Expat Health Insurance Plans- Understanding Your Medical Coverage Options Abroad

For US citizens and other expats living abroad, understanding your international healthcare coverage options is complex. Do you need Expat health insurance, Public Insurance, Private Insurance, or Travel insurance? This article breaks down the different types of medical coverage options so you can make an informed decision. minutes

06/20/23

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About the author

Hi, I'm Marco Sison. I worked in finance for Fortune 50 companies before retiring early at 41 years old. I have been an expat for over 10 years, living in over 50 countries to show you the best ways to save, invest, and live in amazing countries outside the USA. I am a trusted resource on personal finance and overseas retirement for US News & World Reports, HuffPost, MSN Money, USA Today, ABC Network, Yahoo Finance, Best Life, Association of MBAs, and the iTunes documentary Seeking FIRE.

QUICK SUMMARY- expatriate health plans

  • Expats can choose from public, private, or travel insurance policies to cover their healthcare overseas.
  • If eligible, expats with access to public plans receive low-cost or sometimes free healthcare. 
  • International health insurance are private plans specifically designed to offer unique coverage and benefits for expats. 
  • For most full-time expats, travel medical provides insufficient coverage and requires maintaining home health insurance.
  • Trip insurance is not recommended as medical coverage for expats. 

I've been an overseas expat for the last 8 years. I understand the complicated administrative details of an international move— from visas to travel plans, living costs, and, ultimately, expatriate health insurance. Aside from rent, your choice of an expat health insurance plan can be the most expensive decision you make.

For US citizens and other expats living abroad, understanding your international healthcare coverage options can get complicated. Do you need Expat health insurance, Public Insurance, Private Insurance, or Travel insurance? Can I choose which country I get medical treatment? Does expat medical insurance cover me when I travel to another country?

I understand that choosing an international expat insurance plan can be daunting. Don't worry; I've got you covered. 

This article cuts through the insurance jargon to explain your options in simple English. I'll give an overview of the various types of insurance, the kind of expat they are best for, and breakdown your overseas medical coverage options so you can make an informed decision. 

This post may contain affiliate links. I may get a commission if you purchase something using my link. Please note, there is NO ADDITIONAL COST to you. For more information, please see my disclosure.

Click here to get free quotes from multiple international insurance brokers to compare prices and save time. 

What Is expat insurance?

This specialized insurance helps cover the costs of medical care if you become sick or injured overseas. Expat health plans provide comprehensive medical benefits, including routine treatments like broken bones and doctor visits to more serious hospitalization and surgery, like a knee replacement operation.

Some plans also provide coverage for prescription drugs, maternity care, mental health services, and catastrophic major medical cases like cancer treatment.  

Other more expensive plans even include medical evacuation services for treatment to a country of your choice. 

medical evacuation from a snow covered mountain by helicopter is one benefit available in expatriate health insurance

International Medical Insurance is specially designed to provide unique protection expats require like medical evacuation and repatriation. 

My Recommended Expat Health Insurance Partners

Cigna Global Medical Insurance Plan

Rated A
  • Perfect for expats who need need comprehensive protection and 24/7 service.
  • An international network with over 1.65 million trusted hospitals and doctors.
  • All plans include mental health and cancer care.

Xplorer Worldwide Medical Plan

Rated A-
  • Ideal for older expats or expat families who need a comprehensive benefits
  • Premium Benefits, Extensive Coverage and Quality Member Service
  • International health insurance that covers you inside and outside the USA

IMG Global Medical Plan

Rated A
  • Excellent for expats looking for an affordable global plan with the flexibility
  • Your choice of plan options, geographic area, and deductibles
  • Enjoy preventative care with no waiting period on wellness benefits

William Russell International Health Insurance Plan

Rated A+
  • Perfect for expats who need customized care and don't visit the United States
  • Get complete coverage for inpatient care including full cancer treatments
  • Global coverage with a very strong network in SE Asia

For more international health insurance options, read my article on the Best Expat Insurance Companies and find out which company is the cheapest, which provides the best claims service, and which insurance company to avoid.

Other Guides On Expat Insurance

A Comprehensive Guide To Philippines Health Insurance For Expats
24 Facts About Healthcare In The Philippines Every Expat Must Know
How To Get Health Insurance In Colombia As A Foreigner
Why Travel Medical Insurance Coverage Isn’t Enough For Expats Abroad
Cigna Expat Insurance- Best Global Health Plans For Living Abroad
Affordable International Health Insurance for US Citizens Living Overseas
10 Common Mistakes Expats Make Buying Health Insurance For Living Abroad
20 Facts About Healthcare In Colombia Every Expat Must Know
Choosing An International Health Plan- Checklist For Buying Expat Insurance Coverage

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Why a global expat policy is essential:

No matter where you are in the world, the average healthcare costs are soaring. Getting caught with an uncovered catastrophic major medical emergency like cancer treatment without an international medical plan to protect you can be financially devastating. One insurer paid the following  claims for expats injured overseas. 

