By Dr Bilal Shirazi | 09 Dec 2020

Do I Need a Health Plan in Countries with Universal Healthcare?

How you and your family will access healthcare is one of the most significant considerations you'll have to make when planning to move overseas.


How you and your family will access healthcare is one of the most significant considerations you'll have to make when planning to move overseas.

Many countries around the world have universal healthcare systems. Among these countries, there are several examples of locations where, as an expat, you can access universal healthcare facilities and services.

Depending on the country you’re moving to, if you’re able to access universal healthcare, you’ll typically face one of the following scenarios:

  • You can access universal healthcare from the moment you move. Often, you will need to be working in your new country to do this or otherwise making additional social security contributions. However, if you’re able to do so, you’ll typically be able to use universal healthcare on the same basis as native citizens. This might mean your healthcare is 100% free, or heavily subsidised.
  • You can access universal healthcare after a specific period living in your new country. Once you become eligible to use universal healthcare services, you can typically access these on the basis as native citizens, as described above.
  • You can access universal healthcare facilities in your new country but will be liable for the full cost, out of pocket, at the point of care.

Should you use universal healthcare in your new location?

As part of your research and planning process before you move, try and discover what the universal healthcare system is like in your new location. Depending on how you currently access healthcare at home, you could find the standards of care vastly different.

Even the concept of universal healthcare might be new to you!

Whether you choose to access universal healthcare in your new country comes down to personal choice and how comfortable you are in doing so.

Do I need private health insurance if I can access high-quality universal healthcare?

If accessing universal healthcare services in your new location will leave you with substantial out of pocket costs, it makes sense to have private health insurance. If you're moving overseas for employment reasons, your employer will almost certainly offer some form of private health coverage as part of your relocation package.

However, if you’re moving under other circumstances, it might still be worth taking out a private health plan, for several reasons.

You can complement your access to universal healthcare

Having a private health plan to complement access to a universal healthcare system is common, both among native citizens as well as expats.

For example, in the United Kingdom, private health insurance is increasingly popular with Britons despite citizens being able to access most care on the National Health Service at no cost.

You can avoid any shortcomings in your new country’s universal healthcare system

Even the world’s best performing universal healthcare systems aren’t perfect.

Depending on where you’re moving to, you might be able to access world-leading care and facilities. Yet, when you’re living in an unfamiliar location, the last thing you want to do is spend time in potentially crowded medical facilities. Long wait times are also a common shortcoming of universal healthcare systems.

Even if a condition isn't stopping you working or affecting your quality of life day-to-day, you may wish to access consultations and treatment quickly.

You can guarantee access to an English-speaking medical team

Being unwell in a country where a high percentage of medical professionals don't speak English can be stressful.

After a long wait for treatment and enduring potentially crowded medical facilities, it's common then to find yourself faced with a language barrier.

Although English is widely spoken around the world, things can still easily be lost in translation, which isn’t ideal when it comes to health matters! A private health plan will usually guarantee you access to medics who can speak English to a native standard.

You can reduce your out of pocket healthcare costs

Universal healthcare doesn’t necessarily mean healthcare that is 100% free.

In many countries with universal healthcare systems, patients are still required to pay some out of pocket costs. Depending on your location, this may be anything from a flat fee to a percentage of the total costs. Therefore, you could still end up with a substantial medical bill.

You can enjoy specific benefits and treatments associated with private healthcare

For some injuries and health conditions, you might require on-going care or treatment, such as physiotherapy.

In some locations, you will need to find and pay for these services yourself, even if you used universal health facilities initially. Doing so can add unexpected out of pocket costs to your medical bill.

Depending on your private health plan, you might be able to access healthcare in more than one location

If you relocate to country A, where you’re entitled to universal healthcare, you might not be entitled to care if you later move or spend some time in country B.

With a private health plan, you’ll be able to choose regional or even worldwide coverage for the ultimate in peace of mind. Get a plan that covers you no matter where you are in the world!

Should you have private health insurance in countries with universal healthcare?

Moving to a country with a high-quality universal healthcare system can undoubtedly give you peace of mind. However, there may still be several variables to consider and costs associated with universal healthcare.

With that in mind, it is always worth considering complementing any entitlement to universal healthcare with a private health plan.

If you’re considering a private health plan, our country-specific pages include information about the healthcare system in those locations.