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How Much Does Medical Treatment Cost Abroad?

Whether you’re planning to live or work abroad or you’re just settling into your new life as an expat, you’ll have plenty of things to think about. Moving to another country as an expat is an incredible adventure. But no matter where you and your family settle, one thing you must consider is the medical treatment abroad and its costs. Healthcare differs abroad, and prices of private medical treatment might vary significantly. In this article, we dig into the data of medical treatment abroad and cover what you should know about healthcare costs before moving abroad.

The varying levels of healthcare provision in different countries is not only an issue for locals, but also affects travellers and expats who call that country home, and can determine whether people with certain health issues choose to visit different parts of the world. While using appropriate international health insurance always offers the best protection available, a lack of provision makes it more difficult to get properly treated.

Key takeaways:

  • In 2021, the average medical claim made was US$2,580.
  • Cancer is the most expensive treatment for expats, while diabetes, dentistry and maternity care also incur staggering costs.
  • Long-term conditions such as diabetes and life events such as maternity will also require private medical insurance to cover their costs, as will dentistry.
  • USA has the highest average price for a medical claim at US$9,941 – over double that of the next highest average claim.
  • When picking an expat health insurance plan, make sure all your needs are tailored for.
Private medical treatment costs vary in evert country / GETTY IMAGES

How much does medical treatment cost abroad?

As an expat, it’s likely you and your family will require medical treatment at some point while you’re living and working abroad. Many live in countries that require residents to pay for healthcare out of their own pockets, including popular destinations such as India, UAE and USA. But if you come from a country that offers free, high-quality state healthcare (like the UK), you can’t assume that will be the case in your new location. See our list of countries with the worst healthcare in the world.

Different countries and regions have different healthcare systems – and different costs – for medical treatment. Not only will you need to factor in these costs, if you rely on state healthcare you’ll also have to negotiate an unfamiliar system, probably in an unfamiliar language.

Nor can you rely on the European Health Insurance Card (or Global Health Insurance Card if you’re from the UK) to give you full coverage for medical treatment. These cards are designed for temporary visitors to EU countries, and won’t give you access to all the treatment you may need while you’re a resident. European Health Insurance Card is not an alternative to insurance: it is free and provides state healthcare in many European countries for certain ailments. However, this card alone will not cover you for all medical costs, repatriation or the additional benefits insurance can provide cover for.

Curious which countries have the best healthcare systems?
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Private medical treatment costs are certainly not cheap – hence the need for insurance if you’re not using the NHS. Far from the safety net of the NHS, you could find that the costs mount up very quickly. To give you an idea on costs, here are some ballpark figures for common treatments carried out privately. Here is how much you can expect to pay for medical treatment abroad:

Treatment Type Sum Paid Country
Dental US$8,336.00 Indonesia
Diabetes US$6,806.91 Thailand
Diabetes US$6,541.26 Thailand
Diabetes US$5,298.00 Hong Kong
Diabetes US$5,135.00 Japan
Dental US$3,839.00 India & Indonesia
Diabetes US$3,248.00 Japan
Dental US$2,945.11 France
Dental US$2,876.95 Israel
Dental US$2,822.47 United Kingdom

Based on our own data from 2019-2020.

It’s a global lottery as to how much a medical emergency could set you back if paying out of your own pocket. For some, having a medical emergency abroad without the right cover could mean having to dip into your life savings – or having to sell your family home.

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Why are the costs of private medical treatment so high abroad?

Many people are surprised when they find out the cost of private treatment, especially if they’re used to using the NHS. The NHS pay a similar amount for the services they provide, but we’re less exposed to this cost as this information doesn’t get shared with the patient. So, why does health care cost as much as it does? Here are some of the contributing factors to the price:

  • Hospital facilities and premises upkeep
  • Offering effective medicine
  • Staffing highly trained health care professionals
  • Medical equipment that supports diagnosis and treatment
  • Medical software to secure store and handle patients medical records

One of the reasons for these high costs is that the healthcare models in those countries are different: the USA has an out-of-pocket system, where people pay for their own healthcare. In Switzerland private health insurance is compulsory for residents, who also pay part of the cost of their treatment, while Canada has a publicly funded health system. In short, medical care isn’t cheap. It requires highly equipped facilities, well-trained staff and a multitude of operations that support the level of care available. If the cost were to drop, so may the standard of treatment.

