UK expats who plan to retire abroad often don't take long term health insurance in another country into account sufficiently and in enough detail, it is claimed.

Many have become used to the free health care available in the UK and forget that the NHS is a residence based healthcare system and that once a person has moved permanently away they are no longer entitled to medical treatment under normal NHS rules, according to research from health provider Medicare International.

Although some overseas residents in receipt of UK State Pensions and some other benefits may be able to access limited paid for cover under the E121 scheme locally, the research indicates that many UK nationals who retire abroad to European countries such as Spain think that they will be fully covered locally via what used be known as the E111 facility.

Many are still unaware that a replacement system, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is now in place and E111s have not been valid for at least three years. And whilst the European Health Insurance Card entitles short term residents to reduced cost and sometimes free medical treatment in the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, it should not be seen as a replacement for proper, comprehensive health insurance, the company points out.

The retired expatriate market presents many challenges for insurance companies not least because of age-related medical conditions. Some companies don't insure all ages although MI is one of a small band of insurers who can insure new applicants from any adult age right up to and beyond age 80 years.

Inevitably there are some limitations to the cover and in particular, MI will medically underwrite all new applicants age 65 years and above. In effect this means that pre existing conditions declared on the medical questionnaire would be excluded from future cover, the company said.

'The retirement market is one which our experience tells us is likely to be more sensitive to claims than the norm. This is partly a function of age, but from a psychological perspective, if a client is feeling unwell, they are less likely to take a risk with their health abroad than if they were in the UK, where friends and family might be on hand to help take care of them. In practice, this means they will probably go to the Doctor more often,' explained spokesman David Pryor.

'Our advice to anyone planning overseas retirement is to budget for some element of international health insurance, preferably with a 24 hour assistance facility to assist with both foreign language and, of course, to access hospitals and doctors in that country, because in the event of serious ill health, they cannot normally simply return to their country of birth and once again access the state system free of charge,' he added.