If you are planning a move abroad, one of the most important things you have to think about is your expat health insurance. As the name suggests, expat health insurance is designed to cover your medical expenses as you are living or travelling abroad.
In essence, health insurance for expatriates works in the same way as health insurance in your country: you purchase a plan, decide on the coverage, and pay monthly or yearly premiums. Then, in case you get sick or into an accident, your health insurance company will cover the cost of your medical treatment, hospitalization and medication to the amount you have agreed on.
Expat Health Insurance vs Travel Health Insurance
When going on a trip abroad, you have likely bought travel health insurance. You know it covers medical emergencies abroad – same as expat insurance. However, if you want to move overseas long-term, travel insurance is not a viable option.
For one, travel insurance is short-term and only covers medical emergencies. Pre-existing conditions, maternity, dental, etc. are rarely included in travel insurance. Travel insurance is meant to protect you against any unexpected losses during a holiday or business trip, not for settled health coverage.
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Health Insurance Options for Expats
Depending on where you are moving, you will have the following options for obtaining health insurance:
- Pay into a national (public) health insurance scheme. If you are employed abroad, then you pay into a government health insurance scheme, and then you benefit from free or relatively inexpensive public healthcare. This type of healthcare scheme is not available in all countries.
- Purchase private health insurance from a local company. Once you arrive in your destination country, you can purchase a health insurance policy from a local company. Coverage is usually limited within the borders of that country.
- Purchase international health insurance. This type of health insurance offers coverage across several destinations (or worldwide). It is the most common type of expat health insurance, especially for people who travel or move around a lot. You can purchase an international health insurance plan at Insubuy or International Citizens Insurance. They offer a comprehensive range of plans for expats that suit the needs of both families and individuals.
National Health Insurance for Expats
If the country you are moving to has a public insurance scheme, then as a working resident, you will likely be able to use it. National health insurance only pays for treatment in public hospitals, so if you want to get treated elsewhere, you have to pay from your pocket or purchase a private health insurance scheme.
Example: Expats who are employed in Thailand automatically pay into a public health insurance scheme through social security contributions (taxes). This allows them to go to certain public hospitals and clinics in Thailand and receive free treatment and care. But if they want treatment in one of the higher-quality private hospitals, they either have to pay out-of-pocket or invest in a private or international expat health insurance scheme.
Remember: Not all countries offer public healthcare, so before you move, you should do your research and learn what to expect.
Private Health Insurance for Expats
Expats can purchase a health insurance plan from a local company anytime after they move. Private health insurance plans cover treatment in private and public hospitals, medication, hospitalization, surgeries, etc.
However, they are limited in the fact that they do not cover emergency evacuation or repatriation to your home country, or medical treatment abroad.
International Health Insurance for Expats
International health insurance is the same as any other type of medical insurance, with one addition: you are covered for medical treatment in a wider geographical area, even worldwide. This is why it is a popular option for expats who travel around a lot, or who move back and forth between countries.
Additionally, suppose you are working abroad in a country with a less-sophisticated medical infrastructure than the US. In that case, in a severe emergency, you may want to be flown back home for treatment. For this, you would need evacuation coverage, which most local insurance companies do not offer. That’s why US citizens moving abroad must obtain health insurance.
How to Purchase Expat Health Insurance?
You can purchase expat health insurance online before you travel, through comparison marketplaces such as Insubuy or International Citizens Insurance which allow you to compare different plans before settling on one.
- You simply have to enter your personal information (age, family members, where you wish to be covered).
- You will see a list of plans which you can browse through. Always make sure to read the policies carefully to learn what they include.
- Select the plans you think are most befitting to your needs.
- Click on the “Compare” button. You can see the plans featured side-by-side, and you can read through them on a more detailed manner.
- You can select which way you want to pay and whether you wish to pay on a yearly, monthly, quarterly, or six-month basis.
Purchasing a health insurance plan locally
You can also wait to get to your destination country and purchase a plan with a local company. In that case, you have to approach a company directly and go through the options. Make sure to read the policy before purchasing.
However, before you buy an expat health insurance plan, double-check these:
- Do you have national health insurance? If you are eligible for national health insurance mandated by the government, you will likely want private health insurance which fills in any gaps that national insurance leaves, such as treatment in private hospitals.
- Does your employer offer health insurance? If your employer offers a health insurance plan, be well acquainted with the policy before signing up for it. As an expat, you will want a health insurance plan which covers you abroad as well. A pre-selected plan could have less coverage than you want or need (or more). If the plan your employer offers does not suit your needs, learn if you can opt-out and choose your own insurers.
How to Choose the Best Expat Health Insurance Plan?
