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How does international health insurance work?

There will be many things to plan before setting off to your new country, but one thing you must not ignore is healthcare. That’s why we’ve put together a complete step-by-step guide on how to choose, buy and use international health insurance.

How does international health insurance work?

Healthcare varies enormously from country to country. As an expat, you may have limited access to public healthcare, and standards may not be what you’re used to. On the other hand, private healthcare abroad can be very expensive.

That’s why, if your employer is not providing private healthcare, you’ll need to find health insurance for you and your family. But how does international health insurance work in practice? We take you through the process, from buying your plan to making a claim.

A step-by-step guide to international health insurance

Step 1 – Understand what you need from a health insurance plan

International health insurance plans range from basic cover, giving you access to essential emergency care, to fully comprehensive covering you for everything from maternity visits to dental care.

When deciding on your plan it’s important to think about what healthcare needs you want to cover and how much you can afford. At William Russell, we offer the following plans to give you access to private healthcare internationally.





What’s covered?
An affordable plan including cover for hospital stays, cancer treatment, mental health and medical evacuation
This low-cost, comprehensive plan covers hospital stays, standard out-patient up to US$5,000, medical evacuation, physiotherapy and cancer treatment
Private hospital care, cancer treatment, medical evacuation and outpatient treatment are covered, plus mental health treatment up to $75,000 per lifetime, wellness and vaccinations
Our most comprehensive plan. Includes private hospital care, medical evacuation, accidental death benefit, wellness & vaccinations, cover for pregnancy and maternity care, routine dental care and higher levels of cover for mental health and cancer treatment

You can also customise your plan to include dental care, personal accident cover, routine and complex dental, temporary US cover and enhanced medical evacuation cover, which allows you to request medical evacuation in the event you need advanced diagnostics and cancer treatment.

Step 2 – Buying international health insurance

Purchasing international health insurance from William Russell is simple:

  1. Choose the plan you want to apply for
  2. Complete the online application form. This includes a brief declaration of your medical history, and your family’s medical history if you need insurance from them. If we need more information, we’ll get in touch
  3. We’ll review your application, calculate your premium and let you know the terms under which we can offer you cover. We can normally have you covered within just 2 working days
Worried about the cost of health insurance?
Get 15% off your first-year premium with William Russell

Step 3 – What happens when you need medical attention abroad?

If you have travel insurance you should contact your insurance company if you have a medical emergency. Your insurance policy should have given you an international number that you can use to get in touch with your insurers. Your call will usually be dealt with by an assistance company which is appointed by the insurer to arrange the necessary medical treatment.

You can also contact your local Consul for help. Consular staff can offer practical advice, help and support with things like finding a local doctor.

As a William Russell member, if you have a medical emergency you can contact the 24-hour helpline on +44 1243 621 155 for assistance. We can give you access to the best hospitals and doctors wherever you live and work. You can even choose the hospital you want to visit – just contact us to confirm that your chosen provider is within our network.

Step 4 – Keeping records and making a claim

Your international health insurer will need to see a record of costs, so make sure you keep any bills and receipts you’re given. At William Russell, the documents you need to supply depend on what type of claim you’re making. See more on how to make a claim.

Step 5 – Paying for treatment in a foreign country

How you settle your bill will depend on the type of health insurance plan you have. We offer direct billing with certain plans in certain countries. That means we settle your medical bills directly with the hospital or doctor treating you. If you don’t have direct billing, we offer a Guarantee of Payment that you will be reimbursed for costs in full.

Can you get international health insurance in another country?

It’s possible to buy health insurance from a local provider when you’re already abroad. However, many insurance plans (including international plans) have a waiting period before you can claim, so there may be a period where you’re not covered.

You should also be aware that there are several countries that require you to have health insurance for entry, so it’s worth at least researching health insurance before you go and buying it either before you set off or as soon as possible after you arrive.

Can I use international health insurance in the US?

Yes – and having health insurance is compulsory in some states. Private medical treatment in the USA is extremely expensive, and public healthcare extremely limited so it’s vital to have health insurance.

We only offer US cover in our Zone 1 plans, and it’s limited to temporary tips.

What is an international health insurance plan?

An international health insurance plan will give you cover for private healthcare in multiple countries. For example, as well as covering you in the countries you’ve chosen, William Russell health insurance, covers you when you’re travelling, whether that’s for work, leisure or you’re going on a trip back home. A domestic health insurance plan only covers you in one country.

