5 tips to choose the right expat health insurance

5 tips to choose the right expat health insurance

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Finding the right health insurance that covers an expat lifestyle is vital: These tips and questions will help you choose the best expat health insurance for you.

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 your health insurance coverage. Ensuring that healthcare will be available for you and your family in your new home 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 healthcare could prolong getting timely treatment or end up very costly. Organising adequate health coverage is particularly important for those who have pre-existing health issues that require ongoing monitoring.

Organising healthcare in a new country includes finding and registering with doctor, being aware of the nearest hospital, emergency numbers and ambulance services, and checking what health insurance coverage you need for your situation.

Good health insurance coverage is important no matter where you are, but what factors do you need to consider as a foreigner living abroad? Is local public or private health insurance adequate, or should you opt for an international plan?

Cigna Global, an expat insurance provider, has gathered these five tips to help expats choose the best health insurance policy for their situation and ensure they have proper healthcare when living abroad.

1.  Consider country-specific factors

It’s key to research the implications for expatriates 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 receive 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 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.

Some countries also have reciprocal healthcare agreements with countries abroad. You can ask your local government if your home country has a healthcare agreement with your host country, and what it means to you in terms of coverage. If this is the case, this type of agreement is usually designed to cover you in the event of medical emergencies only, so you may still need to purchase a 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, and in some cases you may need temporary or permanent residency before you are allowed to enter the system.

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 international health insurance coverage.

Expat health insurance

2. Make certain there are no gaps in your 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 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 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 require a residential address as well. These processes can take up to a couple of months to organise. To avoid gaps in your coverage, it may be worth taking out a private international health plan prior to your move, which offers a comprehensive coverage to secure your peace of mind and save you out-of-pocket expenses.

It’s also important to see how much you need to pay towards healthcare services, if there is a deductible amount you must pay towards your medical expenses, and what reimbursements are available. In some countries, local healthcare plans may only cover a proportion of medical costs or exclude certain medical expenses, such as hospital overnight stays and dental care. To close this gap, you typically need to take out a private healthcare plan.

3. If you are employed, find out if your employer provides coverage

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 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?

Expat health insurance

4. What coverage do you need: national or international plan?

Some private national plans offer coverage 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.

You might also consider taking out a private national plan in your host country to avoid long waiting times, have access to better healthcare services, or increase 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 international plan if they want to be fully covered in the many countries they frequent. If this is the case, you may want to consider an international policy rather than a local one.

You may have travel insurance in place, but bear in mind 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 international policy may ensure a more sufficient healthcare option.

Finally, consider the possible language barrier. Understanding your policy documentation and being able to talk to a customer service representative is vital when dealing with your health queries. Many expats are more comfortable with an international health insurance company that offers support in English or another familiar language.

5. Choose a plan tailored to your needs

International health insurance companies offer a wide range of levels of medical insurance coverage for expats. There are many supplements to give expats complete coverage, so ask what services you might require: dental care, maternity, cancer coverage, mental health or medical evacuation and expatriation costs.

Expat health insuranceWhen purchasing a private policy, you can also opt to select a plan specifically suited to your needs. Individual private medical insurance (IPMI) policies can often be advantageous to expats, as many of the benefits within these policies have been tailored specifically to suit their needs.

Be sure to ask your 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:

  • Does it fit the specific needs of you and your family?
  • How are pre-existing conditions handled?
  • Are there age restrictions? Check if the company cuts coverage after a certain age.
  • What international coverage does it provide?
  • What are the exclusions for making a claim?
  • Is the company licenced?
  • What are the processes to access health services abroad and how do you make a claim? This is vital if you’re travelling often, and should be easily accessible no matter where you are.


It’s important to research, compare, and consider the costs. There are many comparison websites that offer a quick glance at what different insurance companies provide, and for what cost.


Cigna Global / Expatica

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