International and Expatriate Medical Insurance

For those choosing to move abroad, finding a medical insurance policy which is affordable, can be an important step in setting up your new life.

This guide will talk you through some of the things you should consider when taking out medical insurance for use abroad.

What is an Expatriate/International Medical Plan?

Expat Health Insurance (as it is otherwise known) is a medical insurance policy sought by UK nationals looking to seek private medical care when they move abroad permanently.  Expatriate Medical Insurance, as well as International Medical Insurance, is not the same as a ‘travel insurance’ package, which you might buy for a holiday. Travel insurance is more of a generic term which may not necessarily cover all of your medical insurance needs abroad. However, it may also include some additional protection for your valuables, passport, baggage loss etc.

Please Note: At the time of writing, EU countries (including Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland) offer expatriate healthcare to EU citizens. However, this may not mean ‘free’ healthcare. If applicable, your European Health Insurance Card will give you access to healthcare for the same price as a citizen of that nation. This card will also cover you for emergency care and necessary treatment only.

If you would like to find out more about other medical insurance types, for use in the UK, take a look at our guide and FAQ articles.

Why Should I Consider Expatriate/International Health Insurance?

  • Accessing health care in a foreign country can be difficult, in some cases. They may, for instance, not have universal healthcare. In which case, you may need some form of insurance to receive treatment, for even minor ailments.
  • If you are an expatriate of any age, you may consider getting this insurance. Similarly, if you are an international student studying abroad, or a professional who travels between two or more countries frequently, you may also be interested in an international health insurance policy, which is portable.  
  • You may be interested in both forms of cover if the standard of healthcare in your chosen locale is not of a high standard.
  • You can choose the level of cover you want, paying for only the services you need. Further, you can add on to your policy and include things like dentist and optician cover, as well as physiotherapy, wellness check-ups and even emergency care.

Why Should I Consider International Medical Insurance?

International Medical Insurance or Global Medical Insurance (as it is also known) is slightly different to both expatriate health insurance and travel medical insurance. These policies are for those who travel frequently to many other countries and need a comprehensive plan to cover their medical expenses abroad. Many expatriates will also think about taking this kind of insurance, to cover them for the period of time where they cannot yet access their local state or private healthcare system.

Usually, providers of this type of insurance will divide cover into regions. The US, as an example, generally has high medical costs. Therefore, travellers who never go to America, but are seeking medical insurance for use in other countries, can choose to skip America coverage and in turn, lower the price of their premiums (in some cases).

Some of the treatments covered in an international medical insurance policy include;

  • Hospital In-patient care
  • Out-patient care
  • Surgeries
  • Emergency Dental
  • Cancer Treatment
  • Consultations
  • Additional policy extras can include maternity cover, physiotherapy, vaccinations, prescriptions, and psychiatric treatment.  

Let’s Look at an Internationals Medical Insurance Example:

David is a UK citizen and operations manager for a global pharmaceutical brand. He has been given the task of setting up new company offices in Colombia and Bangkok. First, he will stay in the Colombian capital, Bogota, for six months, to complete the set-up and after that, he will spend another six months in Bangkok. David is looking for International Medical Insurance, as opposed to Expat Insurance, because he needs a medical policy which is portable.

After searching online for an impartial advisor, he was pointed to an International Medical Insurance policy which he can also use to pay for private healthcare when he returns to the UK. His international health plan also includes a renewable guarantee, meaning that he can make as many claims as he likes on insurance. He also chooses to include evacuation coverage, in-patient and outpatient care.

What is Covered in Expatriate Medical Insurance?

There are many different expat health insurance policies and levels of cover within these policies. As a starting point, you may want to consider insurance for the following;

