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Living Abroad? Here’s What You Need to Know About Health Insurance

Expats, nomads, and long-term travelers living abroad need to secure their own international health coverage because their U.S. insurance does not work abroad. International medical insurance can be limited to only your country of residence or you can select a worldwide coverage plan.

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Are you a soon-to-be expat who doesn’t know much about securing health insurance abroad? Are you a traveler hoping to get a grasp on what expat health insurance is and how it works?

This Pacific Prime blog post is meant for you! Together, we will explain what international health insurance is, what it covers, how it works, why expats need it, and how much it typically costs. 

We’ll also introduce you to the top insurance providers and the benefits you get for using a broker as an intermediary between you and the provider.

As you learn more, you’ll likely find you have questions. When this happens, please reach out to our insurance experts, and we will give you impartial advice from our wealth of experience in the global insurance industry.

That way, you can make a better-informed decision for your needs!

What is International Health Insurance for Expats?

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International health insurance is coverage for the medical expenses you accrue when living or traveling abroad. Expat health insurance can kick in for medical emergencies, illnesses or injuries, preventative care and treatments, and much more. You often pick either a private or public provider.

Private Health Insurance for Expats Abroad

Expats and nomads can choose to purchase private health insurance either through a local provider in their country of residence or a global insurance provider that offers insurance across a number of countries.

Private insurance typically costs more, but it includes a wider array of benefits, such as:

  • Private hospitals and clinics
  • Facilities with a higher level of medical supplies, sanitation, and western technology
  • Physicians and medical personnel who speak English and other languages
  • A more comprehensive insurance plan with benefits such as maternity and dental coverage

The majority of this post will speak about private international health insurance plans because public plans are specific to your country of residence.

Public Health Insurance for Expats Abroad

Expats and nomads can also choose to utilize the public insurance scheme in their country of residence if one is available. These plans typically offer basic emergency medical coverage. They may or may not cover preventative care, such as annual well-checks and services.

Public medical coverage can be more affordable and, in some countries, included in your tax deductions. These insurance plans, however, typically have:

  • Longer wait times because you are unable to make appointments ahead of time
  • Busier and less updated facilities
  • Plans with a higher number of exclusions than Westerners are used to
  • Little or no access to professionals who speak your native language

Learn more about the differences between public and private health insurance plans with this example in Thailand.

What Expat Health Insurance Typically Covers

Private international health insurance for expats living abroad typically covers inpatient coverage for day and overnight care. This includes hospital admittance and any nursing, testing, and medicinal fees, etc. Outpatient care is also common in some plans. Vision and dental add-ons are common.

Here’s a list of typical coverage benefits for expat health insurance:

  • Emergency transportation and treatment
  • Doctor and specialist consultations
  • Hospitalization
  • Prescription medications
  • Emergency evacuation and repatriation
  • Surgery and anesthesia
  • Labs and testing (MRIs, CAT SCANS, etc.)
  • Emergency dental care
  • Maternity care
  • Outpatient treatments and consultations

To see specific plan benefits and to compare prices of the best insurance providers, try out our insurance quote generator. It’s a free online resource that’s hard to beat because it compares multiple insurer plans side by side!

Why Expats Living Abroad Need Private Health Coverage

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Most U.S. health insurance plans do not provide coverage for expats living abroad, so the U.S. government highly recommends you purchase insurance before you travel. Medicare and Medicaid typically provide no coverage for U.S. citizens overseas either. Securing your own insurance plan is necessary.

The U.S. government also suggests you make sure your international health insurance plan includes coverage for medical evacuation since that can cost more than $50,000. Most global private insurance providers do offer this as a core benefit.

Read more about the specific limitations of U.S. Medicare insurance abroad in this blog post. 

How Global Medical Insurance for Expats Works

How global health insurance typically works for expats is they find an insurance provider, either on their own or through a broker, and then select from that provider’s available plans. There are often various levels of coverage for each plan that change your maximum limits, cost, and benefits, etc.

Health insurance plans typically last for a year, and then they can either be renewed, or you can pick a new plan and/or provider. We will discuss in the next few sections some of the choices and variables you have that can customize each plan to your individual needs.

If you choose to work through a broker, such as Pacific Prime, we assist you as you adjust your plan to fit your needs and budget.

Types of Expat Health Insurance Plans

Expat health insurance plans can be geared to individuals, families, or employee benefits. They can be designed for short-term coverage or long-term coverage. They can be designed for global coverage or specific destinations. You’ll want to find the type of plan catered to your individual needs.