Why are healthcare costs rising globally?
Find out here

Where is the most expensive medical treatment abroad?

You may have noticed that the costs of health insurance depend on where in the world you might be headed. This is because the price of healthcare can vary tremendously in different parts of the world. Costs of healthcare vary from country to country, but they can be enormous if you’re faced with paying them out of your own pocket. In 2019, The Association of British Insurers dealt with a £200,000 claim to treat a brain haemorrhage in China, £89,000 after a heart attack in Turkey and £153,00 for treatment for a fractured arm in San Francisco.

According to our data, the top five most expensive countries to receive medical treatment are:

  • United States
  • Switzerland
  • Hong Kong
  • Canada
  • France

Americans pay more for healthcare per person than any other developed country ($9,892 in 2016), with Switzerland ($7,919) and Canada ($4,753) in second and third place. For example, the average hospital bill without insurance for a one-night stay in a US intensive care unit might cost you $5,000 or more – while a similar hospital stay in Spain might cost might cost you between $1,100-$1,500. Quite often though, just because a destination is closer to home, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be cheaper to receive treatment.

William Russell - Blog -Best Hospitals in the UK for Expats - happy nurse team - young nurse training on the ward
Unexpected medical treatment abroad can be extremely expensive / GETTY IMAGES

What type of medical treatment abroad do you have to consider?

The type of treatment you receive also depends on the severity of your injury or condition – however, it’s important to bear in mind the fact that the cost of medical procedures without insurance can be very high regardless of location.

Beyond foreign hospital charges, it’s important to consider the cost of emergency treatment abroad – and crucially, how having the right level of insurance cover for such things is paramount. Again, using the USA as an example – it may cost more than the average UK house to receive emergency medical treatment for a certain injury, coupled with the cost of an air ambulance back to your home country. Read more about how much health insurance costs in the USA.

It can also be extremely costly to receive emergency treatment on a cruise ship, too. The added complexities of being transported from the ship in a helicopter to a medical facility on land can cost thousands of pounds.

Medical repatriation and evacuation costs

Repatriation and evacuation are often the worst case scenario as far as falling ill abroad is concerned. Medical repatriation and evacuation costs will often take into account the cost of the air ambulance or scheduled flight itself, along with the cost of having a medical escort or doctor on board with you at the time.

Evacuation costs vary from country to country, depending on how far you’ll need to travel. The repatriation expenses required for an air ambulance are also obviously much higher than those required if you’re in a stable enough condition to board a scheduled flight.

What should I know about global healthcare before moving abroad?

Wherever you intend to live, you need to understand how the healthcare system in that location works and what access is available for expats. This will help you to understand when and how much you’ll need to pay to receive medical services.

If you’re going to be paying taxes in your new home, you should qualify for any government-backed healthcare services. However, it’s likely that there will be additional healthcare costs no matter where you relocate and what type of system they use.

Getting familiar with a country’s healthcare system and health culture is one of the biggest challenges that expats face when relocating overseas. And of course, the costs of different types of treatment vary based on the treatment you will need, the length of time you’ll need to stay in hospital and other factors. Whether you are moving abroad for the first time or you have experience being an expat in many different locations, it’s beneficial to understand the key healthcare factors when deciding to live and work abroad. Not only this, the pandemic has caused additional challenges that you need to be aware of when researching the healthcare system of your potential new home.

What is the definition of an expat or expatriate?
Read here

Naturally then, prioritising your health, including mental health needs to be the top of your agenda as moving abroad, like any big change can present challenges. The key things you need to know are:

  1. It’s a really good idea to make sure all your medical history and appointments are up-to-date before you go, and that you have sufficient medication should you require it.
  2. Next, ensure you have investigated the healthcare system in the new country. Medical processes and practices can vary massively from nation to nation for factors such as cost, number of available health professionals, waiting times and what cover is available to expats.
  3. Do your research and find out what the systems look like in the country you are moving to. In most locations, if you are paying taxes you should qualify for some healthcare cover, but this varies and you should still expect there to be additional health care costs no matter where you relocate to.
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What do you need to know about healthcare costs abroad?

