The UAE has announced changes to its visa policy with new options for medical tourists, as part of efforts to make Dubai a leading global medical tourism hub. The emirate aims to attract up to half a million people for medical tourism each year, which would lead the sector to contribute around Dhs2.6 billion to GDP.

Dubai benefits from good accessibility to healthcare, with shorter waiting times than in many countries, high levels of safety and security, state-of-the-art infrastructure and a strong hospitality industry. According to a recent survey, 80 per cent of medical tourists come to Dubai for quality of care, 61 per cent for the city’s experienced doctors, while 48 per cent highlighted the availability of specialist treatments.

Under the new rules, a medical treatment visa costs Dhs550, with a multiple entry visa priced at Dhs1400 and a visa for a patient’s escort also priced at Dhs1400. In addition to helping Dubai achieve its goal, the visas will help measuring the number of medical tourists entering the UAE, which will help inform future planning and improvements.

Dubai Health Authority (DHA) officials have already put a comprehensive medical tourism package in place for overseas patients, due to be launched later this year. This will include treatment costs, visa, accommodation, and leisure activities for accompanying families. Hospitals that wish to participate in the scheme will be evaluated and will need to pass stringent verification measures.

The DHA plans to build 22 hospitals including 18 private and four public hospitals in the next few years to support the high volumes of medical tourists. The number of private sector healthcare staff is expected to increase by up to 4000.

Boosting medical tourism to the UAE will in turn ensure that better medical facilities and services are available for the population. Currently, the low population means that more expensive specialised services, such as brain surgery and robotic heart surgery, can only be sustainable if patients are attracted from abroad.