If you’re thinking of moving abroad to start a new expat life, you will find yourself asking: how do I compare health insurance plans? What is the right cover? How do I get the best price?
In this article, we’ll share some common questions and answers, and guide you through the process – so that when you compare international health insurance policies, you’ll come armed with everything you need to know.
How to compare international health insurance
If you’re thinking of living and working abroad, you may have already started to compare expat health insurance policies.
When it comes to protecting yourself and the people you care about in case of illness or injury, international health insurance (also called global health insurance, expat health insurance or worldwide health insurance) is an absolute must-have.
More importantly, many countries require newcomers to have their own private medical insurance before they’re allowed to live in the country.
International health insurance offers a range of benefits for expats. Not only can it help you access the treatments and procedures you may need while living abroad, it can also open doors to high-quality private medical services, emergency healthcare cover, and even mental health cover.
Policies are usually very flexible, allowing you to choose the level of cover you need to suit your personal circumstances, and help you find a price that suits your budget.
Here are a few of the essential services a good international health insurance policy should cover:
- Hospital costs for both in-patient and out-patient treatments
- Major treatments for illnesses such as cancer and stroke
- Emergency treatments and ambulance transfers
- Mental health support
- Regular check-ups and GP appointments
- Pregnancy and maternity care
- Medical evacuations (Medevacs), if you need treatment in a different country
For expats, international health insurance will be absolutely essential in countries that do not offer free healthcare for non-citizens, as treatments in these countries can sometimes cost tens of thousands of dollars. However, health insurance can be just as important in countries where healthcare is free, but where the standard of healthcare is low.
In these countries, you may want to choose private medical care to ensure high-quality treatment, shorter waiting times, and access to medical staff who speak your native language.
Will you need cover?
The first question to ask before starting to compare international health insurance policies is whether or not you will need cover.
Many countries around the world offer free public healthcare to both residents and non-residents. Expats living and working in these countries may be entitled to free healthcare services at public hospitals and health facilities. To find out whether you might be entitled to state medical care in your new country, check out our list of the countries that offer free healthcare for expats.
Furthermore, there are many international health insurance policies you may be entitled to, such as the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), that allows citizens of the European Union to access public healthcare facilities in other EU countries for free or at a reduced cost.
However, even if you are entitled to state healthcare in your new home country, there are several reasons you may still choose to take out international health insurance, including:
Access to private healthcare
With international health insurance, you may be able to access a much higher standard of care than what state healthcare can offer. Since the quality of national healthcare can vary considerably between different countries, you may want to consider taking out international health insurance as a way to ensure you can always access the highest quality care.
With private healthcare, you can be sure to experience lower waiting times, get access to the most progressive treatments and equipment, and you are much more likely to find a doctor who speaks your native language.
Access to a specialist network
When it comes to seeking medical treatment overseas, it may be difficult to know where to go and who to turn to. A great international health insurance provider should not only be able to back up your claim, but should also be able to point you in the direction of the best treatment.
This is because many of the best international health insurance providers have their own dedicated networks of professionals and health facilities in multiple countries, who they can recommend when you need it.
Access to optional extras
When taking out a new international health insurance policy, you will have the option to tailor your policy to suit your needs. That allows you to pick the types of cover that suit you and your lifestyle. This can range from additional mental health cover to dentistry, and more.
Cover across multiple countries
When starting a new life overseas, you’ll probably want to hop around a lot and travel to other countries – whether for work, or to explore your new surroundings. International health insurance covers you not just for one country, but across whole regions. This means that wherever you and your family travel, you can always rely on having high-quality health insurance should you need it.
Medical evacuations (Medevacs)
One of the most significant advantages of choosing international health insurance, medical evacuations cover you in the event that you need to move to another country or region to receive limb or life saving treatment. This could prove essential if, for instance, your home country does not have the high-quality medical equipment or treatment options you need.
Knowing your budget
International health insurance will be a recurring cost for you and your family while living abroad. You can choose to pay annually or monthly (there is usually a small discount if you pay annually), while contracts will be renewed yearly. Prices will be subject to change when it comes time to renew your contract.
It’s important to factor the cost of international health insurance into your budget. As an expat, you are likely to have a number of expenses that you wouldn’t have as a resident of your home country. Visa costs, local taxes and exchange rates are some of the many things that can put a dent in your budget.
Therefore, you should be sure to choose an international health insurance policy that suits your budget. Here are some tips to help you adjust your health insurance policy to suit your budget:
Shape your policy
When you start to compare expat health insurance, your first step should be to play around with the policies to see what options are available. Many health insurance providers will offer various tiers of insurance. At William Russell, we provide four tiers: Bronze, SilverLite, Silver and Gold, each offering a different level of cover at staggered prices.
Know your area of cover
Your international health insurance will be more or less expensive depending on the part of the world you need cover. When taking out a new international health insurance policy, you will need to declare your area of cover – the good news is you will often have access to multiple countries within this area of cover. According to William Russell’s own data, the five most expensive countries in the world for international health insurance coverage are:
- United States
- Hong Kong
Set an excess
When you make a claim through your international health insurance, you will need to pay an excess. This is a sum from your own pocket that contributes towards the full cost of the claim. Setting a higher excess will lower your monthly premiums, but you should make sure you could afford the excess if you needed to pay it.