Here are the top questions expats should ask themselves when researching their healthcare options in your new country:

  • Do you already have healthcare cover? All the countries within the European Union also offer a European Health Insurance Card to their resident citizens. This card offers insurance cover for medical emergencies if a citizen visits any participating country within Europe, but it is often not enough. If you’re relocating abroad for work, it’s common to receive health insurance through your job. However, it’s good to look into this as these plans often do not become effective immediately. It’s a good idea to purchase an international health insurance policy to cover the initial few weeks or months after your move as different countries will have different rules on this.
  • How good is the healthcare system in your new country?You probably already know that healthcare quality can vary significantly from country to country. In some cases, the healthcare standards in your new home might be as good or even better than those you’re used to in your current one. In other cases, healthcare standards may not be as high as they are in your home country. Find out whether it’s better to visit private hospitals or use the public healthcare system in your new home. You can often do this through your embassy or consulate or you can reach out to other expats in the community for recommendations. Also, make sure that you are aware of how the emergency medical services function in the country that you are moving to.
  • 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. Globally mobile citizens typically require an expat health insurance plan if they want to be fully covered in the many countries they frequent. It’s important to note travel insurance policies are usually designed for short stays and typically only cover medical emergencies.
  • How to pick the best expat health insurance cover? When picking a plan, make sure all your needs are tailored for. This includes making sure your plan covers your destination, or destinations, and considering what level of coverage you are going to need. While most health insurance gives you access to private healthcare, the health plan you choose defines the rules and limitations of that access. Consider age restrictions, how pre-existing conditions are handled and what exclusions might exist when making a claim.

Reasons to have international health insurance

International health insurance can protect you from some of the costs of medical treatment abroad, giving you a safety net if you and you or your family require special or urgent healthcare. It’s designed for individuals and families who move around the world, giving you access to private healthcare in different countries rather than just one. It can also be comprehensive, offering services that domestic health insurance may not, such as medical evacuation. At William Russell, our international health insurance can cover you for all sorts of things such as:

  • Pre-admission tests
  • Accommodation, if you need to stay away from home for medical treatment
  • Fees for surgeons, anaesthetists and doctors
  • Nursing care
  • Drugs and surgical dressings
  • Operating theatre charges
  • Intensive care
  • Pathology, X-rays, scans and diagnostic tests
  • Physiotherapy

Find out more about the range of services we can cover– including how we support with cancer treatment.

Who needs international health insurance?

International health insurance is especially suited to people who will be living in a foreign country for a long period of time.

You can buy international health insurance for one person or a whole family, and it covers you in almost every country worldwide. It’s designed for expats, individuals, couples and whole families, students, frequent business travellers, remote workers, high net worth individuals (HNWIs) and whole companies.

Why do people become expats?
See the top 10 reasons here

Find out more about who could benefit from international health insurance.

How much does international health insurance cost?

In 2020, our average premium for an individual for a single year of cover was $3,470. How much you pay though, will depend on things like your age, cover needs and location.

There are various types of insurance for expats and their families. Like other types of health insurance plan, expat medical insurance is calculated according to a number of variables. It takes into account things like:

  • The age of people on your plan – as a general rule, it’s believed the older you are, the more likely you are to encounter health problems, meaning the more you are likely to pay for health insurance.
  • The level of cover you choose – this means the maximum amount your plan will pay out. If you select the highest possible cap, you can expect to pay more, but there are cheaper caps available for families with tighter budgets.
  • Your deductible/excess – this is the amount you will need to pay towards a claim. We have a handy guide on how to choose an excess to suit your needs.
  • Where you’ll be living – different parts of the world incur different fees. If you’re planning to move to a country with an out-of-pocket healthcare system, like the USA, expect to pay significant costs.

If you travel regularly between one country and another, you could choose ordinary travel insurance. This will cover you for the duration of your trip. However, this is designed exclusively for travellers and is not suited for families looking to relocate.

If you are planning to live for an extended period of time in another country, you may want to look into domestic health insurance. This treats you as if you were a national living in that country and gives you the same level of coverage an ordinary citizen would expect.

However, if you combine frequent travelling with living abroad, your best option may be international health insurance, which is designed exclusively for expats and their families.

Want to know more about how much the
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Thinking of moving abroad?

There has never been a better time to think about starting a new life. We have created a guide with a list of best places to live and move abroad for expats, and we have considered healthcare as one of the biggest factors when you make a move.

Wherever you decide to move, just make sure you have the confidence of international health insurance. At William Russell, we have been providing worldwide health cover for 30 years, helping expats like you and their families to settle into their new homes. Speak to us today to find out more about how global health insurance could support you.

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