Healthcare Basics

How to choose the best expat health insurance

Use these five tips to find the best expat health insurance plan to cover you in whatever medical situation you’ve got going on.

Expat health insurance

By Expatica

Updated 11-4-2024

After taking the plunge to move to a new country, it’s important to secure all of the aspects of your new life abroad. And this is particularly true when it comes to organizing your expat health insurance. After all, no one can predict when an emergency or health issue might arise.

But how do you choose which plan is best? Do you, as an expat, have access to the local public healthcare system, or must you consider an international health insurance plan?

Here’s what you should keep in mind when looking for an expat health insurance policy:

Cigna Global

Want access to the best private medical services? Speak to the healthcare professionals at Cigna Global today and find a policy that’s right for you. Take advantage of their global network of doctors, specialists, therapists and more with coverage tailor-made for you and your family. If you’re starting a new life, get peace of mind with Cigna Global.

Make note of country-specific factors

It’s key to research the implications for expatriate healthcare in your new country; healthcare access can be quite different from what you’re used to. The first step is to find out if you are eligible to access public healthcare. There may be exceptions depending on your nationality or the length of time you plan to stay.

Some countries legally oblige you to purchase a local health insurance plan. This means that 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 make contributions through the public social security system. These are automatically deducted from your salary and require you to submit your own reimbursement claims. In some cases, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) can cover 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 agreements generally cover medical emergencies only. As a result, you may still need 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. Some countries have very specific rules about who can use public health services; you may need temporary or permanent residency before you are allowed to use the local system, in which case private health insurance or expat health insurance becomes necessary.

Understanding local regulations and their implications allows you to make informed decisions about local health insurance coverage. If this isn’t the case, you should compare private or expat health insurance coverage options.

Make certain there are no gaps in your coverage

You may be fortunate enough to access subsidized healthcare in your new country of residence. However, take into account that not all public healthcare systems provide full coverage.

Doctor with patient

In some cases, there may be restrictions on accessing certain local healthcare 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 for several months.

Additionally, you typically cannot arrange local healthcare until you live in that country. This means you could be uncovered for healthcare until you set up your social security, register with your local healthcare center, or take out a local health insurance plan.

In many countries, these generally require local registration with a residential address. As these processes can take up to a couple of months to organize, 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 also need to contribute to your healthcare costs; check if there is a deductible amount you must pay 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. To close this gap, you typically need to take out a private or expat insurance plan.

Find out if your employer provides a medical 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. Does the policy include your family? 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.

Which insurance coverage do you need?

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 comparison.

Family walking through an airport

Reasons to consider taking out a private national plan in your host country include:

  • Avoiding long waiting times
  • Having access to better healthcare services
  • Increasing your chances of finding a local medical provider who speaks your language

However, if you return home for long periods of time or travel often, 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.

Choose an expat health insurance plan tailored to your needs

International health insurance companies offer a wide range of levels of expat medical insurance coverage. 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, medical evacuation, and expatriation costs. Some of the largest expat-friendly international health insurance companies that can provide tailored plans to include coverage for some or all of the above include:

Individual private medical insurance policies can often be advantageous to expats. The benefits of these policies have been selected and tailored specifically to suit their needs.

Filling out a medical form

Be sure to ask your health insurer the right questions before making a decision; in this way, you ensure that 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 licensed?
  • What are the processes for accessing health services abroad, and how do you make a claim? This is vital if you’re traveling often and should be easily accessible no matter where you are.

It’s important to research, compare, and consider the costs. You can find many websites that provide an expat health insurance comparison. Make sure that you get a good glance at what different insurance companies provide at what cost.