Know what factors will affect your premiums
International health insurance is tailored to you and your needs. If you are more likely to require ongoing healthcare, you may find that your premiums are slightly higher. Factors that will affect the price of your premiums include your age, type of occupation and whether or not you have pre-existing illnesses or chronic conditions.
Whittle down features
International health insurance plans often offer healthcare aspects that may not apply to your status, or that you may not be interested in. Many people, for instance, choose to forego maternity cover, either because they are not planning to have children, or because the local healthcare systems in their country offer free maternity cover as standard.
Think about extras
From dental cover to mental health care, there are many features you may want to add to your policy. These will usually incur an additional cost to your premiums, so make sure they fit within your budget.
Planning for the worst-case scenario
When you start to compare international health insurance policies, it may be tempting to choose the minimum level of cover, as this usually offers the best possible price.
However, this may lead to situations where your level of cover is insufficient for your needs. You should always think about the worst-case scenario and ask: would I be covered if things went wrong?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question, and it all comes down to your personal opinion and the level of risk you feel comfortable with. However, while you compare international health insurance plans, it may help to ask yourself questions such as:
- Am I at risk of major illnesses such as cancer, diabetes or stroke, and what would happen if I experienced these illnesses in a foreign country? Would I be covered by state healthcare, or would I be liable to pay for my own treatment?
- Am I likely to take part in dangerous activities, either at work or for leisure? What would happen if I was injured in a skiing accident or while driving?
- We all struggle with the twists and turns of life on occasion. Am I susceptible to mental health disorders, and is it worth me considering mental health cover while living abroad?
Knowing the answer to these questions will help you to decide the right level of cover for both you and your loved ones.
What to look for in an insurance provider
Choosing a health insurance policy to suit your needs is only the first step. The next thing to consider is the insurance provider themselves.
You’ll want to be sure your insurance provider is able to put their money where their mouth is – that they are a trustworthy and well-respected provider of international health insurance that is able to offer the level of coverage you need, with no complications when it comes to exercising your right to claim.
Ultimately, while you compare international health insurance providers, you will want to be looking for these factors:
1/ Great customer service
A good international health insurance provider should be able to demonstrate great customer service by making themselves available to customers at all times. Great insurance providers usually offer a 24/7 dedicated helpline to support customers when it comes to making a claim.
2/ Easy claims process
When it comes time to make a claim, the last thing you’ll want is to have to figure out your way around heaps of paperwork, or spend hours waiting on the phone, or to trawl through a complicated online portal. The best international health insurance providers will proudly offer an easy claims process, knowing that this is the most important thing for their customers.
Not only should your insurance provider be confident that they can offer you the best quality health insurance, at a great price, anywhere in the world – they should also be confident that their word is backed up by dozens or hundreds of previous happy customers.
4/ Solid reputation
The best international health insurance providers will be able to demonstrate that they have a strong history of providing high-quality health insurance to expats around the world – and they will have the reviews and testimonials to back this.
5/ Fair price
The best international health insurance providers will always be able to provide the health insurance you need at a price that works for your budget. They won’t try to overcharge you, nor will they skimp on quality in order to offer a price that’s too good to be true.
Finally, look for a health insurance provider with many years of experience in providing insurance around the world. Experience means a lot in the world of insurance, and can mean the difference between a good health insurance provider, and a great health insurance provider.
How to find the best international health insurance provider
So you’ve whittled it down to your top providers based on price and policy, and you’re looking for something to seal the deal. And what better way than to look for personal recommendations?
Here’s how to find the best international health insurance providers:
Make a shortlist
While comparing potential providers, keep track of your options in a shortlist. Make sure to track essential details, like the extent of your coverage, your area of coverage, the price you’ll pay for your premiums and optional extras to include.
Read online reviews
By searching the name of your insurance provider online, you’ll come across websites such as Trustpilot and Feefo. These show reviews from previous customers of that insurance provider, which will help give you a sense of how people felt about their service in the past. You should look particularly to see what previous customers have said about the provider’s customer service, their claims process and any pitfalls they encountered while claiming.
Look for testimonials
As well as searching on user review websites, you may want to look across the provider’s own website to see testimonials they have gathered from other people like you.
Speak to a human
Before taking out an international health insurance policy, you should have the option to speak to your provider to ask them any questions or negotiate the policy you wish to take out. If your provider is not willing or able to connect you to a member of the team, this may be a red flag – if they can’t answer your call today, will they answer your call when it comes time to make a claim?
Looking to compare international health insurance?
Why not start your comparison by learning about William Russell.
With over 30 years’ experience providing international health insurance to expats and digital nomads like you, we know what it takes to offer the best insurance at the right price.
Our plans cover a broad range of health conditions, ranging from cancer treatment to mental health care.
We are backed by a network of over 40,000 hospitals and medical treatment centres worldwide, so we can always help you find the best quality healthcare when you need it, and all our policies include medical evacuation cover as standard.
We offer a 24-hour emergency medical assistance service worldwide which you can call if you’re experiencing a medical emergency.
We are extremely proud to have 4.6 star rating on Feefo, with hundreds of satisfied customers. Speak to us today to find out if we can help you find the best international health insurance at the right price too.