Visiting the doctor in Japan can be stressful, especially if you don’t have such a good grasp of the language. Never mind any mistranslated diagnoses, just getting past the check in desk can be a struggle. The last thing you want to do is make a mistake with your paperwork and get turned away, but it can be hard to navigate all of the rules when you’re unfamiliar with the system.
On my first few trips to a doctor in Japan, my arrival always sent the staff into a panic. They didn’t seem to know any English and my Japanese wasn’t good enough to understand this totally new program. It took me a while to realize they were asking me for my national health insurance card. I eventually learnt to listen out for them asking if I had my “kenkohokensho.”
This will happen at the start of any visit — whenever you go to a doctor or dentist, to pick up a prescription or do anything related to medical care, you will need to bring along your health insurance card. Not just the first time you go, but every time. This card proves that you are covered and allows the staff to bill you correctly.This will happen at the start of any visit — whenever you go to a doctor or dentist, to pick up a prescription or do anything related to medical care, you will need to bring along your health insurance card. Not just the first time you go, but every time. This card proves that you are covered and allows the staff to bill you correctly.
If you’re unsure of how to get your health insurance card or how to sign up for the national plan, check out part one of our guide to understanding the Japanese health insurance system.
How do I use my insurance at a clinic?
In Japan, everybody pays for their visit each time they go to a doctor, dentist or pharmacist. Luckily, thanks to the national health insurance system, you will only ever have to pay 30 percent of the cost upfront while the national health insurance fund covers the rest.
When you first arrive at a clinic or hospital, you will need to provide them with you health insurance card so that they can put you into the system. Some places don’t ask for the cards until after you have seen the doctor — but you will definitely need it when you pay.
Even just a consultation will cost a fee, though perhaps only a few hundred yen. The prices differ depending on the type of doctor (a brain surgeon versus and orthodontist, for example), how long your appointment takes and what kind of tests they ask you to do. You should be looking at something between ¥1,000 to ¥3,000 to get a diagnosis. This amount is the 30 percent of the total fee that you actually pay — without insurance, seeing the doctor would cost considerably more. You will also be charged a one time extra fee of between ¥3,000 and ¥10,000 for a first time visit to a new clinic, so be prepared for that.
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