Is expat health insurance a necessity?

It may be that the last thing you’ll think about when working hard overseas or planning an active retirement abroad, but access to good quality healthcare isn’t always guaranteed. In many countries, there are a number of conditions you have to meet before being offered access to the state healthcare system. In others, an insurance policy is required by law to ensure you can pay any medical fees you may incur in a primarily private system. But not every British expat considers health insurance to be a necessity.

We’ve taken a look at some of the main reasons why you may require health insurance and explored some of the benefits of paying for cover while you’re living overseas. We also have another article that explores the potential costs of expat health insurance, helping you to set your expectations.

What is expat health insurance?

Expat or international health insurance is a product that will cover your medical expenses while you’re living and travelling abroad. Each policy can be adjusted to suit your medical needs, as well as the legal requirements of the country in which you are residing. Every country has its own healthcare system, with many differing significantly from that in the UK. In some cases, being classed as a resident of that country can entitle you to access to medical care. However, dramatically different standards of care across the world could mean that you may prefer to receive private medical care, or that only private medical care is available to you.

If you have expat insurance in place, you and your family (depending on your level of cover) will be protected against the costs of all insured medical expenses. This could include preventive medicine such as GP care, accident and emergency care or long-term illnesses that require hospitalisation. Each plan can be customised to suit your medical needs and location, so you can select levels of cover and benefits that fit your needs and budget.

Do I need expat health insurance?

While there are many reasons why you may choose to take out expat health insurance, the main prompt could be that it is required by law in the country in which you are living or planning to live. Some countries will only provide medical care to those with insurance, and they may even request that you submit evidence of your cover before your permanent or temporary visa can be issued.

However, it may also be that you feel it could be beneficial to you. Beyond gaining entry to your country of choice, one benefit of taking out medical insurance could be that local or national medical costs are high or even unaffordable should you need care. Alternatively, some people retire abroad or travel for work in the knowledge that they require ongoing treatment for a long-term medical condition. Where this is the case, gaining medical insurance can reduce the overall cost of gaining appropriate care while living and/or working overseas. In such cases, it’s important to check that your insurer will cover pre-existing medical conditions before committing to your chosen policy.

Country-specific considerations

Depending on where you’re living or planning to travel, you may feel that health insurance for expats is an unnecessary expense. However, whenever you’re travelling abroad it’s important to consider how you would access healthcare should it be required. This is currently a particularly important consideration for those living or working in Europe, where many rules are shifting as a result of Brexit.

EU/EAA citizens

Citizens of the EU/EEA, for example, are able to use a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access healthcare when travelling within the EU. Healthcare using this form of insurance is often free or at a reduced cost, even for pre-existing medical conditions. As a result of Brexit, Britons living or travelling overseas will now be required to apply for a new Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). This replacement will cover any existing illnesses, routine maternity care and emergencies. However, it will not allow access to care for treatments such as dialysis or chemotherapy. As such, the UK government recommends that expats still invest in appropriate expat health insurance before travelling overseas. It is worth noting that any expats currently carrying a valid European Health Insurance Card can continue to use it throughout the EU until its expiration date.

Rest of the world

Further afield, things continue to differ dramatically from country to country. In Australia, for example, expats are eligible for public healthcare if they carry a permanent visa. However, those with temporary visas require private health insurance. This is similar to the healthcare system in New Zealand, although residents here are often expected to make a contribution after accessing otherwise free healthcare.

Alternatively, in countries such as Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, health insurance is a legal requirement for any expat applying for a visa, as is the case for those applying for a visa within the Schengen Area. Before travelling abroad, consider the legal requirements in the country you’re visiting to ensure your medical insurance meets their visa rules. If you’re expecting to travel to more than one country, consider how the rules may differ as you move so you can ensure your medical cover keeps you protected.

Is your expat health insurance comprehensive enough?

If you decide health insurance for expats is right for you, take the time to consider what type of cover you might require. Assuming your insurance product meets the laws of your new country of residence, you will likely have a number of additional options when it comes to extending your cover. Before committing, take the time to consider your needs now and in the future so you can be sure your insurance is comprehensive enough to cover your personal medical requirements. For women in particular, it’s important to consider whether your insurance covers all scans, tests and birthing plans, if having children is a part of your future timeline.

What are your medical needs?

It’s not always possible to anticipate your future medical needs, but you may already have an idea of the level of cover that would be right for you. It could be that you simply wish to cover emergency expenses, but if you are likely to need ongoing care due to a long-term illness or maternity requirements, you may wish to consider a more comprehensive policy.

How many people require cover?

If you are travelling or living abroad with your family, an international family insurance plan may be the most suitable option for you. Typically, such plans can be adjusted to cover families of any size and will ensure all members receive the same level of medical cover. For a family with few or no underlying medical conditions this can be a financially-savvy option, but if one or more members of your family suffer from a chronic illness they may be better suited to an individual policy.

What geographic area does your insurance cover?

If you’re only planning on living in a single country, your medical insurance can be specifically focused on that region. However, if you have plans to travel between countries or geographic areas, ensure you pay for an insurance plan that will keep you covered as you move.

Making the right choice for you

Health insurance for expats is, by its very nature, incredibly varied. An insurance product that is perfect for one British expat is likely to be completely unsuitable for another. While we hope our ExpatRoute guide has helped you narrow down your options, it’s important to seek financial advice from a broker or financial adviser. They will help you establish what type of cover is right for you based on your personal circumstances, so you can feel confident that you’re adequately covered when travelling, living or working overseas.

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