Good Health Guide: Expat Health Insurance


The range of insurance providers, policies and coverage out there is bewildering, so we’re referring you straight to CNN Money’s great article Choosing Your Health Insurance, which takes you through all you need to know about the subject. The advice applies to any expat health insurance coverage, domestic or expat, so while you may find different terms used depending on your host location, the principles are the same wherever you might go.


Relocation Basics Checklist

  • Understand the role of Health Insurance in your host location.
  • Contact HR for company coverage policy (if applicable).
  • Research coverage options and policy limits .
  • Check to see which health insurance is accepted by your preferred care provider.
  • Establish a copay fund.
  • Keep meticulous records.

It helps to be clear about what you want from your health insurance before you start comparing policies – often people who are used to moving around are generally healthy and use medical care infrequently, and if you have annual medical examinations as part of your employment, you already have a baseline for your most predictable medical needs. While some of you may be lucky enough to live in a country with a nationalized health service, the rest will need at least some form of private medical insurance.

The full range of coverage is out there, from ‘catastrophic conditions only’ to ‘full coverage and no copay’; but the amount you pay also varies greatly. Carla Valentine’s great article outlines some of her choices if you are having to buy your own or supplement a company policy, or if you will be traveling in more than one country. Looking over your past medical history will give you an idea of what you will need in the future, and while it is better to be overinsured than under, it also makes no sense to be paying a monthly premium for services which you could buy on an independent basis should they be required.

While we are on the subject of medical services, you also need to be clear what restrictions your health insurer places on the providers (i.e. doctors, hospitals, dentists etc) that you can use. The cheaper health coverages often come with a limited range of healthcare professionals and facilities for you to choose from, so once you have narrowed your search down to two or three possible policies, go on the websites for those insurers, and check to see who you can use locally. It’s important to have a choice of high quality services, if for no other reason than you can guarantee your dentist will be on an Alaskan cruise when your crown falls off.

For those of you who will be living in the more remote areas, you have a slightly simpler option.

  1. Find the local doctor.
  2.  Find out which insurance he or she accepts / prefers / recommends.
  3. Ensure that the insurance covers emergency transport to specialist medical facilities should they be required.
  4. Buy the insurance…

The final piece to your insurance puzzle is an emergency co-pay fund. As I write this, ski season is just ending in Lake Tahoe, and I know of at least two separate families who both (thankfully) have completely healthy children, but who have the considerable medical bills to prove it. Two different skiing accidents, neither serious, but one involved a 45 minute Urgent Care Clinic visit with numerous X rays, and the other involved transporting a child to hospital (by air ambulance) for a check up. Even though both children were found to be uninjured and both families had extensive medical insurance, they now have co-pay bills in the thousands of dollars. It is also worth noting that the bills will come separately for each procedure or provider, and you MUST keep track of these and pay them. Care providers can and will refer you to a Credit Collection Agency for non-payment, and if you think the cost of insurance is high, wait until you see what that CCA referral will do to your credit score, your interest rates and your ability to get financing… You have been warned.

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