Buying your first International Health Insurance Policy – A Guide for Beginners

Buying your first International Health Insurance Policy – A Guide for Beginners

13th January, 2015

Global health insurance policies are widely sought after. Not only are they viewed as the perfect solution for expats, but for those that travel on a frequent basis as well. They ensure you receive the best healthcare, irrespective of where in the world you are situated. Nevertheless, recognising that you need international medical insurance is only the beginning, you then have the find the right policy for you. For first time buyers this can seem like a minefield, as there are many different factors that need to be considered. Couple this with the insurance jargon and it is not difficult to see why people sometimes end up purchasing the wrong plan for their requirements. Keeping that in mind, read on for our introductory guide on choosing the right worldwide health insurance plan….


When choosing the right policy for you, the first thing you need to consider is the various benefit options you have at your disposal. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ones…

  • In-Patient – This is when patients are required to be admitted to a hospital for medical treatment and at least one overnight stay is required.
  • Day-Patient – This is when patients are required to be admitted to a hospital for several hours for medical treatment but do not need to stay overnight.
  • Out-Patient – Out-patient treatment can take place at a medical practitioner’s practise or surgery instead of a hospital. This type of treatment typically lasts for a short period of time e.g. up to one hour
  • Well-Being – Well-being check-ups are used as part of early diagnosis of illnesses.
  • Long Term Care – If you cannot look after yourself, long term care will ensure that you receive assistance for any disabilities or illnesses you are suffering from.
  • Vaccinations – Some policies also offer vaccinations and immunisations as part of the plan.
  • Optical Care – Not only does this include eye tests, but optical benefits can be used for the diagnosis of medical problems as well.
  • Dental Care – This includes everything from complex dental treatments to annual check-ups.
  • Routine Maternity Care – This covers pre and post natal care, as well as costs entailed during both pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Transport – If you are unable to get adequate treatment in a nearby hospital your policy may cover you for the transportation expenses associated with getting to a suitable hospital.

Now you have a good idea of the various benefits that are available to you when acquiring worldwide health insurance. When purchasing from medical insurance companies you will find that they offer several different plans which are segregated based on different levels of cover. These are generally as follows – a low cover plan, an intermediate cover plan and finally a comprehensive cover plan. A low cover policy will typically only provide in-patient care. Intermediate policies cover both in-patient and out-patient care, with one or two other benefits sometimes included. A comprehensive policy will provide a full range of benefits. Of course this will differ from insurer to insurer, but this should give you a good idea of the differences between the various cover levels.


A lot of people just consider the benefit options and cover level they want to buy, however there are a few other things to think about. You should look at their medical provider network too. Some plans offer access to medical practitioners without having to pay up-front via their network.  Most insurance providers will let you seek medical treatment wherever you like, but you may have to pay for it yourself and claims back your expenses later, so having access to a network, especially for out-patient care is a real convenience.  Please note that if you are in a situation where you have to pay and claim, make sure that you are aware of what you are and are not covered for.  No insurance company will pay a claim for something that is not included in your plan.


Another variable you need to think about is how much excess you want to pay. This is the amount of money you have to pay before your insurer will start paying for your medical expenses. Therefore, if your excess amount is set at USD 500, you will need to pay USD 500 and then your insurer will cover the rest of the costs. This could be USD 500 per medical condition, per visit or per year, depending on the specifics of your policy. You really need to strike the right balance when it comes to excess, as this will affect your premiums. The higher excess your policy has, the lower your premiums will be. Nonetheless, don’t simply select a high excess policy in order to lower your premiums, as you could find yourself in a position whereby you cannot afford to pay the excess amount and thus your insurer will not cover any of your costs.


In addition to this, co-insurance is another important factor to take into account when choosing the right international medical insurance plan for you. This is not applicable to all policies. Nonetheless, the option of co-insurance will likely be available for some options. This is when you have to pay a percentage of the bill for any care or treatment you have received. For example, if your policy states that you are subject to 20% co-insurance for dental care, you will need to pay 20% of any costs for this type of treatment and the insurer will pay the remaining 80% of the bill.


Before agreeing to your policy you need to be aware of any waiting periods that are in place. A waiting period essentially means that you have to wait for a specific period of time before the insurer will cover you for a particular benefit. A prime example of this is maternity care. Most international health insurance providers implement a ten to 12 month waiting period for maternity care. This is to ensure that people do not merely fall pregnant and then take out a health care plan to fund all maternity costs. Instead, if you are planning on starting a family you need to acquire global medical insurance before falling pregnant if you are to guarantee cover. Other common waiting lists include the likes of a year waiting period for well-being check-ups and a nine month waiting period to activate dental care cover.


Last but not least, the final thing you need to be aware of before choosing the best international health insurance for you is the annual limit on your policy. This is something that all global medical insurance plans have. If you exceed the yearly limit that is set in place, you will then need to fund any medical care or treatment you undergo for the remainder of the year. This shows why it is so important to consider your annual limit carefully. Costs can easily amount to a sizeable sum, especially if you find yourself needing to take advantage of evacuation benefits as there is no suitable medical centre in close proximity.

As you can see, there are certainly many different factors you must consider when choosing your first international health insurance policy. Hopefully this guide will help you to narrow down your search effectively. Make sure you read the terms and conditions of the policy carefully. Don’t merely overlook any insurance terms you don’t understand and don’t be afraid to ask the insurer any questions you may have.

Alison Massey

Group Marketing Director

Now Health International

Alison Massey is a 15-year digital marketing veteran, who has spent the last seven years using social media to help expats and soon to be expats find out what to expect from a life overseas. An expat living in Hong Kong herself, Alison is the Group Marketing Director of Now Health, the award-winning international health insurance provider.

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