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International health insurance glossary

Global medical insurance can be confusing, but we think it should be easy to understand for everyone. That’s why we’ve put together a micro-glossary of the most common insurance terms for anyone considering our international insurance plans. You should check the plan agreements for full details, where you’ll find a comprehensive glossary and detailed definitions.

Insurance has a well-earned reputation for confusing people. We all know the feeling of sifting through dense policy wordings filled with opaque terms and seemingly contradictory clauses. Sometimes, it feels like insurance companies speak a deliberately confusing language!

It’s worse for international insurance products, where not all customers speak English as their first (or even second) language.

At William Russell, we keep things simple. Whether you’re purchasing your first health plan with us or you’re renewing for the fifth time, we’re committed to transparency and fairness in our terms and conditions.

  • We provide concise information about our benefits and services
  • We explain what we mean by each insurance term
  • We don’t hide limitations in your cover in dense wordings
  • We write our terms and conditions in plain English.

Insurance premium

Your insurance premium is the amount of money you pay for your health insurance. You can pay your premium annually, half-yearly, quarterly or monthly.

Country of residence

The country of residence is the country where you’ll be living, working or spending most of your time—for example, Vietnam. We design our plans for expats (e.g., a British national living in Hanoi, a French national living in Ho Chi Minh City). Typically, our members are permanently resident in Vietnam or another foreign country. But we can sometimes insure people who expect to spend at least six months of the year living or travelling abroad. In certain countries, we can cover people living in their country of nationality.

Country of nationality

Your country of nationality is the country stated on your passport (e.g., Italian, New Zealander). If you have dual nationality, you can choose whichever nationality you prefer. We can insure people of every nationality!

Health plan

We provide insurance products that help you access private healthcare around the world. The health plan you choose sets out the limits & restrictions on the treatment you can receive.

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When you purchase a health plan, you automatically enrol as a member of the William Russell Association. Your membership gives you cover under one of our insurance plans. Find out more about our association.

Period of cover

Your period of cover is the duration of your health plan (usually one year).


A health insurance benefit is a medical treatment or medical service identified by your health plan (e.g., doctor consultation, organ transplant). Usually, insurance benefits have a defined monetary limit. Perhaps it’s the overall annual limit of the plan, or it might be specific to a benefit (e.g., only ten sessions with the physiotherapist).


You’re an in-patient when a doctor admits you to hospital formally for medical treatment, and you stay in a hospital bed for at least one night. When you’re ‘hospitalised’, you become an in-patient.


You’re a day-patient when a doctor admits you to hospital formally for medical treatment and you need a hospital bed, but you don’t need to stay overnight.


You’re an out-patient when you visit a doctor or specialist for a consultation or treatment that does not require your admission to the hospital or clinic.


The post-hospital period is the period after your discharge from a hospital or clinic, during which you might attend consultations or receive follow-up treatment as an out-patient

Waiting period

A waiting period is the length of time your plan must cover you before you can claim a particular benefit. Most benefits don’t have a waiting period. On our plans, benefits such as maternity care and treatment for HIV come with a waiting period.

Area of cover

The area of cover is the territorial limits of your plan. All of our insurance plans give you international cover. Still, you can choose to restrict your cover in countries where private healthcare is expensive in return for a discount on your premium. Find out more about areas of cover.


When you undergo a course of medical treatment for an illness, injury, medical condition, dental condition or pregnancy, you submit a claim to us for repayment of your medical bills. If you’re staying in the hospital while you receive medical treatment, we usually settle directly with the hospital. For out-patient treatments, you may need to submit a claim form. Find out more about how claiming works.

Pre-existing medical conditions

Pre-existing medical conditions are among the most misunderstood part of health insurance. A pre-existing medical condition is any disease, illness or injury you have or have had before the start of your insurance plan, for which:

  • you’ve received medication, medical advice or treatment; or
  • you’ve experienced symptoms.

It doesn’t matter whether or not a doctor has formally diagnosed the medical condition. What matters is whether it exists. Generally, health insurance does not cover pre-existing medical conditions. That might seem strange at first, but insurance is about risk management. If you already have a medical condition, then we’re talking about certainties—not risk. Most insurance companies exclude pre-existing medical conditions from cover. That doesn’t mean you cannot purchase a health insurance plan. It just means you can’t claim for medical treatment relating to the pre-existing condition.


A dependant is just a fancy way of saying a family member. Dependants typically include your spouse or partner and your children. There are a couple of additional rules about including your children in your plan. In general, any children must be unmarried and under the age of 18. You can include children between the ages of 18-24 if they’re in full-time education. You can also include stepchildren, adopted children, and children subject to legal guardianship.


Co-insurances work a little bit like excesses, but they usually apply to a specific benefit or particular treatment type. Co-insurances are contributions you make toward the cost of your claim. Often, they’ll be a percentage rather than a fixed value.


Quotes are quick, free estimates for health insurance. You can visit our online tool for a quote, and we’ll calculate an indicative price for you based on your age, location, and what type of health insurance you’re considering.

Medical underwriting

Medical underwriting is an integral part of your application for an insurance plan. When you submit your application, you provide us with information about your medical history. Medical underwriting is how we assess your medical history and decide the terms under which we can accept your application. Once we’ve completed the medical underwriting, we’ll send you an Acceptance Invitation. The Acceptance Invitation is a letter that gives you a final price and sets out any additional terms and conditions for your plan. At this point, you decide whether you wish to purchase the health plan.

Insurance broker

An insurance broker is a professional qualified to give you independent financial advice. Sometimes you’ll find that a broker is ‘tied’ to a particular insurance company, so the advice might not be completely impartial. But whether independent or tied, insurance brokers are usually regulated and authorised by the financial service authority in the country where they operate and must adhere to certain standards. You don’t need an insurance broker to purchase health insurance, but they can help you if you’re looking for help or guidance. At William Russell, it doesn’t make a difference to the premium you pay whether you come to us directly or with a broker’s help.

Renewal date

Our medical insurance plans last twelve months, and the final day of your cover is known as your renewal date. We send you a Renewal Invitation six weeks before your renewal date. The Renewal Invitation is a letter that sets out your renewal premium and any changes we’ve made to your new plan. Sending you renewal information in advance gives you time to make an informed decision on whether your health plan still suits your needs.

Special terms

Special terms are any terms, conditions, and clauses applicable to your plan above and beyond the standard terms and conditions set out in the plan agreement. Not everyone has special terms on their plan. Once we’ve received your application and we’ve reviewed your medical history, we’ll let you know whether any special terms will apply to your plan before you pay your premium. We don’t hide these terms in the small print: we let you know what we’re covering you for, and we state any special terms clearly on your Certificate of Insurance.

Table of benefits

Suppose a benefit is a medical treatment or service identified by your plan. In that case, the table of benefits collects all the medical treatments and services identified by your plan. The table of benefits is the best place to look if you want a quick overview of what your plan covers. We break down the table of benefits into different sections (e.g., hospital treatment, cancer care, dental treatment), so you can quickly find the relevant benefits.

Further information

We’re committed to making insurance products and services fair for consumers and companies alike. While this glossary highlights the most common insurance terms to help you with your research, you should also check the full terms and conditions for the plan you’re considering before you purchase it. We’re committed to speaking plain English to our members when you purchase your plan, when you use your plan, and when you renew your plan.

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