International Health Insurance Essentials

International Health Insurance Essentials

29th August, 2014

When you live abroad, one of your top considerations is how to protect you and your family’s health. Without proper health insurance cover, illness or injury abroad can soon turn into a financial disaster. International health insurance for expats is an absolute essential. If you are not covered under a group medical insurance program, you’ll need an individual international medical policy.

Why? Whatever public health services you get free in your home country, you can’t expect to receive the same in your new country. Every nation has its own health system, and some have no public health system at all. While you may be fit and healthy right now, things can change. And there’s always the potential for accidents. International health insurance is the way to go, and it’s wise to be aware of the exclusions so you know exactly where you stand.

Why insist on good quality health insurance cover?

You can buy cheap international health cover, of course. But it’s invariably cheap for a reason.

  • The sums insured will be less than a better quality policy, which means there might be a lower limit on the total amount of money you can claim for each incident, and / or a limit to the number of times you can claim per year.
  • You will have less choice when it comes to optional extras, things like dental treatment cover and cover if you’re pregnant.
  • Many health insurance plans exclude dental or eye care, and you may need separate policies. Some plans include dental and eye care when it happens because of an accident or injury. Other policies include limited dental insurance cover, so check first.
  • Cosmetic surgery is usually excluded. But some cosmetic surgeries are covered, usually when they’re in direct response to a medical problem, for example an operation to mend a deviated septum or skin grafts for burns.
  • Alternative and complementary medicine is often excluded, but some alternative therapies are covered depending on your provider.
  • Make sure your provider has a team of specialists on call by telephone 24/7/365 so there’s always someone to talk to when you need support, help or advice.
  • You need to ensure your insurer will pay your claims quickly and directly instead of leaving you to pay first and claim back later.
  • Home care and private nursing expenses are often excluded, and can soon stack up. Are you covered?
  • The best policies cover hospital fees, the cheap ones don’t. And hospital fees can be high. Make sure they’re included.

How do you know the cover provides what you need?

You are responsible for choosing the right cover for your needs, which means you really must sit down and read the documentation. Refer to the full Policy Wording. You should be able to request a copy before you buy. If you don’t understand the information, contact the insurer and ask for a plain language explanation. If you can’t phone them and ask questions, find a supplier who provides the right level of help and advice.

Once you’ve bought your insurance it’s important to check the Schedule of Cover and Excesses very carefully and read them in conjunction with the full policy wording.

What about medical insurance exclusions in countries that are considered unsafe?

Your home country’s government will have a list of countries it advises its citizens to avoid, usually because of war and conflict, diseases and epidemics.

Whatever quality your policy it will probably exclude or restrict cover if you move somewhere particularly risky, and all medical insurance policies exclude  cover for death or disablement because of or arising from war, terrorist attacks, riots, civil unrest and demonstrations, even if you are simply an innocent bystander.  Most policies will also exclude claims that arise from murder and attempted murder, kidnap or any kind of assault in a country that’s known to be especially dangerous.  Our advice? Check with your insurer before buying a policy.

Common exclusions to look out for

Many policies exclude conditions like these if they arise for the first time within the first 90 days of your policy.

  • Acne
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy
  • Haemorrhoids and haemorrhoidectomy
  • Any reproductive disorders, including hysterectomy
  • Diverticulitis
  • Hernia
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Gall bladder disease or gall stones
  • Kidney stones
  • Any condition of the breast or prostate gland

Here’s what International Citizens says about it:

“Most expatriate insurance companies will look at each application on an individual basis and acceptance is quite possible with these and other conditions. Read thoroughly about what your potential health insurance plan states when it comes to pre-existing conditions. When moving out of the country, it is recommended that going through the underwriting process and completing the waiting period before going overseas will make the road to coverage much smoother. Also, explore the list of exclusions and thoroughly understand what your benefits are with your worldwide health insurance plan.”

Think about the country you’re moving to

Your own state of health and fitness is one thing to bear in mind when looking for expat medical insurance. But there’s more. What about the risks inherent in the country you’re moving to? Some diseases might exist in your new country that weren’t a risk in your home country: Yellow Fever, Dengue, Beri-Beri, TB, tick-borne encephalitis and so on. Make sure your policy protects you against the diseases and other risks that are inherent in your new country, as well as those you would ordinarily face ‘back home’.

It’s also a good idea to research local hospitals, clinics and doctors offices in advance so you know what to expect. And when you actually get to your new home country, it’s beneficial to visit them in person, just so you know where they are, how to get there, what everything looks like and how the system works. It sounds simplistic but even this basic level of physical and emotional familiarity with the system, location and people involved makes a visit to a hospital or doctor much less daunting, quicker and less stressful.  After all you know where your GP surgery is at home, and where the nearest hospitals are.

What if your pre-existing medical condition isn’t covered?

If you can’t get insurance for a medical condition you already suffer from, it’s time to think about self-insuring. This means either making sure you have enough funds to pay for treatment should you need it, or putting emergency plans in place in advance so that if something goes wrong, you know exactly what to do.

It’s a peace of mind thing

Once you know you’ve bought a policy that covers everything you and your family need, appropriate to the country you’re moving to, at a reasonable cost, you can relax. Once you’re familiar with where your nearest hospital and doctor are, and how the system works in your new country, you’ll be able to enjoy perfect peace of mind.

Can we help?

We’re proud of our cover, which is some of the best expat medical insurance you can buy, from one of the biggest and best insurers in the business. If we can help in any way at all, we’ll be delighted to. Just ask.

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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.

Contact Alison Massey

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