Maximum Annual Benefit Limits

Shanghai Skyline, China

Global health insurance plans have a maximum annual limit or a total monetary limit of how much money you can receive in a year. There are also monetary limits on how much money you can receive for a specific benefit per year or per event. You get to select your annual benefits limit.

Typically, the higher your maximum benefits amount is, the more your plan will cost; the lower your annual limit, the lower your premiums will be. A higher annual benefits limit will have more comprehensive benefits.

Coverage Areas

Most expat insurance plans let you select your area of coverage from worldwide (which literally means anywhere in the world) or worldwide excluding the U.S. This second option can make your premiums lower and your plan more affordable, but it means you will have no health coverage when in the U.S.

There are also health insurance plans designed for a specific country. For example, Hong Kong. If you choose an insurance plan with exclusive coverage in Hong Kong, your premiums may be lower than a plan with worldwide coverage, but you won’t have protection in other areas of the world.

Search for plans with either worldwide coverage or coverage limited to a specific country that are catered to the region of the world you will be living in.

Cost and Pricing Options

The cost of insurance plans fluctuates based on the pricing options the global traveler chooses. Some of these pricing options include monthly or annual premiums, your maximum annual limit, coinsurance and copay values, and your chosen deductible.

Here are some pricing tips:

  • If you choose a higher deductible (which is the amount of money you agree to pay out of pocket before insurance kicks in), your premium fee will be lower.
  • If you choose to pay your premiums annually (your premium being the regular bill you pay for having the insurance plan whether or not you accumulate medical expenses), the total amount you pay in a year may be lower than if you pay your premiums monthly.

Medical Providers Network

Most insurance providers have a network, or community, of medical providers they have partnered with. Patients often get to choose their own physician, and seeing a physician who is within your provider’s network often means insurance will cover more of your expenses.

It can also make billing more seamless, particularly if the insurance provider has direct billing set up with that physician.

Billing

Many insurance providers offer a direct billing option. This means that the physician will send the bill directly to the insurance, and they will pay the bill. They only send you a bill if there is excess you are required to pay. This saves you a lot of hassle and time.

If your provider doesn’t do direct billing, then your medical provider will send you the bill, and you are expected to pay the full amount. After you’ve paid the bill, you submit a claim to your insurance provider requesting they reimburse you the amount of money they are expected to cover.

You can read more about how international health insurance works here.

Average Costs of International Health Insurance

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The average annual cost of international health insurance for individuals ranges from USD $3,594 to USD $9,817. The average annual cost for families ranges from USD $10,586 to USD $28,250.

Below is a chart with some of the average health insurance costs by country. All values are in USD.

2022-2023 Average Cost of Health Insurance By Country

Country Average Cost for Individuals Average Cost for Families
United States $9,817 $28,929
Hong Kong $7,810 $22,067
Singapore $7,028 $20,351
Dubai $5,687 $17,637
Taiwan $5,521 $15,396
Israel $5,521 $15,303
Mexico $5,386 $15,209
United Kingdom $5,314 $14,723
China $5,274 $16,241
Spain $4,877 $13,528
Poland $3,847 $10,586
Thailand $3,594 $11,683

These values come from Pacific Prime’s 2023 Cost of International Health Insurance Report. Read the report to see the average insurance costs for over 65 countries.

To get an accurate quote estimate for your country, age, length of coverage, and health needs, use our online insurance quote generator. This tool pulls from dozens of our top insurance partners and their plans.

How to Buy Health Insurance When Living Abroad

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Most health insurance plans can be purchased online before you move abroad. Consulting an insurance broker, like Pacific Prime, can make the process easier and more fruitful as they can help you compare a number of insurance providers until you find the one that’s best for you.

Here are a few things you can do in your research to buy health insurance:

Read this article to further learn how to buy health insurance abroad.

Top International Health Insurance Providers

Among the top international health insurance providers are Bupa, Cigna, HOW Health, AXA, Allianz Care, Aetna International, GeoBlue, and IMG. We partner with each of these insurers and more so we can help you compare their plans and negotiate to get you the best deal possible.

