Don't Forget to Pack Expat Insurance for Your International Assignments

traveling in airport


Employment that takes you to another country can be an exciting but stressful opportunity. Living and working in a different nation can offer adventure, but soon enough normal routines take shape. What happens when you fall sick or become injured while on your international assignment? Expat medical insurance is recommended for anyone who intends to work in a foreign country for three months or longer. This vital insurance for expats can take some of the worry out of your business travels -- wherever they may take you.

Common Questions Regarding Expat Health Insurance

Many who are leaving the United States to establish long-term residence in another country have questions regarding the insurance coverage they will need. Here are a some of the most frequently asked questions.

How does expat health insurance differ from travel insurance?

Travel insurance is designed for those who are travelling abroad for short periods; it covers hazards that are typical for travelers, such as lost luggage, theft, cancellations, and emergency medical treatment.

Expat health insurance (also called global or international health insurance) is designed to offer health insurance coverage to those who are living abroad for extended periods, such as for work or retirement. It can cover you for emergency as well as routine and preventive care.

How does the Affordable Care Act affect expatriates?

While the Affordable Care Act mandates that all Americans must carry health insurance or face a tax penalty, those who live abroad at least 330 days a year are not bound by this rule. On the other hand, because the insurance offered by the Affordable Care Act marketplace only provides coverage within the United States, those living abroad cannot take advantage of the government subsidies offered to those who purchase their coverage through this system. You can only get your health insurance by purchasing a private global health insurance policy.

Can’t I just take advantage of the free healthcare offered by the country I will be living in?

Some people may think that because the country they are temporarily living in offers universal healthcare coverage, they are automatically fully covered if they should get sick or need medical treatment for an injury. In some cases, this may be true, but it is not something that you should count on. Each country has its own laws governing this coverage, and these laws can vary even according to where in the country you are living, how long you have been there, and other factors.

For example, in Singapore, citizens enjoy free access to healthcare, but non-citizens living in the country do not and must buy their own health coverage, typically at a cost of about $350 USD per month. In the UK, on the other hand, all residents, including expatriates, can enjoy many of the benefits of the universal health coverage, though if you wish to have the benefit of private facilities and other perks, you will need to purchase a policy at a cost of about $300 USD per month.

For the most part, if you are living long-term in another country and your employer is not providing a health insurance plan to cover you while you are there, you should talk to other expatriates in the country to get a handle on what you can expect to have covered automatically and what you might need a policy to cover. You can then buy a policy in that country, or purchase an international health insurance plan that will cover you there as well as in any other countries where you may live, work, or vacation while you are abroad.

Does it cost more to buy coverage while living in some countries than in others?

In some countries, such as Costa Rica, you can buy a personal health insurance plan for as little as $30 USD a month. In Hong Kong, which is home to about 300,000 expatriates, policies average about $425 USD per month. In most parts of the world, you can expect to pay between $300 USD and $350 USD per month for a policy that will cover you while you are living in the country.

If you are buying an international health insurance plan, which will cover you globally, you can expect to pay between $500 USD and $1200 USD per month for your coverage. Your costs will vary according to your age, health status, and the country or countries where you will be spending the bulk of your time. Costs tend to be on the higher end for policies that include coverage while in the United States.

How Global Medical Coverage Can Work for You

The quality of medical care varies significantly around the world. The quality of care in your new country may not be up to the standard you were used to back home. Also, as an expatriate, you and your family may not have access to free or subsidized health care. It is therefore important to consider an expat health plan to provide for the healthcare needs of you and your family.

One beneficial aspect of expat health insurance is that, unlike with many domestic policies offered through an employer, policyholders have much more flexibility in deciding what they need to cover and what they can do without.

It is recommended that expats purchase international health insurance if their assignment will take them to another country for three months or more. For these longer stays, travel insurance will not be sufficient in the event you become sick or are injured. Travel insurance provides short-term medical coverage with no guarantee of renewal. International medical insurance provides long-term medical coverage with a guarantee of renewal.

