their clinic).
While this may not be exactly what you hoped for, it is unfortunately very difficult to know beforehand how much a medical treatment will cost you as so much depends on where you go, what your needs are and whether or not you have any form of insurance.
The best rules of thumb are:
Foreign-friendly (English-speaking) clinics and hospitals are going to cost more than a local one. If you can find a Japanese speaking friend to go with you, the local clinics are very good and can save you, especially if you do not have NHI.
If you do have NHI, then your costs will be no more than 30% of the total cost for a consultation, pharmaceuticals, tests, etc.
Every clinic and hospital will have a first-time consultation fee, so it pays to visit the same clinic rather than ‘shop around’. If you need a different clinic, then go to the one you have visited and ask for a reference letter to a different one as you can often get the first-time fee waived.
Do not be afraid! Medical treatment in Japan is generally very good given that Japanese people are quick to go to a doctor for a minor ailment, so don’t worry and get better!\
Odaji ni! (Take care of yourself!)