  1. Bupa: Bupa Global offers quality international health insurance plans for expats seeking medical coverage in certain regions with options for worldwide coverage.
  2. Cigna: Cigna Global has four core international health insurance plans for expats: Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Close Care. Compare their benefits and exclusions.
  3. NOW Health International: Now Health International offers medical insurance plans for expatriates, families, and international students, and groups/employers/corporations.
  4. AXA: AXA has five main international health insurance plans for expats: Foundation, Standard, Comprehensive, Prestige, and Prestige Plus.
  5. Allianz Care: As the international health brand of the larger Allianz Partners, Allianz Care offers health, life, critical illness, and disability insurance for individuals, families, and employers around the globe.
  6. Aetna International: Aetna International operates in a much larger territory than its American counterpart (Aetna) and provides comprehensive health insurance and population healthcare management solutions all around the world.
  7. GeoBlue: GeoBlue offers expatriate health insurance, multinational corporate health insurance, and travel insurance plans for individuals and groups.
  8. IMG: IMG Global offers comprehensive international health and travel insurance plans for expat individuals and families, so they are covered worldwide.

Benefits of Using a Broker to Get Health Insurance

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While insurers offer products and services that are tied to their business, brokers are in a position to offer dozens, if not hundreds, of plan comparisons from different insurance partners. This doesn’t only save you time, but you get all sorts of benefits.

These benefits include:

  • Impartial advice
  • Plan and claims management
  • Access to an insurance expert’s market knowledge and experience
  • A liaison between you and the insurer
  • Broker services for free
  • And more!

Nowadays, there are dozens of reputable insurers to choose from for your needs and budget, which means you can get better deals. However, approaching each one every time or comparing even two can be tedious and arduous.

Even then, the insurance terminology and the process can be quite perplexing and mind-boggling to many. This is where insurance brokers or intermediaries like Pacific Prime come in, and we don’t charge you a dime! We instead earn commission through our insurance partners.

The Bottom Line About Brokers

While the immediate reaction is to go straight to a popular insurer, it may be in your best interest to contact a reputable insurance broker instead. You could save money and get honest and transparent advice throughout your insurance journey.

Pacific Prime is your one-stop broker for all your individual, family, and corporate needs.

Read this post to learn how to choose an insurance broker that’s right for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Will my US health insurance work if I live abroad?

U.S. health insurance has highly limited or no coverage when living and traveling outside of the United States. Be sure to check with your current provider if they have benefits overseas. If not, you will need to purchase an international health insurance plan designed for global protection.

Should I get international health insurance when living abroad?

International health insurance can provide coverage for inpatient, outpatient, emergency, dental, vision, and maternity care. It can also provide emergency evacuation and repatriation coverage back to your country of origin. Without global health insurance, you will pay for these expenses in full.

What does expat health insurance cost abroad?

Individual expats living abroad pay, on average, USD $3,594 to USD $9,817 for health insurance. Expat families living abroad pay on average, USD $10,586 to USD $28,250 for health insurance. This depends on your country. The U.S. is among the most expensive, while Thailand is among the cheapest.

Does expat health insurance cover medical evacuation?

Medical evacuation and repatriation is a very common benefit of international health insurance policies. This benefit provides coverage for you to be transported back to your home country in the event of a medical or local emergency. Fees can cost up to $50,000, so having coverage is essential. 

Are maternity fees covered by international medical insurance?

Many, but not all, medical insurance plans abroad offer maternity coverage. The inpatient fees for maternity and childbirth are the most common benefits, but you can find plans that have outpatient, well-check coverage. The top maternity insurance providers are VUMI, Allianz Care, AXA, and Cigna.

Are pre-existing conditions covered by expat insurance?

Expat health insurance policies may choose to cover or exclude pre-existing conditions. The best way to get medical insurance abroad for pre-existing conditions is through a large group plan, such as through your employer. It is essential to check to see if your specific conditions are covered.

Conclusion

We’ve now discussed in detail what international health insurance is, why expats and travelers who live abroad need it, how to pick the right plan for you, and how much insurance costs on average.

If you found value in this post, you will also like to read A Guide to Working Abroad Health Insurance: Securing Your Health Abroad and Covering Your Health Abroad: The Importance of Overseas Health Insurance.

Please reach out to us with any questions you have, and we are happy to assist you!

Senior Content Creator at Pacific Prime
Serena Fung is a Senior Content Creator at Pacific Prime, a global insurance brokerage and employee specialist serving over 1.5 million clients in 15 offices across the world. With 2+ years of experience writing about the subject, she aims to demystify the world of insurance for readers with the latest updates, guides and articles on the blog.

Serena earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of British Columbia, Canada. As such, she is an avid advocate of mental health and is fascinated by all things psychology (especially if it’s cognitive psychology!).

Her previous work experience includes teaching toddlers to read, writing for a travel/wellness online magazine, and then a business news blog. These combined experiences give her the skills and insights she needs to explain complex ideas in a succinct way. Being the daughter of an immigrant and a traveler herself, she is passionate about educating expats and digital nomads on travel and international health insurance.
Serena Fung