expat network

Five Questions To Ask About Health Insurance For Expats Living Abroad

expats living abroad
Health insurance is an important option for expats and there are many providers offering different options.  Pacific Prime are insurance brokers and provide professional advice to expats.  They set out five questions to ask before deciding on an expatriate policy to ensure the policy meets your needs.

Written exclusively for Expat Network by Pacific Prime


Moving and relocating to a new country is a huge undertaking financially, emotionally, and physically. Not only will you be traveling thousands of miles, there will also be a myriad of things to plan and consider, chief among them being the healthcare options in your destination country. As medical costs continue to inflate worldwide, we highly recommend arranging your expatriate health insurance cover well in advance to ensure access to the best care and facilities.

While there are hundreds and thousands of international private health insurance plans available on the market, shopping for the best plan on your own is no walk in the park. This is especially true if you’re not familiar with insurance jargon, which understandably can seem like a foreign language to many expats. The key here is to do thorough research on the most important things to consider before purchasing a plan.

To help you get on the right track to finding the most suitable health insurance for living abroad, this article by Pacific Prime presents the top five questions to ask before purchasing an expatriate policy.


1. What is the cost of care in my destination country?

Doing your homework on the typical costs of various treatments will give you a better idea of what types of health insurance benefits and limits are most ideal for your situation.

Most countries will have significant differences in public and private healthcare costs, but it’s important to bear in mind that expats tend to be excluded from public healthcare subsidies or may even be outright denied public hospital treatment. In Hong Kong, for example, those without a Hong Kong Identity Card (HKID) must pay exponentially higher public hospital fees than HKID holders.

If you’re moving to a country that is typically associated with more affordable healthcare (Thailand, for example), bear in mind that while more basic types of outpatient treatment (e.g. GP visits) may be cheaper than in your home country, private hospital treatment fees can still stack up alarmingly quickly. It is therefore important to consider all eventualities before making a decision on your health insurance.


2. What are my health insurance options?

As every expat’s circumstances vary significantly, it’s important to weigh your options according to your budget and needs. Here, we give a quick overview of the main health insurance options available to expats:


Travel insurance

This is a popular option among budget-conscious travelers, as well as those living abroad for a short period of time only (e.g. 2 months). Travel plans cover travel-related mishaps like lost baggage and flight cancellations, as well as medical emergencies and repatriation costs. As you might expect, travel insurance coverage limits are typically very low, as they are designed to see you well enough to get you home. As such, expensive hospital treatment will likely exceed your travel policy’s benefit limits very quickly.


Local health insurance

Local health plans are best suited for people who stay in one country most of the time. Local health plan premiums are lower than international health insurance premiums, but it’s important to be aware of the drawbacks of local policies, namely:

  • They only cover you in one country, meaning you’ll need to arrange separate insurance cover every time you travel abroad.
  • Most local plans feature a restriction that limits coverage to a specific network of hospitals.
  • Local policies, especially ones that have lower premiums, tend to have low benefit limits and high co-pays.
  • Most local plans are not lifetime renewable, meaning the insurer has the right to refuse renewing your policy if you develop a serious condition during your policy period.


International private health insurance

Often regarded as the crème de la crème of expatriate insurance, international private health insurance is typically the best option for expats living abroad and frequent travelers. The reason is simple: international plans offer coverage beyond boundaries, meaning you’ll enjoy health coverage at virtually any medical facility in the world. The majority of international private health insurance plans are also guaranteed renewable, meaning you won’t have to worry about your insurance renewal being rejected.


3. What’s covered (and not covered)?

Health plans have varying levels of cover. Barebones plans tend to cover hospitalization costs only, while mid-level plans will also cover outpatient treatments (e.g. GP and specialist visits). More comprehensive plans, on the other hand, usually feature add-ons like maternity insurance and dental benefits.

When shopping for a plan, it is equally important to be aware of what’s not covered. This is to ensure you don’t encounter any bad surprises further down the line. Pacific Prime has recently created an infographic highlighting the top 8 health insurance exclusions buyers should be aware of, namely:

  1. Pre-existing conditions
  2. Behavioural and personality disorders
  3. Fertility treatment
  4. Sleep disorders
  5. Specific scenarios (e.g. hazardous activities)
  6. Cosmetic surgery
  7. Obesity
  8. Acquisition of an organ

In regards to pre-existing conditions as an exclusion, T&Cs vary significantly between plans. Certain international private health insurance providers do allow pre-existing conditions insurance cover, but caveats (e.g. paying a higher premium) will most likely apply.


4. Are there any regional coverage requirements that I need to be aware of?

The global insurance market is becoming increasingly regulated. For instance, more and more countries are imposing mandatory health insurance requirements stipulating that all residents – including expats – must have adequate cover. In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, for example, the issue of renewal and employment visas is conditional upon proof at the time of application that the employer has provided appropriate cover for their employees. It is therefore a good idea to check whether your destination country has any mandatory insurance requirements.


5. How much will health cover cost me?

This will depend on many different factors, the major ones being:

  • How comprehensive your plan’s benefits are
  • Your age
  • Your area of coverage (i.e. worldwide coverage vs. local health coverage)
  • Whether your plan includes dependents (e.g. family health insurance for expats)


When comparing plans online, you’ll find large differences in premiums offered by different insurers. Bear in mind that the cheapest plans are likely not conducive to the best cover or customer service. Also try to avoid less reputable insurers, some of whom may try to attract clients with enticingly low premiums, and then drastically increase rates when it comes time to renew the plan.


Talk to a broker

Your best bet in ensuring you get the most appropriate cover for your needs – at the best price – is to seek the professional advice of a broker. Established brokers, like Pacific Prime, leverage their close relationships with all major insurers to offer plans at the best rates. Not only that, but unlike agents, brokers are not beholden to any particular insurer, meaning their advice is entirely impartial.


For answers to all your questions, as well as a free quote, contact Pacific Prime today.