If you are an expat, or plan to live and work away from your home country, then a comprehensive health insurance plan will likely be a necessity. In the short term, you may have ongoing chronic conditions to be managed, and regular medicine you need to access. But in the event of an unexpected illness or accident, you could face high healthcare costs at a potentially devastating time for your family, eating into any savings and possibly leaving debts too.

Expats have a lot of choice when it comes to health insurance cover, including international plans, local plans and even travel insurance. The prospect of making a decision can be daunting, but it is important that you find the appropriate cover, particularly when moving to an unfamiliar country where healthcare may be expensive.

To support you in your choice, we have outlined the three main cover options you can consider—International Private Medical Insurance (IPMI), local private medical insurance (PMI) and travel insurance—together with the main differences between them.

International Private Medical Insurance (IPMI)

IPMI plans can offer both portability and flexibility for expats. Premiums may be higher than local PMI plans or travel insurance, but benefits will be higher too. This wider protection can often be worth the additional cost.

The majority of IPMI plans include worldwide medical protection (you may need to get separate cover for USA) and most will have evacuation and repatriation included as standard. These plans cover expats on international business trips and when they move from country to country without losing continuity of cover. This is compared to local health insurance, where cover is only valid in the country it is taken out.

International insurance plans will have direct settlement arrangements in place with ‘in network’ hospitals, clinics and other medical providers so bills are paid directly by the insurer to the treatment facility. Medical networks offer fast access to first-class treatment and care. If specialist medical treatment and expertise is required the insurer will find a suitable facility, even if this is in a different country.

International private medical insurers will take a number of considerations into account to calculate premiums. These include current medical history, age and area of coverage. It is worth bearing in mind there are exclusions in standard and/or cheaper policies. Cover for treatments such as maternity or dental, may not be included and will need to be added at an extra cost.

Local Private Medical Insurance (PMI)

In the right circumstances local PMI can be a good choice of cover and may be more economical than an IPMI plan. Cover will not be as extensive as an equivalent IPMI plan, however, and it’s important to look at the policy’s fine print to ensure the cover provided meets your needs.

Cover under local plans will only be valid for certain hospitals and clinics — these can vary in quality compared to an international private medical insurer’s network. While this may not be important for minor health ailments, you’ll want to be assured of the highest standard of care in the case of serious illness or emergencies. Furthermore, the maximum treatment costs under local plans will usually be far lower level than an international alternative.

Finally, local insurance plans are restricted to the country of residence so overseas business trips won’t be covered and expats returning home will have to take out a policy with a new local insurer, which can be particularly troublesome where a chronic condition exists.

Travel Insurance

Whether for business or leisure, travel insurance is ideal for short-term trips. The cover is principally designed for emergency medical treatment and loss of personal items. Cover duration can be for a year (usually with a maximum number of days/trips) or a number of days/weeks.

Travel insurance is usually less expensive than medical insurance. Policy benefits will be less than with an IPMI plan but if an accident or illness occurs, travel insurance will provide emergency treatment and care. Most travel insurance will also evacuate the insured to the nearest centre of medical excellence, or return them home for follow-on treatment.

A comprehensive travel insurance policy will also include cover for loss of baggage and money, trip cancellation and curtailment, loss of passport, flight delays, legal expenses and so on.

So which cover is right for you?

With three varieties of medical cover available – and plenty of alternative options within each category – selecting the right cover can be tricky. IPMI can be a more expensive—albeit premiums can reduce through the use of excesses and deductibles—but the cover is extensive. Local PMI is sometimes cheaper but is more restrictive in terms of benefit and geography. And travel insurance cheaper still, but more targeted; covering loss of items and emergency medical cover.

Your health is important so thorough research is important so that your health is not exposed. And don’t forget to talk to a broker if you are unsure.

About Us

Riviera-Expat is a specialist insurance broker operating in the International Private Medical Insurance market. We source quality health insurance cover for expatriates around the world every day. Contact us today to find out more about international health insurance and find the right plan for you and your family.