  • China: Insurance paid $232,000 USD-  An expat suffered a brain hemorrhage while on a cruise and had to be medically evacuated by air ambulance.
  • Thailand: Insurance paid $159,000 USD- Then an expat slipped and fell in the bathroom and fractured their spine. 
  • Turkey: Insurance paid $103,000 USD- When an expat suffered a heart attack in Turkey.

Aside from the financial impacts, not having an international policy can be life-threatening. Comprehensive global healthcare coverage is critical in countries with inferior hospitals or when you are not covered by your host country's public health insurance. 

For example, as a retiree in the Philippines you can buy into the country's public plan for less than $350 per year. However, the public plan only provides access to public hospitals. Especially in rural areas, the quality standards of public hospital would make most expats shiver. 

International health insurance for expats provides vital peace of mind and comfort when your family is halfway around the world in a country where you may not speak the language. 

How to get a global policy:

There are a few different ways to get expat health insurance abroad. You can purchase a private plan from an insurance broker, obtain a policy through your employer, or get coverage through government-sponsored public insurance.

What to look for in a global policy:

Choosing an expat health insurance policy is about balancing the level of coverage you need with your health care budget. Your policy's costs are represented in monthly premiums that vary dramatically based on coverage level. 

It's important to consider how your expat policy covers:

  1. Your current health - Does the policy cover pre-existing conditions?
  2. Your future plans - For example, are you planning on starting a family and needing maternity coverage?
  3. Your lifestyle -  Do you participate in high-risk sports? Do you have a lot of international travel planned?

What is the cost of expat health insurance coverage?

Some policies start as low as $100 per month, but the average cost of health insurance for an expat is $3,700 per year and a high-end plans can top $8,000.

Several factors affect the cost of health insurance for expats, including the country you live in, your age, previous medical history, and the type of coverage you need.

  • Your location significantly factors into the cost of expat health insurance. Expect to pay more for overseas healthcare moving to a country with a higher cost of living.
  • An immutable fact is that you will need more healthcare as you get older. Global insurance companies consider this trend and will charge more for the same policy coverage as you age. 
  • Your medical history will impact your costs, as many plans have pre-existing condition exclusions for medical issues you already have. Expat plans that will cover you charge extra to cover these conditions.  
  • Most global policies have the same baseline level of coverage. The more you increase your coverage to include additional options like prescription drugs, vision benefits, or other add-ons, the more your monthly premiums increase. 

Read my article on How-To Save On Your Expat Health Insurance Cost for detailed tips on how to save money on your insurance premiums. 

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Do I need an expat health insurance plan?

Yes. You may be surprised to learn that your home country's health insurance may not cover you or your family for the treatment of medical conditions while overseas. Expat insurance steps in to save you from crippling medical bills and ensures you get quality medical treatment.

Living outside your home country without comprehensive expatriate medical insurance increases your risks of devastating hospital bills, long wait times, inexperienced doctors, and crowded emergency rooms. 

Read this article on "Choosing An International Health Plan" for my checklist to follow when buying expat medical coverage.

Compare quotes from different expat medical insurance companies within 60 Seconds

Nomadic FIRE has partnered with the most trusted international insurance brokers in the world. Trained to meet the specific needs of expats and digital nomads living or traveling abroad. They provide enhanced service responding in 24 hours or less to all of your questions.

Click here to find the FREE estimates from top global insurers to find the best plan right for you.

Public Insurance- The Most Affordable Health Insurance For Expats 

When moving to another country, you may have multiple medical coverage choices. Some countries offer public plans to access a government-subsidized public health care system, which can significantly reduce the cost of expat health care.

Will public insurance cover me as an expat?

map  of countries that offer universal health care which can provide medical coverage for expats

Countries with free public insurance or universal healthcare that may be available to expats. Photo Credit

As public insurance is primarily paid for by taxes, some countries may restrict foreigners' access to public health insurance. However, other countries provide public insurance for expats under specific conditions.

  • Suppose you most likely relocate for work in a country with a public insurance system. In that case, you may be automatically registered and pay monthly contributions into the country's public insurance, offering you access to free or low-cost hospital treatment.
  • However, expats not employed by a local company, such as retirees or remote workers, will need to "buy in to" the public plan. A buy-in is usually a large one-time payment to access a foreign country's public healthcare system.
  • Some countries may also have a waiting period. During the waiting period, foreign expats must pay monthly insurance premiums into the host country's public system but cannot receive any services or access any medical treatments until a pre-determined period has passed.

While these conditions to access a public insurance system cost money, foreigners receive access to low-cost, or in some cases free, expat healthcare coverage.

I've compiled a "Health Insurance Terms and Definitions Explained" list to help you understand the many forms of international medical insurance available and make the best decision. 

