After taking the huge step of relocating to a new country, it’s important to ensure all aspects of your new life are secure, particularly when it comes to organising your expat health insurance. Ensuring that you and your family can access healthcare abroad is one of the first things you should organise – because no one can predict when an emergency or health issue might arise.
If you wait until you are sick, the process of arranging expatriate healthcare could prolong getting timely treatment or end up very costly. Organising adequate expat health insurance is particularly important for those who have pre-existing health issues that require ongoing monitoring.
Organising healthcare in a new country requires several (sometimes timely) steps: finding and registering with a doctor, locating the nearest hospital, emergency numbers and ambulance services, and checking what expat medical insurance you need to be permitted access to healthcare services.
Good expat insurance is important no matter where you live, but certain factors change when living as a foreigner abroad. For example, is local public or private health insurance adequate available to you, or do you need to consider an expat health insurance plan?
Cigna Global, an expat insurance provider, has gathered these tips for choosing medical insurance to help expats find the best expat health insurance policy for their situation to ensure they have proper healthcare when living abroad.
It’s key to research the implications for expatriate healthcare in your new country of residence, as healthcare access can be quite different to what you’re used to back home. The first step is to find out if you are eligible to access public healthcare in your host country, or if there are any exceptions depending on your nationality or the length of time you plan to stay.
Certain countries, for example, require you by law to purchase a local health insurance plan, meaning you have to pay a monthly fee towards a government-regulated health plan regardless of whether you have another form of expat health insurance. Other countries take contributions through the public social security system, which are automatically deducted from your salary, and require you to submit your own reimbursement claim when you’re out-of-pocket for medical fees. In some cases, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) can cover European Union (EU) nationals for a certain period in another member state.
Check if your home country has a reciprocal healthcare agreement with your host country. You can ask your local government what healthcare agreements exist, and what it means to you in terms of coverage. But even if this is the case, bilateral health agreement are usually designed to cover only medical emergencies only, so you may still need to purchase a health insurance policy to gain complete access to healthcare services in the country.
The quality of state-provided healthcare varies from country to country, with some major differences in waiting times, cost, and accessibility for expats. Some countries have very specific rules about who can use public health services; you will may need temporary or permanent residency before you are allowed to enter the local healthcare system, in which case private health insurance or expat health insurance becomes neccesary.
Ensuring that you have a good understanding of local regulations and their implications will set the base for you to make an informed decision whether local coverage will be adequate or if you need to compare private or expat health insurance coverage.
You may be fortunate enough to access subsidised healthcare in your new country of residence, but take into account that not all public healthcare systems provide all-encompassing or full coverage.
In some cases, even if you can access local healthcare, there may be restrictions on accessing certain services up until a certain period has passed. For example, you might not get free x-rays or maternity services until you have paid into a social security system or health insurance plan for several months.
Additionally, you typically cannot arrange local healthcare until you are living in that country, meaning you could be uncovered for healthcare until you set up your social security, register with your local healthcare centre or take out a local health insurance plan, all of which generally requires a residential address as well. As these processes can take up to a couple of months to organise, in some cases only a private or expat health insurance plan can avoid gaps in your coverage because you can arrange expat insurance prior to your move.
In some countries you will also need to pay a contribution towards your healthcare costs; check if there is a deductible amount you must pay towards medical expenses, and what reimbursements are available. Some local healthcare plans only cover a proportion of medical costs or exclude certain medical expenses, such as hospital overnight stays and dental care, which comes from your pocket. To close this gap, you typically need to take out a private or expat insurance plan.
More often than not, expats are sent abroad by an employer and covered under the company’s health insurance plan. If this is the case for you, find out what your employer’s expat health insurance plan covers and if it is the right policy for you. In other cases, expats are not covered by a company’s policy but are able to negotiate an insurance clause into their contract.
It’s important to make sure you understand the insurance offered by your employer. Is your family included in the policy? Do you have any pre-existing conditions not covered by the policy? Does your insurance plan cover you when you visit home? You may be offered a cheaper insurance policy but make sure it is adequate.
Some private local plans offer coverage while you are abroad, although typically for a limited time and for necessary treatments only. If you already have private insurance in your home country, you should speak to your provider before your move; check if the plan will cover you in your new host country and for how long, or do an expat health insurance comparision.
Reasons to consider taking out a private national plan in your host country include avoiding long waiting times, having access to better healthcare services, or increasing your chances of finding a local medical provider who speaks your language. If you return home for long periods of time or travel often, however, it may not provide adequate coverage.
Globally mobile citizens typically require an expat health insurance plan if they want to be fully covered in the many countries they frequent. If this is the case, you may consider an expat health insurance policy rather than a local one.
But what if you have travel insurance? It’s important to note these policies are usually designed for short stays and typically only cover medical emergencies. Depending on the length of your stay in countries abroad, a private expat health insurance policy can ensure a more sufficient healthcare option.
Finally, consider the possible language barrier. Understanding your insurance policy documentation and being able to talk to a customer service representative is vital when dealing with your health insurance abroad. Many expats are more comfortable with an expat medical insurance company that offers support in English or another familiar language.
International health insurance companies offer a wide range of levels of expat medical insurance coverage – but what services do you realistically need or use? There are many supplements to give expats complete coverage, such as dental care, maternity, cancer coverage, mental health or medical evacuation and expatriation costs.
Individual private medical insurance (IPMI) policies can often be advantageous to expats, as the benefits within these policies have been selected and tailored specifically to suit their needs.
Be sure to ask your health insurer the right questions before making a decision, to ensure you find a policy that covers you and your family.Here are some basic factors you should keep in mind when choosing a policy:
It’s important to research, compare, and consider the costs. You can find many websites that provide an expat health insurance comparison, so you can get a quick glance at what different insurance companies provide, and for what cost.