Where can you get covered?
Find out more about coverage options

What is the difference between travel insurance and international health insurance?

Travel insurance is designed for clearly defined trips, rather than for people living abroad, and also usually includes cover for other aspects of travelling, such as baggage and cancellation.

International health insurance is designed to provide a comprehensive level of health care to those relocating from their home country for a sustained period of time, whereas travel insurance provides cover for emergency treatment while you are in another country for a shorter space of time.

How much is overseas health cover?

Cost depends on the level of cover and amount of excess you choose. It will also depend on where you live, where you need cover, your age, your medical history and who else you want to cover – if you want a family plan, for example.

At William Russell, we offer a choice of Gold, Silver, SilverLite and Bronze plans, so you can choose the one that best suits your needs and your budget.

In 2021, our average premium for an individual for a single year of cover was US$3,650. How much you pay though, will depend on things like your age, cover needs and location.

What is international health insurance?

Expat health insurance, otherwise known as international health insurance, is designed for people moving overseas semi-permanently.

International health insurance provides cover for emergency and routine healthcare while living, studying or working abroad over a prolonged period (usually more than one year). It gives you access to private healthcare in your country of residence.

How do I get health insurance when travelling abroad?

If you travel abroad you should buy appropriate health insurance before you go. If you already have a travel insurance policy, check what cover it provides for coronavirus-related events, including medical treatment and travel disruption, and any planned activities such as adventure sports. If you are choosing a new policy, make sure you check how it covers these issues. Whereas you might be aware of the healthcare system in your own country, while abroad you may not know what help is available, and whether you’ll be charged through the roof for it.

For this reason, it’s incredibly important to have proper international health insurance in place while on your travels. This safety net removes the worry and angst that might plague you in the event of illness and ensures that you will receive appropriate treatment for your ailment. Some potential costs of medical claims abroad could include:

  1. Medical evacuation in South Africa: US$13,470
  2. Quad bike accident in Greece: US$34,000
  3. Diabetes treatment in Thailand: US$6,541

Can you use American health insurance in Europe?

In most cases, you can’t use US health insurance plans overseas, but they may provide cover for some short trips and some emergencies. Contact your health insurance provider to be certain.

Three international health insurance need-to-knows

International health insurance covers planned consultations, treatments and operations when you live and work abroad – be it hips, cataracts, ears and sometimes mental health too. It’s a lifestyle choice. If you’re considering it, or want to measure how your current policy stacks up, here are key need-to-knows:

1/ The excess matters

An international health insurance excess is the fixed cash amount you pay towards a claim. The higher the excess, the lower we can set your premium. You must choose one when you first apply for your health plan. Your insurance excess is the amount you pay towards your medical bills before your health insurance plan kicks in. You pay the excess for each medical condition, per period of cover. Expats from North America might be more familiar with the term ‘deductible’. Excesses are slightly different from deductibles, but they exist for similar reasons.

2/ Pick the right health insurance cover

  • Which hospitals can you use? Bigger choice = bigger cost. So once you home in on a policy, check its hospital list and options.
  • What treatments do you want to cover? Options can include cover for cancer and mental health. Consider what you’d be happy to use the NHS for.
  • Consultant limits. If you have a specific consultant you like to see, if they’re not on the approved list they may be part-covered, so you pay the difference, or not covered at all.
  • ‘Full medical underwriting’ (FMU) vs ‘moratorium’. With FMU you disclose your medical history at sign-up (possibly via a check-up). Moratorium doesn’t need that, but if you claim for a condition within the first 2 (or sometimes more) years, you’ll often need to prove you haven’t suffered from it before, which can slow things down.

3/ Get in touch if you are confused

Can’t find what you want or are confused? If you’re confused or have conditions that make things difficult, get assistance from one of our award winning team members.

Choosing international health insurance? Choose an insurer with 30 years’ experience

In 2022, William Russell celebrated 30 years of helping expatriates like you to settle into their new lives overseas by providing world-class global health insurance in over 200 countries.

No matter where you go, and no matter what your individual requirements, you can take one thing off your mind. William Russell offers international health insurance that covers you for everything from minor injuries to long hospital stays, and we can even offer medical evacuations to patients who require treatment in other countries.

Looking for international health insurance? Get an online quote now

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