What Is The Difference Between Public Insurance And Universal Healthcare?

While easily confused, there are big differences. Universal healthcare covers every citizen or resident. Public insurance may limit coverage by age or income. For example, Medicare and Medicaid are considered public insurance. Still, they are only available if you are low-income, disabled, a child, or over 65.

Universal health coverage refers to a government-funded health care system that provides basic medical care to every citizen or resident of a country without regard to the ability to pay.

Public health insurance is government-subsidized medical coverage paid for by taxes. In some instances, public insurance limits eligibility by income or age. ACA coverage ("Obama-care") is an example of public health insurance that is limited by income. 

All universal healthcare is considered public insurance. However, since public plans can restrict access, not all public insurance is considered universal healthcare. 

Countries With Universal Healthcare Where Eligible Expats Get Low Cost Or Free Healthcare

Africa

RegionCountry
AfricaAlgeria
AfricaBotswana
AfricaBurkina Faso
AfricaEgypt
AfricaGhana
AfricaMauritius
AfricaMorocco
AfricaRwanda
AfricaSeychelles
AfricaSouth Africa
AfricaTunisia

EUROPE

RegionCountry
EuropeAlbania
EuropeAustria
EuropeBelgium
EuropeBulgaria
EuropeCroatia
EuropeCzech Republic
EuropeDenmark
EuropeEngland
EuropeFinland
EuropeFrance
EuropeGeorgia
EuropeGermany
EuropeGreece
EuropeGuernsey/Jersey
EuropeIceland
EuropeIreland
EuropeIsle of Man
EuropeItaly
EuropeLuxembourg
EuropeNetherlands
EuropeNorth Macedonia
EuropeNorthern Ireland
EuropeNorway
EuropePortugal
EuropeRomania
EuropeRussia
EuropeScotland
EuropeSerbia
EuropeSpain
EuropeSweden
EuropeSwitzerland
EuropeTurkey
EuropeUnited Kingdom
EuropeWales

North America

RegionCountry
AfricaAlgeria
AfricaBotswana
AfricaBurkina Faso
AfricaEgypt
AfricaGhana
AfricaMauritius
AfricaMorocco
AfricaRwanda
AfricaSeychelles
AfricaSouth Africa
AfricaTunisia
AsiaBhutan
AsiaChina
AsiaHong Kong
AsiaIndia
AsiaIndonesia
Middle EastIsrael
AsiaJapan
Middle EastKuwait
AsiaMacau
AsiaMalaysia
AsiaMaldives
AsiaNorth Korea (DPRK)
AsiaPakistan
AsiaPhilippines
Middle EastSaudi Arabia
AsiaSingapore
AsiaSouth Korea (ROK)
AsiaSri Lanka
AsiaTaiwan
AsiaThailand
EuropeAlbania
EuropeAustria
EuropeBelgium
EuropeBulgaria
EuropeCroatia
EuropeCzech Republic
EuropeDenmark
EuropeEngland
EuropeFinland
EuropeFrance
EuropeGeorgia
EuropeGermany
EuropeGreece
EuropeGuernsey/Jersey
EuropeIceland
EuropeIreland
EuropeIsle of Man
EuropeItaly
EuropeLuxembourg
EuropeNetherlands
EuropeNorth Macedonia
EuropeNorthern Ireland
EuropeNorway
EuropePortugal
EuropeRomania
EuropeRussia
EuropeScotland
EuropeSerbia
EuropeSpain
EuropeSweden
EuropeSwitzerland
EuropeTurkey
EuropeUnited Kingdom
EuropeWales
North AmericaCanada
North AmericaCosta Rica
North AmericaCuba
North AmericaMexico
North AmericaThe Bahamas
North AmericaTrinidad and Tobago
OceaniaAustralia
OceaniaNew Zealand
South AmericaArgentina
South AmericaBrazil
South AmericaChile
South AmericaColombia
South AmericaPeru
South AmericaSuriname

South America

RegionCountry
South AmericaArgentina
South AmericaBrazil
South AmericaChile
South AmericaColombia
South AmericaPeru
South AmericaSuriname

Asia

RegionCountry
AsiaBhutan
AsiaChina
AsiaHong Kong
AsiaIndia
AsiaIndonesia
AsiaJapan
AsiaMacau
AsiaMalaysia
AsiaMaldives
AsiaNorth Korea (DPRK)
AsiaPakistan
AsiaPhilippines
AsiaSingapore
AsiaSouth Korea (ROK)
AsiaSri Lanka
AsiaTaiwan
AsiaThailand

Middle East

RegionCountry
Middle EastIsrael
Middle EastKuwait
Middle EastSaudi Arabia

Oceania

RegionCountry
OceaniaAustralia
OceaniaNew Zealand

Pros And Cons For Expats Using Public Insurance vs. Private Insurance

Advantages for expats using public insurance