Expat health insurance vs UK health insurance?

When it comes to finding the right expat health insurance, there are so many options available that sometimes it can be difficult to narrow down your choices, or even to understand how each option differs. In the UK many people are familiar with the concept of medical insurance, but this is often significantly different to the type of health insurance that has been specifically designed for expats. However, it may be that your lifestyle makes you well suited to having both types of policy.

By focusing on your current and ongoing needs, you could discover that you only need a single form of medical insurance. We have taken a closer look at these two disparate insurance options to help you understand how each might (or might not) meet your needs.

What is expat health insurance?

Expat health insurance, sometimes known as international health insurance, is insurance that is designed to cover medical costs overseas. Whether you are living abroad or just travelling for work, you can choose a policy that suits your medical needs and travel plans so you know you’re always covered should you require medical assistance. Health insurance for expats is often highly customisable, offering different types and levels of cover that can be adapted to any expat lifestyle or budget.

In some cases, resident status in your chosen country will entitle you to access free medical care, but varying standards across the globe mean it may not be available. In fact, some countries offer very little free healthcare at all. Every medical system differs significantly from the next, making it hard to guarantee appropriate medical care as an expatriate. In some countries, there are a huge number of legal stipulations in place that prevent expats from accessing free healthcare without the correct insurance, making it a necessity for those living and working across that particular region.

Why might I need expat insurance?

It is these legal considerations that prompt many to seek out specialist health insurance for expats. If health insurance is required by law, it may be that you will not receive any medical care without the appropriate cover. In fact, some countries will not allow you to enter at all without proof of suitable medical cover, even on a temporary visa.

For some, however, medical insurance is simply a personal preference or a means of saving money. Some countries charge large amounts for medical care, particularly for those with ongoing or serious medical conditions; this can also be the case for maternity care or old age medical care. By taking out expatriate health insurance, you may avoid paying medical costs or significantly reduce your outgoings by purchasing a product that will cover any issues that affect you. Some insurers will also offer to cover the long-term costs of pre-existing medical conditions if you take out a premium policy, which could save you money in the long term.

What is UK health insurance?

UK health insurance (also known as private medical insurance) is a type of medical cover that is designed to supplement the healthcare available via the NHS (National Health Service). As a British citizen, it may be that you are entitled to access free healthcare via the NHS, so you may not feel UK health insurance is necessary. This is certainly the case for the majority of resident Britons who choose to rely solely on NHS medical care rather than to take out an insurance policy.

However, UK health insurance policies are still a popular choice for many. One of the main reasons for this is that it offers you a greater choice over the level and type of care you receive. Additionally, those with private medical insurance have a higher level of control over how and when medical care is received. As with all insurance, the level of control is dependent on the policy you buy, with many of the more expensive policies offering more comprehensive and flexible coverage. There are also a number of health conditions that are typically not covered by UK health insurance, such as organ transplants and cosmetic surgery.

Why might I need UK health insurance?

If you are a British citizen and you continue to pay National Insurance (NI) contributions, it may be that you are entitled to access free healthcare under the NHS when you’re travelling through Britain. However, this isn’t guaranteed. Regardless of your nationality or whether you hold a British passport, if you are a non-resident British citizen you may be required to pay for all or part of your medical care if you seek healthcare in the UK.

If this is the case for you, and you plan on spending a large amount of time in the UK, you may feel it is useful or even necessary to take out a health insurance policy. Such a policy will give you peace of mind when you’re in the UK and will offer access to medical services that you may no longer be entitled to access free of charge. However, unlike expatriate health insurance policies, general UK health insurance is specifically designed to offer private healthcare options rather than access to the NHS. In addition, it often requires policyholders to have a UK address, so you may be unable to take out a policy if you live overseas permanently. If you plan on spending little or no time in Britain once you live overseas, it is also likely that UK health insurance will be an unnecessary expense.

Comparing expat and UK health insurance

All health insurance provides cover for healthcare, but the cover varies significantly from policy to policy. This is the case with both UK health insurance and expat health insurance alike. However, this is where the similarity ends. While UK health insurance has been specifically designed to offer greater choice by providing access to private healthcare, it does not automatically entitle you to access to NHS healthcare. In addition, it is significantly more expensive and restrictive than expat healthcare in many cases, often requiring policyholders to live in the UK and pay a premium fee for private healthcare options.

On the other hand, expatriate health insurance has been designed specifically for expats. Whether you choose to take out a policy that covers you in multiple regions, or simply want a short-term policy that will cover temporary travel, expat insurance can provide you with access to NHS care and other medical services otherwise only available to residents. In addition, expat health insurance can be purchased to cover any region around the world, so if you have no plans to visit the UK in the near future, you can avoid paying unnecessary UK health insurance fees and simply cover yourself in the appropriate region(s).

If you’re not sure on where to set your expectations for fees, we’ve put together a guide to expat health insurance and how much you can expect to pay.

What type of medical insurance do I need?

Unless you’re planning to visit the UK soon, it’s likely that you will find expat health insurance to be the more appropriate choice for you. Adaptable and global, such insurance is designed specifically for those travelling, working or living abroad. However, your personal circumstances will dictate which option is best suited to your lifestyle.

While we hope our guide will help you understand your options, we recommend doing your own research. Contact a financial adviser to discuss your options and find out which type of insurance is likely to provide you with the best cover for your circumstances.

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