In this guide, we’ll run through how private health insurance for expats works, what to look out for, and the pros and cons between global providers and local insurers.
Most countries will require expats to have private medical insurance before granting a visa. There are lots of reasons why:
- To avoid putting strain on state healthcare.
- To preserve public healthcare capacity for a country’s nationals
- To ensure foreign nationals are covered for repatriation.
- To avoid expats applying for residency to take advantage of generous social benefits.
The problem for expats is that there are dozens of insurers, considerable of choice, and vast differences between the policies and cover on offer concealed in the small print.
Table of contents
- Choosing Where To Buy Health Insurance
- The Hidden Cost Of Cheap Health Insurance
- Standard Exclusions On Private Medical Cover
- Minimum Health Insurance Cover Values
- Critical Requirements For An Expat Health Insurance Policy
- Do I Need Specialist Expat Health Insurance To Move Overseas?
- Expat Health Insurance FAQ
- Related Articles, Guides and Insights
- Questions or Comments?
Choosing Where To Buy Health Insurance
The first consideration isn’t which policy you buy – it’s where you buy it from.
Health insurance is available directly through providers or through any number of airlines, travel agents and tour operators, all of whom will be getting a cut from the costs.
It is usually cheaper to compare a few policies online, whittle it down to the products that provide the cover you require, and then request a quote directly from the insurance provider.
You can use comparison sites, which are a great way to get a fast overview of what you can expect to pay. However, you must read the fine print.
Buy on features, not price. That way, you get the cover you need at a competitive cost.
The Hidden Cost Of Cheap Health Insurance
Cheap policies will often cost substantially more in the long run, with conditions such as:
- Limits on use – perhaps the cover will only apply to one treatment per year, or one hospital stay, for example.
- Heavy excesses or co-pays. Higher excesses mean a cheaper policy cost, but you might get unstuck if you become unwell or have an accident and have a high excess to pay before your health cover supports you.
- Value limits – other policies will have a value restriction. For example, it would be best to look for at least £2 million of medical expenses for an international health insurance policy.
Private health cover might seem like an administrative chore but can be critical to your wellbeing, so it’s essential to do your research.
For example, suppose you’re living overseas and become unwell.
In that case, you may need to return home where more treatment options or medicines are available – and if your health cover does not include repatriation, it can become serious and expensive quickly.
Standard Exclusions On Private Medical Cover
The next thing to look out for is geographical limitations. Expats living abroad permanently should opt for an annual policy, and make sure there aren’t clauses about how many times you can travel to a new country.
Likewise, many policies are vague when it comes to which nations or regions they do cover:
- The USA is often not included in a worldwide policy.
- Most insurers include Turkey, Morocco and Egypt in a European policy – but not all.
Local insurers will provide cover within the jurisdictions of your new home country, but again it’s crucial to be cautious.
Many insurers offer cover through providers (i.e. hospitals and clinics) within their network.
That means you can’t visit any hospital and claim against your insurance but need to visit a facility on the approved list, often with advance authorisation.
Other policies will have exclusions based on pre-existing medical conditions or age – but that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t sell a policy to someone who won’t be eligible to claim if they become ill.
Restrictions for people over 65 are common, even if they are fit and well. A comprehensive global medical cover product usually covers pre-existing conditions, which is less likely if you purchase a local policy.
Hazardous activities are another typical limitation, so medical policies will often refuse to cover injuries sustained during:
- Scuba diving
- Jet skiing
- Mountain climbing
All of these elements mean you must find a policy that covers all of your intended activities, with sufficient coverage in the region where you will be living.
The cheapest policy is far more likely to have significant restrictions that may render it useless if you need it.
Minimum Health Insurance Cover Values
Next, we’d recommend looking at the values covered. First, of course, medical care in some countries is very affordable and of exceptional quality.
In other nations, you will need to attend a private hospital to avoid long waiting times and could be looking at tens of thousands of pounds for even routine procedures.
As a rough guide:
- Breaking a limb while living in Spain, with treatment and a hospital stay, costs around £15,000.
- Having a traffic accident in Greece requiring surgery and repatriation costs about £25,000.
- Experiencing a stroke in Asia, needing emergency treatment and medical transport to the UK costs approximately £100,000.
- Having a serious infection or bug in the US and needing hospital treatment and return flights to Britain will cost about £100,000.
If you don’t need to return home, the prices will be lower. Still, surgery and hospital admissions can be costly, so your policy needs to cover a high enough value to provide for any eventualities.
Many private hospitals will need to see proof of your insurance before they treat you (unless in a medical emergency), so you’ll need to have evidence of cover with you at all times.
Most international insurers offer a coverage card you can tuck into your wallet with the policy details and contact information.
