What You Need To Know About Health Insurance For Expats
Written exclusively for Expat Network by Pacific Prime
To simplify the process of securing international health insurance, this article by Pacific Prime, will explore different types of insurance policies and key points to be aware of when considering health insurance.
Why expats need international medical insurance
One of the reasons why expats need medical insurance is simply because it is required by law in certain countries. The immigration office that issues your visa may request you to submit proof of insurance that covers your health. That’s true for specific visa types in Thailand, for example.
Another reason, beyond health insurance being required to enter and remain in the country, is that it covers any healthcare costs you may accrue while living abroad. Those medical costs can be very high, especially if a condition is considered severe, such as emergency care or treatment of illness such as cancer.
What is expat/international health insurance?
Expat, or international health insurance, is an insurance product that covers the medical expenses of individuals traveling or living abroad. Since the country you are planning to move to will probably have an entirely different health system compared to your home country, you might, just like many other expats (especially in Thailand), choose to receive medical care in private hospitals, and those come with a hefty price tag.
International health insurance plans cover your major medical expenses, i.e., medical emergencies that require hospitalization, but also costs related to preventative and out-patient care such as GP visits. Such plans are highly customizable, and policy benefits, limits, and coverage levels can be adjusted to fit one’s needs and budget.
Key points to consider when shopping for an expat health insurance plan
When it comes to choosing medical insurance to cover you abroad, there are a few key questions everyone should ask themselves before making any decision. As a health insurance broker with over 20 years of experience, Pacific Prime recommends considering the following:
- Determine your medical needs: Whether you are planning to work abroad or to retire, try to anticipate what kind of medical coverage you may need. Is it only inpatient emergency cover that you’re considering, or you’ll also need outpatient coverage – maybe dental and optical too? Or, if you’re planning to have a baby, do you need maternity cover? Determining your policy’s benefits is a crucial step in choosing the perfect health insurance.
- The geographical area of coverage: Just as determining what type of medical care you want to be covered for, knowing where you want to be covered is another crucial step in choosing the right health insurance plan for your needs. For those unfamiliar with the international health insurance world, we’d like to address that the price of your plan will largely depend on where you are residing, and whether you want to also be covered regionally (e.g. Southeast Asian countries only), or globally (including or excluding the US).
- Consider policy limits: Make sure the plan you are considering has appropriate policy maximums (the total amount to which claims can be made in a year) to ensure you’re properly covered. As an expat living in another country, you want to be confident that your coverage will not run out if you are receiving expensive treatment midway. To know how much of the policy limits you’ll need, check how much specific procedures can cost in the country you’re moving or traveling to, or talk to an insurance advisor, such as experts from Pacific Prime, who wil advise you on the adequate policy limits.
Insurance for the whole family?
For families that like to travel frequently or are living abroad, an international family health insurance plan is a great option. Family insurance covers your entire family and ensures that the best medical care, at the best medical facilities, is available at any time, without you worrying about the medical bill. Similar to individual plans, family insurance is also highly customizable so that you can choose your benefits, and coverage levels and areas freely.
Key features of family insurance plans:
Keep in mind the below points when you compare expatriate family health plans:
- Depending on the insurer, family insurance plans are generally renewable annually
- Family insurance plans can be tailored to suit expatriate families that like to travel
What is maternity insurance?
Maternity insurance is vital to make sure you, your spouse, and your newborn child are completely covered for the duration of your pregnancy, and after giving birth.
Maternity insurance covers the costs related to:
- Pre and Post-natal treatments and examinations
- Medically necessary Cesarean section
- Normal delivery
- Delivery with complications
- Delivery following fertility treatment
- Hospital or home delivery costs
- Care of newborn children
- Fertility treatments
- Congenital birth defects
- Maternity policies can also include coverage for the medical treatment required for newborns if something unexpected happens.
- If you are currently pregnant or about to conceive, insurance policies may decline coverage related to maternity costs.
- Insurers require a moratorium (a waiting period) of around 10-12 months of paid maternity coverage before they will begin covering pregnancy, birth and/or newborn coverage.
Planning to have a baby abroad is a big move. Below we listed a few more points to consider when choosing the maternity plan.
- Not all plans are created equally and insurers offer a range of maternity plans with varying degrees of cover.
- Choose your desired benefits.
- Establish the desired environment for your delivery, for example – types of treatment rooms, facilities, and professional support.
- Research the hospital you wish to give birth in and make sure the maternity policy. you are buying will cover the costs of your treatments there.
- Request for doctors you wish to treat you.
- Determine whether the coverage is extended to your newborn once he/she is born.
What is a short-term health insurance plan (STHI)?
For those that are traveling and seeking a plan that suits them – a short-term health plan is recommended. STHI is customizable and can provide anywhere between 1 and 12 months of travel-specific coverage.
There are many benefits that a traveler can choose to build up their travel insurance plan. The table below shows what a high-level comprehensive protection cover for short term policyholders may include:
|Coverage Limit (USD)
|Maximum cover per person per trip
|Outpatient treatment by a doctor/specialist
|Prescribed treatment by a physiotherapist
|Provisional pain-stilling dental treatment
|Compassionate emergency repatriation
|Compassionate emergency visit
|Home transportation of the deceased
|Statutory arrangements in case of death
|Board, lodging and local transport for a person summoned or accompanying the insured, per day
Short-term health insurance vs. travel insurance
There are subtle differences between short-term health insurance and travel insurance. Travel insurance policies typically cover for limited inpatient treatments only, like emergencies. Additionally, they do not cover pre-existing conditions.
The options provided by STHI plans are broader and are customizable, which makes those plans appealing for those traveling to places that require special benefits, such as health coverage for watersports, or extreme activities.
An important point to consider for all policies: a pre-existing medical condition
When you take out a medical insurance plan, your insurer will most definitely ask for your medical history. With the information you provide, the insurance company will decide on the coverage of pre-existing conditions.
Definitions of pre-existing conditions vary among the insurers, however in general, a pre-existing condition can refer to any of the following:
- An undetermined existing condition, in which the person is unaware of, for example, a lump or tumor in the body.
- A past illness or form of injury regardless of when and where it occurred that the person has since recovered from, such as an arm fracture from competing in rugby at school.
- Ongoing treatments being received from a medical setting for current conditions such as therapies or blood transfusions.
- Symptoms that have yet to be diagnosed by a medical professional, and thus require treatment, such as pain and bleeding.
Important things you need to know about health insurance plans for pre-existing conditions:
- When applying for a new health insurance plan, provide an accurate medical history that captures all your past and current health conditions.
- Withholding information that may be used against your claim if the condition arises may void your claim. You may, therefore, have to end up paying for the full treatment yourself.
- Insurers may exclude certain pre-existing conditions altogether because they represent guaranteed costs at some point of the insured’s policy.
Is there a way I can get covered for my pre-existing conditions?
It’s usually up to the insurance company’s discretion whether they offer you an option to cover any treatments related to your pre-existing condition. Some of the ways you may obtain pre-existing condition coverage include:
- Full coverage of all pre-existing conditions from the start of your policy. This is often an exceptional circumstance that requires in-depth consideration from the insurer.
- Cover for your pre-existing conditions only after completing a moratorium. This is simply a waiting period during which you won’t be reimbursed for the claims connected to your pre-existing condition.
- Premium loading, where you pay a higher premium to have your pre-existing condition covered on your policy.
Using a broker to find the best health coverage when migrating or traveling abroad:
Our expert advisors are highly trained to cater to mobile expats and their family globally with the best-tailored insurance solutions from well-established insurance companies. For a free quote, get in touch with Pacific Prime today.