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How To Pick The Right International Health Insurance Plan

So, you’ve decided to take out international health insurance for yourself or your whole family. The question now is: how can you be sure you’re choosing the right level of cover to suit your needs, while still getting the best deal?

avatar - Megan Lewis
Authored by

Megan Lewis

Commercial Lead

How to pick the right international health insurance plan

With so many options on offer, it can be difficult to decide which international health insurance plan will work best for you. We break down some of the complexities to help you decide which plan is right for you, and how you can be sure.

Here’s a brief checklist:

  1. Know the type of healthcare system(s) in the country you’ll be living in
  2. Be aware of local laws related to expatriates, such as whether or not you can access state healthcare
  3. Be aware of your tax status and whether this affects your right to access state healthcare
  4. Know whether you want to rely on state healthcare or opt for private healthcare
  5. Make it your priority to declare any pre-existing conditions
  6. Make sure you’re happy with the exclusions in your policy
  7. Decide on an excess that suits your budget
  8. See if you’re entitled to emergency medical evacuations and choose a level of cover
Don’t forget, all plans can be tailored to suit your specific needs, so you’ll always find the right level of cover to suit you

How do I choose the right international health insurance plan?

Whether you’re thinking of moving abroad or are already living overseas, you may have looked into choosing international health insurance to protect yourself or your family. If so, you’ve probably discovered that many plans offer multiple tiers of cover. How do you compare the plans?

On one end of the scale, you tend to find highly comprehensive packages that include a wide range of healthcare treatments – covering everything from pre-existing conditions, to serious illnesses like cancer, to optional extras such as maternity care and psychiatry.

At the other end, you’ll see very basic packages that provide the minimum level of cover you need to live comfortably (and sometimes, as a legal requirement) in other countries. This coverage tends to cover in-patient, out-patient and emergency hospital fees, perhaps with some minor procedures included too.

When looking to pick the right international health insurance plan, you may be tempted to choose the highest level of cover for total peace of mind – or the lowest level for the cost-saving benefits. But, if you’re not familiar with the options on the table, you may end up choosing a policy that leaves you over- or under-insured.

That’s why it’s important to ask yourself some questions before committing to an international health insurance scheme.

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What are the legal minimum health insurance requirements for the country or countries you’ll be living in?

When choosing the right international health insurance plan, you’ll want to make sure you have the right level of cover to ensure you can:

  • Access healthcare facilities in your new home country, especially in an emergency
  • Get medication and other essential healthcare products as and when they are needed
  • Foot the bill for any healthcare costs

The first step, then, is to understand what type of healthcare system you will be living under. Different countries have different models of healthcare. These include:

  • The single-payer healthcare system where the government funds state-run healthcare costs from taxpayers’ contributions
  • National insurance schemes where healthcare services are largely private but the state contributes towards healthcare costs
  • The out-of-pocket system where the cost of healthcare is paid for by the individual

However, that’s not all – you must also check whether the rules are different for expatriates. Pay particular attention to your tax status – some countries rule that only local taxpayers can access state medical services. If you’re still intending to pay taxes in your home country, you may need to take out private medical insurance.

If you’re having trouble deciding, speak to an international health insurance provider. They will typically split their policies into worldwide zones, with countries grouped together according to the type of healthcare system they have and the minimum health insurance level required for expats.

Different countries have different health care rules for expats
Find out how to access local health care

Once you know what kinds of healthcare you need to fund yourself, you can decide the next thing, which is…

Can you rely on state-run healthcare services or should you go private?

Not all healthcare systems are created equal, and some countries have better healthcare systems than others. It’s important to know, therefore, where your new home country ranks in terms of quality of healthcare, and whether you and your family will be able to rely on state-run healthcare services.

As well as looking up your destination country’s OECD healthcare rank and profile, you should do your own research – looking into issues such as under-resourcing, corruption and bribery, which unfortunately tend to affect healthcare systems in developing countries.

If you don’t think your new country’s state healthcare will be of a high enough standard for your or your family’s needs, you may want to consider private healthcare as an alternative. Remember, if you or one of your family members is diagnosed with a serious illness such as cancer, you’ll want to be sure you have access to the highest-quality facilities available.

In these instances, you will want to pick the right international health insurance plan that offers access to private healthcare facilities as standard. For instance, at William Russell, we have a network of over 40,000 clinics and facilities worldwide.

The cost of international health insurance varies greatly
Find out more about average costs
Now it’s time to start thinking about the finer details of your international health insurance policy.

Do you have any pre-existing health conditions?

You’ll need to answer this question when you apply for international health insurance.

Pre-existing conditions come in all shapes and sizes, and many can be easily accommodated into your plan. However, it’s important to be honest to ensure you can receive the right treatment at the best price.

Unless you have agreed otherwise, it’s unlikely your plan will cover you for any pre-existing conditions that you have not made clear at the time of taking out your policy, and you may have your policy invalidated if you try to claim for a condition that is later found to have been pre-existing.

