Do I need health insurance to live abroad?

Having health insurance is rarely a legal requirement in any country; although, to obtain a residency visa, many governments often want proof that you can financially support yourself while living in their country. So, the simple answer is no you are not typically required to have health insurance as an expat. However, living without access to either public healthcare services or private insurance that will pay your healthcare treatment is incredibly dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. If you are a young British expat living abroad, you might want to save a little each month to put towards your health insurance.

For expats living abroad, it is helpful thinking of the cost of your health insurance just like any of your other monthly expenditures. Do you need a phone? Probably not, but your life would most likely be very difficult without it. As an expat, think of the cost of health insurance like the cost of your rent, utilities or transportation: it is necessary and needs to be incorporated into your cost of living.

Being prepared to take care of your physical health, even if you consider yourself to be entirely healthy, should be a priority as an expat living in another country. It is worth the time and effort to research whether you qualify for public healthcare in your new country, and if not, to find the right private health insurance plan for you and your family within your price range.

Do I qualify for public health insurance as an expat living abroad?

It honestly depends on where you are from, where you are moving to, and whether you will qualify for state-funded public healthcare as an expat in a foreign country. For example, if you are from a country within the European Union and are moving to another EU country, you typically don’t have to do anything to access healthcare except show your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). British expats need to be especially prepared for not automatically having health insurance while living in countries such as Spain or Germany; since Brexit, British expats who used to get free healthcare throughout Europe are only automatically eligible for free healthcare through the NHS.

Many countries around the world that have a good public healthcare system will ensure that any person who pays into their social security system, such as through local employment or self-employment, is also entitled to free healthcare. However, if you are retired or are employed to work remotely in a different country, there is good chance that you may not have access to this service. It is recommended not to wait until you must go to the doctor to find out because this may be a lengthy process. As it is likely to be different in each country, do your research before you move to find out if you qualify for state benefits and how you can register for public healthcare services.

Why would I need international health insurance?

If you are moving to a country that doesn’t have a public healthcare system, such as the USA, or you do not qualify for public healthcare in your new country, you should seriously consider buying private health insurance, which can cover the cost of any medical treatment you may seek while living abroad.

For those moving from Britain, it is easy to take for granted the public healthcare that you most likely use regularly. To many people in the developed world, medical services typically do not come with a price tag. Just imagine having a baby in a foreign country or breaking a leg: someone has to pay for the facilities and the expertise of the staff who treat you and your family. If you do not have private health insurance and the government of the country you currently live in refuses to cover the cost because you have not contributed to the system, that cost will fall on you. What would have been free in your home country could end up costing tens of thousands of pounds for routine or emergency treatments. Furthermore, if you were to develop something more serious while living abroad, such as cancer, you and your family could risk financial ruin or missing out on the treatment you need.

You should also consider buying private health insurance as an expat if you are concerned about the quality of service offered in the public healthcare system in your new country. Many nations have excellent public healthcare systems, while others less so. Private healthcare treatment is typically of a lot higher quality, and involve shorter queues to get the service that you need.

What happens if I choose not to get health insurance while living abroad?

If you choose not to get private health insurance while living as an expat, particularly in a country where you have no other access to healthcare, you are taking a high risk gamble with your financial and physical health. It might be easy to say, ‘I just won’t go the doctor, it’ll be fine’, but many people from countries with no health care systems will know the mistake and potential pitfalls of just hoping for the best rather than incorporating the cost of private insurance into your cost of living. As the old cliché says ‘life happens’. You could get seriously ill, have an accident, or build a family. While it might be easy to push the responsibility of healthcare to the side, especially when you are a young adult, when you need it you will thank yourself for being prepared. The direct cost of any healthcare treatment is beyond what most people can afford, and if you think that you cannot afford healthcare insurance costing £50 per month then you definitely cannot afford emergency treatment costing £5,000.

How do I choose the right expat health insurance?

The simple answer is to do your research. Find out what you qualify for based on your circumstances, the coverage that you might need for you and your family, and what you could reasonably afford within your budget. To find the best insurance policy, you should compare multiple insurance companies, examine basic and comprehensive policies, and price compare. Do not be afraid to contact a representative from any of the insurance companies that you are considering so they can answer any questions that you may have. Once you are confident that you have done your research and found the right policy for your family, you can be comfortable knowing that you and your loved ones are safe and can access the medical care that you deserve when you need it.

If I am a British or European expat living abroad, do I still qualify to public medical care in my home country?

Yes, you will always qualify for public health insurance, assuming that there is public healthcare system, in your home country. This means that whenever you come home to visit family or friends, you have the right to access to routine services or emergency treatment.

For advice about managing your finances as an expat in a foreign country, talk to one of our financial advisories or explore the ExpatRoute website.

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