If you’re moving abroad you need to create a safety net to protect your health and well being. You might qualify for access to a limited range of medical treatments as an expat but you can’t rely on your new home country’s public healthcare system – if there is one – to support all your healthcare needs. So how do you track down the best medical insurance? Here’s a detailed look at how to find the right overseas medical insurance for you and your family.
Expatriate medical insurance – Market forces
Thankfully the international healthcare insurance sector is fairly straightforward, in that you tend to get what you pay for. Very cheap policies come with exclusions, provide less cover, protection for a shorter period of time or restricted benefits. Expensive policies cover more, for longer.
The sector is also highly competitive, which is good news for consumers. The more people want it, the fiercer the competition, the lower the prices and the better the quality. Thanks to everyday market forces, there are some really good deals around, making it easier for you to identify the best international health insurance for your particular circumstances.
Speaking the lingo
Insurance language can be complicated, so choose a health insurance company who you can actually talk to. If you are in any doubt about what’s covered, what isn’t covered and what it all means, talking to someone in person is the best way to clarify matters. The most experienced providers offer Live Chat on the website, a team of experts available over the phone and a call back service where they’ll contact you at a convenient time.
Premium, standard or budget personal medical insurance?
Most worldwide medical insurance policies pay for in-patient treatment including tests and surgery as well as day care surgery. But what about out-patient treatment, things like diagnostics, scans, physiotherapy, consultations and chemotherapy?
It makes sense to check carefully to make sure you’re getting exactly what you need, whether it’s basic cover for yourself or something more comprehensive to cover the entire family. The best comprehensive policies include out-patient treatment, but it’s always wise to double check if there are any annual limits, where you can only claim so much per year before you’re left high and dry.
Global medical insurance – Extra benefits
Today’s healthy competitive landscape also means that insurers have to be innovative to stay competitive. Some policies let you pick and choose from a collection of extra benefits, so you only pay for the cover you genuinely need.
Take psychiatric treatment, cover for which varies across insurance companies. It’s tough to categorise because while it’s often a curable illness, thus covered by private medical insurance, it also sometimes falls into the ‘long term care’ category, which isn’t. As a rule, comprehensive policies are more likely to cover it than basic ones.
You will also find policies where you can choose to add things like comprehensive dental care, complementary therapies, personal accident insurance, repatriation and medical evacuation, private ambulances and accommodation for parents with a child is in hospital.
Are there any special insurance considerations for your new home country?
Some insurance companies provide specialist policies for different areas of the world, an example being the Gulf region, which includes Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Abu Dhabi. They do so because some countries and regions have extremely specific rules and regulations about healthcare, which make certain levels of health insurance cover more or less mandatory.
In 2008 the Dubai government hinted that all expat workers would soon be forced to carry private medical insurance. The idea was shelved but looks likely to be re-introduced, most likely in 2014. In the words of Gulf News:
“Officials said the insurance scheme will start to roll out next year and will be completed by 2016. Many blue collar workers and many spouses of expatriates presently do not have health cover. When it goes into force, the new law will ensure that no work or residence visa would be renewed without health insurance cover.
An expatriate will pay for the coverage of his spouse and children. But Haidar Al Yousuf, director of health funding at the DHA, said the Authority is working with insurance companies for inexpensive basic coverage plans. The basic package would cost Dh600 for a year.”
Wherever you’re moving to, a good insurer will have the information you need about the best choices for the specific region you’re moving to.
International medical insurance is essential if you want your medical bills paid in your new home country. But what if things change? It’s well worth thinking ahead. If you’re female, for example, you might decide to have a child in the near future. If it’s on the horizon, choose a comprehensive policy that includes maternity care.
Excesses on insurance for expats
Just like motor and home insurance, many international health insurance policies let you choose your own excess or waiting period. The bigger the excess or the longer the waiting period before you can claim, the lower your premiums.
In the case of an excess, you pay the excess and your insurance company covers the rest. If you’ve chosen a waiting period, you claim once it’s over. The end result is much the same – you bear a certain level of responsibility for your health-related expenses in return for keeping the cost down. Either way it makes sense to think carefully about what’s best for your health rather than putting money first.
A sensible tip: check how your excess or waiting period works, because definitions can vary widely across policies and providers.
Full disclosure versus moratorium policies
Fully underwritten policies demand that you disclose your full medical history so the company’s underwriters can set a premium that’s directly relevant to your state of health, age and habits. Moratoriums usually apply exclusions on pre-existing conditions – ie. illnesses or health issues you already have when you apply for cover or once had, often going back several years. Moratorium policies can be cheaper but if you fall ill and a doctor discovers your condition first arose during the moratorium period, they may refuse your claim.
Which health insurance policy is best for me?
Obviously you need to take your circumstances into account. Your decision might be affected by the country you’re moving to, the length of your stay, whether you’re taking the family or are single, your new home country’s healthcare system, your state of health and age. But you might also base your decision about the type, level of cover on your natural attitude to risk.
Insurers are well aware that some of us are less risk-averse than others. Some people buy the very best insurance to cover every eventuality, otherwise they don’t feel safe. Others are happier to take risks and deal with issues if and when they happen.
It’s also down to your pocket. Some people are so wealthy they choose to self-insure: if something happens, they know they can pay for it. It’s entirely up to you, but it’s often best to dream up the very worst-case scenario, imagine how you’d cope with it then take your decision from there.
What about international student health insurance?
Are you planning to study abroad? You will need health insurance. The same goes if you’re travelling rather than staying put, for example your gap year. But when do you need travel insurance and when do you need health insurance… what’s the difference?
Travel insurance covers you for much more than healthcare and usually lasts for a limited time, just the time you’re away on holiday, travelling for fun or on business trips. On the other hand medical insurance only covers healthcare, and acts as long-term protection.
Making medical insurance claims easier
You want the claims process to be as smooth and stress-free as possible. Pick a policy where the insurer lets you access your policy documents anywhere in the world online, so you always have the information to hand without having to cart loads of paperwork around with you.
Essential answers to find
Before you make a decision about which policy to buy, make sure you are fully aware of the ins and outs and understand exactly what’s covered and what isn’t. If you are finding the policy wording itself hard going, you should be able to call your insurer for clarification. If not, pick another insurer.
- What does the policy cover, and what does it exclude?
- Does it suit my personal circumstances?
- Can I afford the level of cover I need? If not, can I reduce the cost via excesses or waiting periods and still protect myself adequately?
We are always delighted to help expats find the best policy for their needs. Just get in touch for fast, friendly, efficient, expert support.