A pre-existing condition is any disease, illness or injury that you have received treatment or medication for, or for which you have experienced symptoms, before your date of entry into your country of residence, whether or not you’ve received a formal diagnosis.

This includes:

  • Brain or nervous system conditions
  • Cancer, tumours or growths
  • Heart or circulatory conditions
  • Mental health conditions, drug and alcohol issues or sleep disorders
  • Joint replacements
  • Chronic conditions, such as diabetes

Always speak to your international health insurance provider if you’re unsure about anything

Are there any exclusions which might apply to you or your family?

Exclusions are things your health insurance won’t cover. They come in two categories: medical exclusions, and circumstantial exclusions.

Before starting an international health insurance policy, you should be aware of these exclusions, as some of them may apply to you or your family – especially if you work in a field that’s considered high risk.

Medical exclusions

Medical exclusions relate specifically to illnesses and treatment that won’t be covered in your plan. The types of medical exclusions you may find in a William Russell international health insurance policy include:

  • Allergy testing or desensitisation
  • Alternative treatments and therapies
  • Artificial life maintenance
  • Birth control, impotence and infertility (including IVF) or gender reassignment
  • Circumcision (except in circumstances where it is a medical requirement as covered by your plan)
  • Spa and relaxation treatments, and accommodation n nursing homes
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Foetal surgery
  • Hearing treatments, hearing tests and hearing aids, and treatment for congenital deafness
  • Learning and education difficulties, physical development disorders and behavioural problems
  • Optometry
  • Palliative care
  • Persistent vegetative state and permanent neurological damage
  • Preventive surgery
  • Scalp conditions such as alopecia
  • Sexually-transmitted infections
  • Sleep disorders

Circumstantial exclusions

Circumstantial exclusions relate to your lifestyle. Exclusions that you may find in a William Russell international health insurance policy include:

  • Accidents or injuries resulting from a failure to adhere to local traffic laws
  • Illnesses or injuries a result of addiction to, abuse of, or intoxication by drugs or alcohol
  • Medical conditions arising as a result of exposure to chemicals or radioactive materials
  • Injuries or illnesses resulting from your participation in illegal or criminal activities
  • Injuries or illnesses resulting from your participation in professional sports, including training, or in either amateur or professional motorised racing events
  • Search and/or rescue operations, such as mountain rescue or recovery from sea
  • Treatment for self-inflicted injuries

If you’re not happy with the exclusions in your policy, you may want to shop around to see if another insurer can cover you. You can also look for secondary insurance policies to cover specific conditions and circumstances as needed, for example, if you are working in a high-risk industry.

How much can you afford to pay as an excess?

An excess is your contribution towards the cost of any claim you make. When you make a claim, you will pay the excess, while your insurer will pay the remaining cost. William Russell plans offer a choice of excess options.

As a general rule, the higher the excess you’re willing to pay, the lower the overall cost (in terms of monthly and annual premiums) of your insurance. On the other hand, if you choose a lower excess, your insurance premiums may be higher, but you will not have to pay as much up-front if you make a claim. Some policies even offer nil excesses – but these tend to come with the highest premiums.

It may not always be a good idea to choose a high excess in order to secure lower premiums. The ideal is to choose an excess that you know you could afford to pay comfortably, and which is high enough to keep your insurance premiums as low as possible.

Excess is the fixed cash amount you pay towards a claim
Find out how to choose the right excess

The final thing to think about are medical evacuations.

Will you be entitled to medical evacuations (Medevacs) under your policy?

In certain circumstances, you may find yourself unable to receive adequate treatment in the area you live. Perhaps your local hospital lacks the department or expertise required to treat you, or perhaps you live in a remote area with no local healthcare facilities.

In these circumstances, you may require a medical evacuation to transport you to another region or country that is more suitable to provide the treatment you or your family needs.

At William Russell, all of our policies include our Medevac Basic product as standard. This promises you access to air or ground transportation to the nearest facility where medical treatment is available, for immediate in-patient care, in a life or limb-threatening situation.

Your coverage will include return airfare, plus travel expenses for one companion, including some budget for their accommodation. If necessary, we will also pay for the repatriation of your remains.

You also have the option to upgrade to our Medevac Plus product with any level of coverage, which entitles you to:

  • Evacuation to receive advanced diagnostics and cancer treatment
  • The option to evacuate to your country of origin, if it is included in your area of cover
  • A greater availability of expenses for a travel companion to accompany you

Please bear in mind that we cannot cover you or your family for medical evacuations while in the United States.

What is medical evacuation and why might you need it?
Find out how it works

Still not sure on how to pick the right international health insurance plan?

At William Russell, we have 30 years’ experience providing international health insurance for expats just like you, in over 180 countries worldwide.

Choosing the right international health insurance plan is an important step when starting a new life as an expat. Once you have asked yourself the essential questions in this guide, you will be close to deciding the type of policy that suits you. Do not hesitate to contact us today – we’ll be happy to help.