If you are intending to live abroad, then one of your top priorities will be to make sure that you can access adequate healthcare, especially if you are of retirement age. The majority of countries, although not all, have a two-tier healthcare system, consisting of national health insurance (which comes in various forms) and a private sector. Premiums for national health insurance are usually deducted directly from salaries, whereas treatment in the private sector is funded through direct payments or private health insurance.
If you are a UK national, you may be accustomed to relying on the NHS, which has a high standard of care and is a single-payer system. However, you will find that public healthcare standards vary across the globe, in terms of both quality and ease of access. Furthermore, many nations insist that you show proof of private health insurance before you can enter them on a permanent basis. Also, a number of countries – such as UAE states – are aiming to localise public healthcare, by closing it to everyone who is not a citizen.
As a result, we generally advise expats to sort out private health insurance before moving abroad. Even if your host country has public insurance that you will be eligible for, you may still benefit from taking out private sector coverage. Private sectors tend to offer better facilities and shorter waiting times.
Factors to consider
You will need to consider a number of factors, including:
- Extent of provision: will you need maternity care, for example? Do you have a pre-existing condition?
- Cost: some companies may be more expensive, but may also offer more comprehensive policies and have more extensive facilities abroad
- Customer service: read reviews of insurers from existing clients
- Global reach: the bigger companies obviously have access to more resources abroad
- Deductibles (i.e. the amount you pay for covered healthcare services before your insurance plan starts to pay): how much are they?
- Direct billing: will your insurance company pay a healthcare provider directly, or will you have to pay upfront and claim the money back?
- How rapid is your chosen provider’s claims processing?
- Are there any age restrictions?
- Will your employer sign you up with a private provider?
We will take a look at some of the primary private health insurance providers below.
This large, US-based insurer is a popular choice among American expats, particularly in the Gulf States.
It has over 100,000 facilities outside the US.
It is said, by some clients, to be expensive. Also, some customers say that the company does not cover a range of treatments, such as specialist visits or diagnostic tests.
This provider is a major player in the health insurance market, offering a number of core plans.
Customer service is, overall, described as good by clients. You can also take out an individual plan after being a group member if, for instance, you leave your current employer.
Clients have reported some difficulties and delays in dealing with this insurer during the pandemic.
BUPA is one of the foremost private health insurance providers in the UK, and it also offers cover abroad. The insurer was the winner of the Best Individual International Healthcare Provider at the Health Insurance & Protection Awards 2019. It offers both private health insurance and travel insurance, which includes the following features:
- Cover for many pre-existing medical conditions
- No overall annual limit on emergency treatment abroad
- Worldwide cover, including the USA
- No excess on medical cover
- Cover for Covid-19 and symptoms relating to the virus
Be aware that the provider may operate under different names. For example, it is called Oman Insurance Company in the UAE. The company offers four main plans, which offer global coverage and cover for Europe only. Cover starts at $1K to $2K per annum but can go up to $10K, depending on your age and state of health. There are varying deductibles.
It offers comprehensive cover, is reliable at paying out, and gives access to most of the world’s main health networks.
Cover can be expensive, and benefit levels vary from country to country.
This US-based company is one of the world’s main health insurers, covering over 85 million people worldwide. Health insurance experts recommend it for global coverage. Their main policy types are designed for expats and travellers, and they offer a range of flexible options. Insurance is based on inpatient / hospitalisation and day-patient coverage, with a wide variety of add-ons, and the company offers direct provider billing.
Customer service is generally said to be excellent. Also, policies are exceptionally flexible and have a wide range of deductibles. Their Platinum coverage is unlimited.
Cigna can be a little more expensive than other insurers, but they are still said to be ‘competitive’. Repatriation and evacuation are not included in standard policies. Also, your policy may exclude pre-existing conditions, but check this with them directly. They do not offer maternity care in their basic plan.
Foyer Global Health
This European-based insurer offers a wide range of personalised plans.
You can take out a range of short-term plans. You will also be covered for emergency treatment in the USA, even if you do not have American health insurance. Another benefit is that you do not need to provide a lot of personal information.
Basic plans do not include maternity care. Some people have reported that other providers offer better customer service.
International Medical Group
IMG have an extensive global network and offer a 50% waiver from your deductible if you choose one of their associated facilities outside of the US. They offer five core plans and are very competitively priced, with a cash incentive offered for new clients.
They offer direct billing and widespread cover, with around 17,000 doctors and facilities across the world.
They do not include maternity cover, and cover ceases when you reach 75 years old. In saying this, you may be permitted to go on to their lifetime plan.
Do not be afraid to shop around, and make sure you do your research. It may help to look at web forums, to see what customers think of different providers.