In the UK, we rarely consider medical insurance a necessity. In fact, almost all of our medical expenses are covered by the state via the NHS. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many other countries. When you choose to move abroad it is important to consider how your medical costs could mount up without government help. In fact, you may even feel that you need to take out expat health insurance to make sure you are covered should the worst happen.
To help you decide whether health insurance is right for you, we’ve put together a list of five of the main benefits of taking out health insurance for expats.
1) Meeting your legal obligations
Health insurance is not required by UK law, but there are many countries that do require expats to have sufficient health insurance in place before they relocate temporarily or apply for resident status. In some countries, for example, you will not be allowed to secure a visa unless you are able to provide proof that you have insurance that covers your health and the health of any family members travelling with you. As such, medical insurance is a necessity if you want to cross the country’s borders.
2) Avoid getting into debt
One of the reasons many countries require you to have health insurance in place before they will issue a visa is that medical costs can be substantial without government help. In the UK, we are used to relying on the NHS to cover the vast majority of our medical expenses so we are often unaware of just how much each treatment, consultation or procedure can cost. Unfortunately, if you are living abroad and have a medical emergency or suffer from an ongoing condition, your costs can rapidly mount and leave you in significant debt. The right medical insurance cover will protect you from many or even all of these costs, depending on the policy you choose.
3) Looking out for your family
There are many different expat health insurance policies available and selecting the right one can feel like negotiating a minefield. However, if you are travelling abroad with your family — temporarily or permanently — then you should consider choosing health insurance for expats that covers all of you under a single policy. Family insurance is often specifically designed to provide your whole family with access to the best possible medical care in your country of choice, regardless of your different ages or medical histories. In fact, family health insurance policies commonly allow individuals to include specific benefits relevant to their health concerns as part of a single umbrella policy. In addition, a family policy can also make it easier to add family-wide benefits or bonuses, such as cover for dental care or additional travel costs associated with medical conditions.
4) Cover yourself for existing conditions
A major concern for many expats planning a move abroad is an existing health condition. When moving to a country without a healthcare system in place, covering the costs of a known condition can feel impossible. Thankfully, there are many expat health insurance policies that will cover existing conditions as long as they are declared when the cover is taken out. When considering whether you have a pre-existing condition, remember that the term can refer to any of the following:
- An undetermined condition such as an undetected tumour
- A past illness or injury that you have recovered from
- Ongoing treatment for current conditions
- Current symptoms that are yet to be diagnosed
Of course, cover that protects you from expenses related to pre-existing conditions is likely to cost more than standard cover, but these extra costs should be weighed up against the potential costs associated with the ongoing medical care you will require.
5) Adding maternity cover
Maternity care is vital if you or a partner are planning for a baby or are already expecting. Unfortunately, maternity care is rarely free overseas, which means you can face significant costs without the correct health insurance in place. Thankfully, health insurance for expats often includes the option of adding maternity care to your cover, so you can make sure you and your baby receive all the assistance you need before, during and after birth. Some of the costs covered by a typical expat insurance policy include:
- Pre and post-natal treatments and examinations
- Caesarean sections where medically required
- Costs associated with normal delivery
- Costs associated with delivery complications
- Ongoing medical care for your newborn.
Many maternity packages require you to pay for your health insurance for a specified period of time before maternity care is covered, so keep this in mind if you are still in the planning stages of starting a family.
What to consider when choosing expat health insurance
We may have demonstrated that there are many benefits to taking out expat health insurance, but there are also many factors to consider before settling on an insurer or applying for a specific policy. These factors include the following:
Your medical needs
Each policy is different so you will need to find one that is well-suited to your plans for the future. Factors such as whether you are just working or planning to retire abroad should be considered, as should any family members who may be travelling with you or any existing conditions you or your family have. There are also short-term medical insurance policies available for those who are only working abroad for short periods throughout the year, and these are often a cost-effective option if you have no imminent plans to increase your overseas workload and simply need temporary cover that goes above and beyond the protection offered by travel insurance.
Every country has a different medical system in place, so it is important to choose health insurance that is relevant to your location. For example, if you are living in a single property for the duration of your time abroad, you will require a smaller geographical area of coverage for your insurance policy than someone who is travelling around one or more countries. Insurance that covers more than one country will be more costly than a policy linked to a single location, but the savings will be significant if you find yourself seeking medical treatment while travelling in a new area uninsured.
The limits of your policy
Every policy has limits and maximum claim values in place. These vary dramatically, with certain insurers and more comprehensive cover offering fewer limits than cheaper alternatives. As an expat living overseas, it is important to make sure you are aware of the limits of your chosen policy, and consider talking to an advisor if you are unsure of the most suitable level of cover for you and your family.
Seeking independent advice
Although we hope our guide has shed some light on the benefits of health insurance policies, we understand that every expat has their own needs and individual circumstances. We advise you to seek independent financial advice before choosing a health insurance policy so you can find expat health insurance that is best suited to your current needs and future plans. Remember — brokers can be a particularly helpful source of advice, providing you with guidance on how to get the best cover you can for your money.