Facts About International Health Insurance

by Jose Marc Castro on August 8, 2009

FACTSABOUTIntlHealthINSURANCEOne of the things someone who is soon to become an expatriate or someone who is already an expatriate should give focus to is health insurance. Because of the increasing number of expats every single day, health insurance providers have also increased in number. This is why it might be difficult to choose which is right for you and your family, especially since health insurance providers only give an overview of their services. In order to find the right one, in-depth scrutiny is required and natural investigating instincts come in handy. To help you find the right insurance provider, here are some tips to remember:

Analyze Your Healthcare Situation

Before you start scouting for a health insurance provider, it is best if you know what your situation is so you could have a set of requirements to look for. The element which has the most impact on your search for a proper health insurance is the span of time you will be spending abroad. You would not avail of an insurance which would cover a year’s amount if you are only planning to spend a couple of weeks outside your country. For example, a 1.6 million USD annual plan is the perfect amount of insurance if you would be spending years outside your country. However, for someone who is only going on a short 2 week trip, something near the 25,000 USD mark would be more appropriate.

Your Target Location

Remote and high-risk locations like countries with high cases of terrorism should impel you to find an insurance which covers special packages such as evacuation. Your set of requirements should differ depending on the location you are heading. If you know you are going to a relatively peaceful and safe location, you should find an insurance that puts emphasis on hospitalization and basic medical attention rather than evacuation.

Customer Service

You will never know when you will need medical attention. Check if your preferred insurance provider offers customer care in the location you are heading. It might be hard to find one, but it is not impossible especially with call centers present around the entire globe.

Basic Features

Before you decide on one health insurance, you first have to know the features you need. Do not hesitate to ask potential insurance providers all the questions you need about their insurance services. Ask them about their payment options, plan renewals, and assistance offered while in other countries.

Special Features

Different people have different needs. Aside from the fact that expats moving to high-risk locations need evacuation packages, there are those who need special medical attention. Therefore, it would be best if you can find an insurance provider which allows your insurance some flexibility. You could opt to get the basic medical package but you could also get an insurance which also covers other aspects of health-related needs such as dental or maternity costs. It all depends on your situation including who you are bringing with you and if any of you were in need of special medical care.

International Health Insurance Packages

Listed below are the ideal packages depending on the length of one’s trip:

1. Short trip Health Insurance package

A short trip health insurance package should amount between 25,000-30,000 USD. It would usually cover only the most basic medical attention and 24/7 customer support together with perhaps an evacuation package if you are in a high-risk location. Short-trip types of insurance schemes could also include trip cancellation or lost luggage protection.

2. 2 weeks to 6 months Trip

Longer trips should put more emphasis on special medical packages. Plans for such a trip should range from 100,000 to1,000,000 USD. It is advisable to find an insurance that covers costs for a family member to come to your care in case you should get hospitalized in your current location. Medical insurance for high-risk activities such as sky diving, skiing, bungee jumping, and scuba diving should also be included.

3. Long Trip

Long trips are usually defined as trips longer than six months. Insurance for long trips should approximately be worth more than one million USD (preferably $1.6 million) that covers all the basic and special features plus bigger medical benefits.

4. Trips for years at a time

If you are going to be abroad for more than a year at a time, perhaps it would be ideal if you get an insurance that covers an annual plan. Annual plans cover more than just the basic and special feature packages. This type of plan may include coverage for mental and maternal health, and at times, transplant coverage. Paying a premium every year is all it takes to maintain an annual health insurance plan. You will be covered by the plan wherever in the world you fancy visiting. This type, however, may be unobtainable by those who have prior health problems.

There are some other aspects you need to consider when you are an expat going abroad:

In-patient treatment claims

Does the provider offer direct settlement for in-patient treatment? If not, you will have to meet these expenses out-of-pocket. Make sure the provider you choose offers a 24-hour, multi-lingual helpline so you can get emergency assistance and approval for treatment when you need it.

Out-patient claims

If claims are settled through reimbursement, find out how quickly the provider pays. Also, are there deductions for bank charges or will you be fully reimbursed?

Other medical benefits
Are you just looking for emergency and in-patient coverage? Or do you want out-patient treatment, visits to your general practitioner, physiotherapy, complementary therapies, dental treatment or wellness (prevention) tests to be covered? If you are planning a family, be sure to look at plans with maternity coverage.

Chronic conditions
Some plans exclude chronic conditions completely; some pay for treatment for stabilization of acute episodes of the condition. Others also pay for maintenance of the condition so will cover things like routine check-ups and prescription drugs.

Non-medical benefits

Some plans cover legal expenses if you suffer an injury as the result of a third party. Some plans cover a visit to a critically ill relative; some providers only pay for a visit back to your home country, while others will pay for a visit anywhere in the world. Note that some providers offer travel and personal accident insurance as add-on plans. Again, be sure to read the fine print.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Reynolds July 18, 2011 at 10:37 pm

This is a really good summary of what is needed and what individuals and family require.

I’ve had problems finding insurance for my mother and step-father who have emigrated to Spain, especially as my step-father has a pace-maker. You really have to find somebody you can talk face-to-face with to discuss all the options from all the providers.


Joe Cronin December 11, 2014 at 9:45 pm

@Mike Reynolds. I agree – very helpful article. As you can see, buying international health insurance is confusing and can get complicated. Previously existing health problems are typically the biggest barrier to getting coverage. Age and location can also make the plan you are considering more expensive. Do you research and compare options from multiple companies.


Andrew Jernigan July 8, 2018 at 12:26 am

Well written article. As a broker and global mobility consultant, I agree that customer service is a key factor to consider when choosing a plan. Yes, I understand that often a plan is chosen on price primarily due to financial limitations yet when that is done you sacrifice speed of service for claims and other needs. Having a broker to be the intermediary when you need help is vital rather than purchasing directly from the insurance company.


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