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Getting Expat Health Insurance – Part 1

We all know healthcare is so much cheaper abroad than in the West. But ask yourself if it’s really a good idea to go without health insurance coverage while you’re abroad? What if there’s a major accident?

Hospital bills can be high even in third world countries. $50,000 can seem like a sweet bargain when the same hospital stay runs for $300,000 in the US. But still, $50,000 is a lot of money, and you’ll have to pay it all if you don’t have insurance.

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First of all, health insurance isn’t really about your health. To achieve and maintain good health, you already know what you need to do — eat clean, lift, have lots of sex, maintain lower stress levels, get proper sleep, and not drink too much. Health insurance is more of a financial planning product than it is about maintaining your health.

Most Popular Health Insurance Options For Expats

Here are some of the expat health insurance providers I’ve looked at before selecting my plan:

There are others of course. IMG and Cigna I feel are best for the price and coverage. Allianz and BUPA seem to be more expensive.

Each health insurance provider has different levels of coverage plans. You can find anything between a minimal bare bones catastrophic plan that costs roughly $50/month and an expensive “platinum” plan that costs hundreds of dollars a month and generously covers just about everything, including maternity. Apart from different coverage plans, you can choose your deductible.

I would add that your (individual) premiums depend mainly on two things:

  1. Your age
  2. Your deductible

Much like your local insurance, choosing a higher deductible will lower your premiums. However, if something happened, you will have to pay up to the amount of your deductible before insurance coverage kicks in.

Travel Insurance vs International Health Insurance

Now you’ve probably heard that you should get “travel insurance” or “travel medical insurance” when you go trotting around the globe. You’ve also heard expats getting “international health insurance” or “expat insurance”.

It’s when these terms get conflated, especially on internet forums, things get quite confusing. This is because these terms are not meant to be used interchangeably, so pay attention to the wording while shopping for a plan — very important.

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So, let’s clear this up.

If, with the intention of returning to your home country in the near future, you’re going on a long vacation or trip with a duration of weeks or months, you can get short-term travel insurance. This covers emergency medical care, medivac, lost baggage, flight cancellations, etc. A well known example of a travel insurance provider is World Nomads.

On the other hand, if you are planning to become a semi-permanent expat, you want a more comprehensive insurance plan. In this case, travel insurance won’t cut it. This is where a more comprehensive international health insurance plan comes in, which should cover routine health care as well as emergency medical care.

Those are two different, albeit related, things. Think of it this way:

  • Short-Term Travel Insurance
  • Long-Term Expat Health Insurance

For further reading, here are a few articles on the differences between international health insurance vs travel medical insurance:

Cigna Global: The Difference Between Travel & International Health Insurance
Allianz: The Difference Between International Health Insurance and Travel Insurance
Professional Hobo: Financial Travel Tip #90: Expat Insurance vs Travel Insurance

To be continued… Go to Part 2

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