Critical Requirements For An Expat Health Insurance Policy
Here are some of the key elements you should look for in a good policy:
- Hospital stays cover, including emergency treatment. Policies should offer either cover for treatment in any hospital or within facilities close to your location.
- Emergency transport in medical crises, including ambulances and medical repatriation, if you need to travel back to the UK.
- Transport cover to return to your overseas home or back to Britain if your visa has expired during medical care.
- Cost coverage for a family member, spouse or partner to accompany you during any transport.
- Dental cover for urgent procedures – dental and optical care is often an added extra and excluded from a general healthcare policy.
Healthcare policies will typically have exclusions listed under the coverage. It’s crucial to check these through, as they might impact the events that are covered.
Examples could include lack of cover for any undeclared medical conditions, exceptions from injuries or accidents caused under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and limited insurance if you were injured in a terrorist attack.
Again, that depends on where you are moving and the risk factors associated.
Natural disasters are another standard exemption, so if you live or are relocating somewhere vulnerable to cyclones or earthquakes, your insurance needs to cover any medical care required as a result.
Do I Need Specialist Expat Health Insurance To Move Overseas?
A typical holiday health cover policy won’t be sufficient if you plan to live abroad long-term, either as a temporary or permanent resident.
Long-stay travel insurance is one option, which covers you for a finite period but can often be extended.
Other policies are specifically designed for British nationals living abroad and renew each year. The best option is to choose a specialist health insurance product, which caters to people living in a different country.
Local providers will offer lower-cost cover, but the caveat is that there are limits on repatriation, and the insurance will usually cease to cover you if you move elsewhere.
Larger insurers can offer to transfer your cover to another country, provided it is within the same global region – i.e. still within the Middle East or North America.
If you believe your cover should apply but have any issues with your provider, you can contact:
- The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office – note that they won’t pay for medical costs but can provide advice and support.
- Your nearest British consulate or embassy.
Should you buy an international insurance product and find that they don’t provide the medical support or financial protection you believe you were entitled to, you can also report it to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
However, they will be unable to investigate insurance disputes between a UK national and a local insurance provider in another country.
Expat Health Insurance FAQ
These are the two primary options, each with pros and cons:
• Local health insurance from a provider in the country will almost always be cheaper. However, it will not cover repatriation if you need to return home in an emergency.
• International medical cover will provide for the costs of getting back home and will usually cover you for a broader range of treatments – but it is more costly.
If you travel regularly, expect to move between countries, or are living overseas permanently, an international policy is a better safeguard.
The costs vary considerably, depending on where you are moving and why.
For example, family cover for a financial adviser moving to Germany will be cheaper than a skydiving instructor moving to central Africa.
Averages are around £700 a year for an individual without any high-risk factors.
You can buy insurance for £30, but it’s unlikely to be sufficient if you do have any accidents or become unwell.
Most policies have an excess of several hundred pounds and will have limits on how often you can use the insurance.
If the value threshold is reached, cheap health cover may run out partway through a treatment or hospital admission.
Therefore, it’s crucial to choose a policy that provides safeguards, so you won’t experience difficulties obtaining the treatment you need.
Yes, but be careful. There are advantages to these sites, and they might show you the cheapest possible policy to meet your visa requirements. However:
Health cover policies shown on price comparison sites are only those who pay to be there – they may not display more competitive products.
It will help if you read the small print thoroughly to ensure you’re covered for everything required.
Some insurers have exemptions – so they won’t cover you for particular medical care or won’t cover incidents in some parts of the world.
One of the best ways to find great cover is to consult expat forums in your intended destination to see what recommendations people would make.
Price comparison sites can make it much easier to purchase an insurance product, but the general costs and excess amounts are not in-depth enough to make an informed decision.
It is advisable to download the small print before buying and ensure any prices quoted are based on your circumstances. It is common to receive a great offer but then sees that price multiply when you advise pre-existing conditions.
Not necessarily, no. Many policies cover you within specific regions, so perhaps throughout Europe or within the confines of Northern America.
You’ll find that insurers may exclude countries with conflict or political instability from general international policies, so it’s vital to check.
Many insurers sell an international health insurance product, but that often excludes the US and Canada. Likewise, the definition of which countries are included in European healthcare cover vary between providers.
A co-pay is like excess on a UK car insurance policy. You’ll need to contribute up to that co-pay value before your insurance kicks in.
For example, you might need a prescription for medication and have a co-pay equivalent to around £5. In that case, you pay the £5 to the pharmacist along with your health cover details, and they claim back the balance from your provider.
Alternatively, you may need to pay upfront and claim the costs back. Your refund will be for the value paid, less the co-pay.
Related Articles, Guides and Insights
Below is a list of some related articles, guides and insights that you may find of interest.
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