4 Tips for Foreigners to Choose the Best Medical Insurance Policy
Ensuring that you and your family can access healthcare abroad is one of the first things you should organize. No one can predict when an emergency or health issue might arise. If you wait until you are sick, the process of arranging expatriate healthcare could prolong treatment times or costs. Organizing good expat health insurance is particularly important for those with pre-existing health issues.
Organizing healthcare in a new country requires several steps: finding and registering with a doctor, locating the nearest hospital, emergency numbers and ambulance services, and checking what medical insurance permits access to healthcare services. Good expat health insurance is important no matter where you live. Certain factors change when living as a foreigner abroad. Below are tips for choosing the best medical insurance policy:
1. Find out if your employer provides coverage
More often than not, expats are sent abroad by an employer and covered under the company’s health insurance plan. If this is the case for you, find out what your employer’s expat health insurance plan covers and if it is the right policy for you. In other cases, expats are not covered by a company’s policy but are able to negotiate an insurance clause into their contract.
It’s important to make sure you understand the insurance offered by your employer. Does the policy include your family? Do you have any pre-existing conditions not covered by the policy? Does your insurance plan cover you when you visit home? You may be offered a cheaper insurance policy but make sure it is adequate.
2. Make certain there are no gaps in your health insurance coverage
You may be fortunate enough to access subsidized healthcare in your new country of residence. However, take into account that not all public healthcare systems provide full coverage. In some cases, there may be restrictions on accessing certain local healthcare services up until a certain period has passed. For example, you might not get free X-rays or maternity services until you have paid into a social security system for several months.
Additionally, you typically cannot arrange local healthcare until you are living in that country. This means you could be uncovered for healthcare until you set up your social security, register with your local healthcare center, or take out a local health insurance plan. In many countries, these generally require local registration with a residential address. As these processes can take up to a couple of months to organize, in some cases only a private or expat health insurance plan can avoid gaps in your coverage because you can arrange expat insurance prior to your move.
3. Make note of country-specific factors
It’s key to research the implications for expatriate healthcare in your new country; healthcare access can be quite different to what you’re used to. The first step is to find out if you are eligible to access public healthcare. There may be exceptions depending on your nationality or the length of time you plan to stay.
Some countries legally oblige you to purchase a local health insurance plan. This means that you have to pay a monthly fee towards a government-regulated health plan, regardless of whether you have another form of expat health insurance. Other countries take contributions through the public social security system. These are automatically deducted from your salary and require you to submit your own reimbursement claims. In some cases, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for example can cover EU nationals for a certain period in another member state.
The quality of state-provided healthcare varies from country to country. Some countries have very specific rules about who can use public health services; you may need temporary or permanent residency before you are allowed to use the local system, in which case private health insurance or expat health insurance becomes necessary.
4. Which insurance coverage do you need: local, private, or expat insurance?
Some private local plans offer coverage while you are abroad, although typically for a limited time and for necessary treatments only. If you already have private insurance in your home country, you should speak to your provider before your move; check if the plan will cover you in your new host country and for how long, or do an expat health insurance comparison.
Reasons to consider taking out a private national plan in your host country include avoiding long waiting times, having access to better healthcare services, or increasing your chances of finding a local medical provider who speaks your language. If you return home for long periods of time or travel often, however, it may not provide adequate coverage.
But what if you have travel insurance? It’s important to note these policies are usually designed for short stays and typically only cover medical emergencies. Depending on the length of your stay in countries abroad, a private expat health insurance policy can ensure a more sufficient healthcare option.