What is Covered Under an Expat Medical Insurance Plan?

A basic expat medical insurance policy provides you protection for essential hospital stays and treatment for acute illnesses and injuries.

You may wish to choose a more robust policy that may include the following coverage options:

  • Routine maternity care
  • Outpatient doctor visits
  • Prescriptions
  • Medical evacuation
  • Health and well-being visits
  • Vision and dental benefits

Unlike other types of expat insurance, global medical insurance typically follows you wherever you go. For example, if your assignment takes you to Germany, but you regularly travel on business to other countries in Europe, expat medical insurance will cover you if you fall sick or are injured during your travels. International health insurance companies have a network of hospitals and doctors spanning 180 countries worldwide, ensuring you can receive care virtually anywhere you go. However, since the quality of care can vary so widely, it may be a good idea to add medical evacuation to your coverage in the event you are traveling to a country with inadequate hospitals and clinics.

Expat health insurance typically does not cover preexisting conditions until after a specified waiting period.  

What Can Influence the Cost of My Expat Health Insurance?

The cost depends on a number of factors, including your age, medical history, maximum limits, deductibles, and the country where you will live. Whether you need an individual or family plan will also impact your premiums. Plans become significantly more expensive if they include coverage while in the United States.  

The cost of expat health insurance will vary by plan and insurance company. Some insurers might offer you cheap plans, but they may provide significantly less in the way of coverage. Global health insurance policies are not governed by the same laws as domestic policies, and are not required to cover routine preventive care in full. It is therefore a good idea to compare several plans from a variety of insurance companies before choosing the policy that offers the coverage that best fits your coverage and budgetary needs.

Filing a claim with your expat health insurance provider is similar to the process you may be familiar with regarding domestic medical insurance companies. The hospital or doctor will usually file the claim themselves, leaving you to pay only the deductible if one applies. In some cases, you may have to pay for the medical services yourself and file a claim reimbursement form with the insurance provider. Be sure to ask about this process when you are considering the purchase of an expat health insurance plan.

Other Types of Expat Insurance You Should Consider

Personal property is an important type of expat insurance that protects your valuables. For example, if the flat you are renting is damaged in a fire, this insurance will help repair or replace your ruined belongings. You may be able to purchase a rider to your existing homeowners insurance policy, but in many cases you will need a separate policy. You will need to consider the following personal property expat insurance options:

  • Coverage for items left in storage.
  • Transportation coverage on items you have shipped to your destination.
  • Coverage at your residence abroad for fire, theft and acts of nature.
  • Protection for property while traveling temporarily within the United States or other countries.

Auto insurance for expats is important, whether you are leasing a vehicle or driving a company car. You can choose to purchase liability auto insurance, which protects you from costs stemming from a crash in which you injure another person or cause them property damage. Comprehensive insurance protects you from liabilities and also helps cover the costs to repair or replace the vehicle you drive.

Find the Right Expat Insurance for Your Needs

You may feel comfortable searching for and purchasing domestic insurance policies online. Because expat insurance involves other countries, different laws and regulations, and a myriad of other factors, it is imperative that you work with an insurance agent or company that has experience with expatriates and their insurance needs.

While the three types of expat insurance discussed above are the most common, they aren't the only types of policies you may need to consider. A knowledgeable agent with a reputable insurance company may suggest that you need coverage that includes one or more of the following:

  • International life insurance
  • War and terrorism insurance
  • Political violence and kidnapping insurance
  • Personal liability insurance

If your international assignment takes you to a banking institution in the UK, your expat insurance needs will be greatly different than if you are to be a pipeline contractor in Iraq. You will want to work with a company that can help you navigate the global insurance industry and connect you with insurance for expats that fits your specific situation.

Traveling abroad for business can be an exciting but stressful time. You may be going alone or bringing along your family to a strange new country. Finding the right expat insurance policies can help ease your mind knowing you and your loved ones are protected wherever your work may take you.

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