The best health insurance plan is different for everyone, depending on specific needs. So, when choosing an expat health insurance plan, pay attention to the following:
- Is the coverage fixed or comprehensive? Fixed coverage plans are less expensive, but only pay a fixed amount per claim (which in some cases can be too low). Comprehensive coverage plans are more expensive, but the insurance company pays based on a percentage, which can be up to 100%.
- Does the insurance plan cover everything you need? Does it cover you at least for all basic medical emergencies and treatment?
- Will it cover you if you are abroad? If you intend to travel back to the US or to another country, do you have health insurance there? Does the plan have evacuation or repatriation coverage?
- What are the “optional” coverage options? Does it have dental coverage, or do you need to get that elsewhere? What about maternity?
- How much is the policy maximum? Is it on a yearly basis, lifetime, per claim, or unlimited?
- Is it renewable?
- How much is the deductible? How much do you have to pay yourself before the insurance company steps in and covers the rest?
- Does the plan cover pre-existing conditions? If yes, to what extent?
- Does the expat insurance company have a direct-claim procedure? Some insurance companies have agreements with certain hospitals, where the hospital can send the bill directly to the insurers, and you do not need to pay anything yourself. These are usually called “in-network” hospitals.
What Does Expat Health Insurance Cover?
Most expat health insurance plans offer coverage for the following, but you can choose what you wish to cover and to what extent:
- In-patient medical treatment: hospitalization, surgery, intensive care unit, anaesthesia, lab tests and X-rays.*
- Out-patient medical treatment: physician visit, specialist visit, psychiatrist visit, urgent care, emergency room, etc.*
- Emergency services*
- Prescription medication*
- Dental coverage.
- Vision coverage.
- Mental health care.
- Pre-existing health conditions.
- Evacuation or repatriation.
- Travel health insurance.
*These items are usually included on the “basic coverage” plans. This means most insurance companies will cover them, whereas the rest of the items may or may not be included on an expat insurance policy, but you may be able to purchase them as add-ons.
When Should You Get Expat Health Insurance?
You should get expat health insurance before you officially move abroad, or at least as soon as you can. Some insurance plans have a waiting period during which they may not offer the full scope of coverage. So, the sooner you purchase, the more you can rest assured that you will be well taken care of in the event of an emergency.
Naturally, if you intend to subscribe to a local insurance plan, you will have to wait until you settle in.
In contrast, rules for national (public) insurance plans change depending on the country. But, you can purchase international expat insurance at any point.
How Much Does Expat Health Insurance Cost?
The price of health insurance plans for expats depends on the following factors:
- International or local. International plans cost more simply because they have a wider range of coverage – both in terms of geographical scope as well as covered items – than local plans.
- Your age. Most companies have different prices for different age ranges. The prices increase along with the client’s age, and many companies stop offering coverage after a certain point (usually 75-85 years).
- The amount of coverage. If you purchase a plan with a $500,000 maximum, it will cost less than a plan with a $2,000,000 maximum. This is the amount you will be covered for on a yearly basis or per claim, depending on the policy.
- Covered items. If you subscribe to a basic plan, with just medical treatment, hospitalization, emergency services, etc. it will be less expensive than adding coverage for the “optional” items, such as maternity, dental, or mental health.
- The people included in the plan. Naturally, you would pay less for an individual medical insurance plan than for a plan which also covers your family members.
Remember: Do not choose the cheapest plan available. These types of plans are usually extremely limited, and will not give you the coverage you need. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, especially when it comes to health insurance.
How to Make a Claim With Expat Health Insurance?
All health insurance companies have an emergency hotline, which you can call to ask for assistance. They also have their own determined procedures for processing a claim, which you will learn before you purchase the policy.
Some international insurance companies have a network of hospitals where you can receive treatment and the hospital sends the bill directly to the company – you don’t need to pay anything.
In other cases, you have to pay the bill and then make a claim to be reimbursed. Learn more here about how does international health insurance work.
Can’t I Just Use My Existing Health Insurance?
If you already have health insurance in the US, you may wonder why you can’t just keep using that as you move abroad. That ties back to what we said earlier: you are likely insured with a local company, and local insurance companies do not offer medical coverage abroad.
Even if they do, the coverage will be extremely limited and you have to pay higher deductibles. It is just not economically smart to move to another country and pay health insurance back in the US as well.
Does Expat Health Insurance Cover Coronavirus?
Whether a health insurance company covers claims related to coronavirus will depend on the specific company, but it will likely be specified on the policy description. If not, check for a clause which relates to pandemics, viral outbreaks, or the exclusions section.
Some insurance companies have already re-adjusted their policies to exclude the novel coronavirus, as of March 13, 2020.