  • In-Patient Treatment – This includes overnight stays in hospital
  • Day-Patient Treatment – This is where you may need hospital treatment but you are not expected to stay in hospital overnight.
  • Out-Patient – This would include cover for trips to the GP or medical centre.
  • Wellness Check-Ups- You can get a plan where annual health check-ups are conducted with a medical professional.
  • Vaccinations – You may be able to find a plan where any vaccinations are included in your policy (this may appeal to frequent travellers).
  • Dental Care – Including annual check-ups, X-Rays or dental work you may need.
  • Optical Care – This may be useful for those who wear spectacles or contact lenses
  • Long-Term Care – This can pay for care if you were, for example, to have a disability or long-term illness.
  • Maternity Cover – This can help you cover the costs of pregnancy check-ups, midwifery care and post-natal care.
  • Transportation – In some countries, paying for transportation to hospital is a necessity. You can pay for these costs with your international medical insurance policy premiums.
  • Excess – Some insurers will let you set a higher excess amount before your cover starts. In some cases, this can lower your insurance premiums. However, you will need to make sure you can afford to pay your excess as and when required.
  • Underwritten Vs Moratorium – There are two main ways in which your premiums charges are calculated through this form of insurance, underwritten and moratorium. Underwritten policies will include medical questionnaires, in some cases a health check and in other cases, written confirmation of pre-existing conditions.  Moratorium policies require less intrusive questions and checks. But, if you have a pre-existing medical condition, you may be excluded from cover. This, however, may also be the case with underwritten policies, as pre-existing conditions pose an increased risk to insurers. Alternatively, you may be able to find cover for existing conditions, if, for example, you have not received any treatment or medical attention for it in years.

What are the Benefits of Expatriate/International Health Plans?

  • Better Healthcare Access – In developing countries, having insurance for medical care may be essential. In which case, paying for medical insurance abroad may mean the difference between life and death.
  • Treatment First- With some policies, you can receive the medical treatment you need, without having to front the costs.
  • Co-Insurance – Some plans will cover a certain percentage of treatments/diagnosis/consultations and you pay the rest. For example, you may be on a dental co-insurance plan, where your insurer agrees to pay 80% of your dental care bill and you pay the remaining 20%.
  • Helplines – Moving to a new country is a very complicated process for many and you may find that medical treatment in your new country works very differently to medical treatment back home. For instance, you may not be able to buy painkillers over the counter in some countries. For this reason, many international medical insurers offer free advice to their customers, on aspects of healthcare in your new home country.
  • Death of Close Relatives – Some medical insurance plans can cover the cost of you travelling back to your home country to visit your family after the death of a close relative. This is not a feature of all plans but can be a useful extra to have. You never know when you may need to suddenly fly back home and this insurance can help you cover your costs.
  • ‘Risky’ Activities Covered – Some plans will cover your medical care if you take part in dangerous hobbies, such as winter sports, where the risk of injury is relatively high. However, you may need to pay more towards your monthly premiums.
  • Repatriation – Some plans will cover you in cases of evacuation (in this case, evacuation means transferal to another medical centre where appropriate treatment is available), as well as repatriation of your remains when you die. This can be a useful additional extra to a standard international policy and one you may consider if most of your family still live in the UK.
  • English Speaking Doctors – If you are not skilled in the language of your new home country, receiving medical treatment can be a scary experience. With some providers, you can access English speaking doctors, which can do a lot to put you at ease when you are unwell.

What are the Pitfalls of Expat Health Insurance?

  • Restrictions in Region – Some plans may not offer comprehensive cover in certain countries. This can happen with some policies, as the restrictions depend on the healthcare system in any given country. For example, you may wish to cover emergency care, but the country concerned may not offer it as an insurable service.
  • Pay Up Front- With some policies, you may have to pay for the treatment and claim it back later. If this is the case, you must look through your policy fine print carefully. You may not be covered for certain things, in which case you will not be able to claim your money back.
  • Waiting Times – You may need to wait a period of up to 12 months (in some cases) before your insurance provider will cover you for certain procedures. For many insurers, this waiting period may apply to cases of maternity treatment.
  • Annual Limits – Some policies have limits on the amount you can claim within a year. If this is the case, you may need to look at expanding your cover. As you wouldn’t want to be caught short when it comes to paying for your medical treatment abroad.
  • Policy Premiums – As is the case with most insurers, the older you are and the poorer your condition of health, the more money you may have to pay towards your premiums. This may be unavoidable if you live in a country where healthcare has to be paid for.

Finding medical insurance for use abroad can be a complicated process. One that requires careful research, whether you are permanently relocating, or travel frequently around the world. To ensure you find the right health care plan for your needs, it is advisable to speak to a specialist insurance broker in this field. Get in touch with an expert today, all you have to do is fill out a short form and an advisor can offer you a free, no-obligation quote.

Quick friendly service. I was quite confused about what my family and I required but the policy options were quickly clarified and I got a great price and top service. Emily Thompson, Bath

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