Health Insurance In The UK: A Guide For American Expats

The UK’s national health service is world-renowned for its quality of care and treatment. However, many expats still choose to take out private insurance, particularly when moving to the UK from the US, where people are often used to a higher degree of choice over the specialists they see and the clinics and hospitals they go to.

While the NHS is highly regarded around the world, and rightly so for many reasons, for offering healthcare that is free at the point of use, there are limitations to the healthcare system.

Indeed, not everyone living in the UK will hold it in high regard but for emergency treatment, GPs and many other treatments, the NHS offers an excellent service to an expat and their family.

It’s worth appreciating too that there is a boom currently in the demand for private medical insurance for people living in the UK and there’s a lot to recommend expats moving to the country that they also take out healthcare insurance too.

For one thing, when an expat has international healthcare insurance they will be able to access medical treatment in a straightforward fashion without the need to visit a GP (general practitioner) and can often access a private doctor more quickly.

Hospital referrals

Indeed, GP surgeries around the UK are being overwhelmed with demand and it’s the GP who is the gatekeeper to NHS services so for any treatment of any kind, the expat must be referred to a hospital by their GP.

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This then takes them into a system where there are wide regional, and local, variations in the delivery of health care under the NHS including long waiting times for some treatments and consultant appointments and for outpatient treatment.

Critics of the system call this a ‘postcode lottery’ because a lot depends on where the expat lives so while most of London is geared up to delivering excellent and responsive levels of care under the NHS, that’s not always the case in other British cities.

Also, the NHS system may cause confusion for some expats whereas accessing private healthcare removes any doubts by offering a system that’s easy to understand and can be accessed quickly on a local level.

International private healthcare insurance

Another big bonus for having international private healthcare insurance is that should an expat need to use it, means they can remedy any medical ailments without having to end their UK plans or working assignment.

It’s this prompt delivery by private doctors and hospitals that will help with a quick resolution and rehabilitation rather than waiting weeks or even months for similar treatment under the NHS.

Also, some expat insurance policies cater for compassionate visits to enable a loved one to visit the expat from abroad while they recuperate and many policies also, if it’s necessary, help with repatriations.

However, another big attraction, but possibly the most important for expats moving to the UK, isn’t just about their working and living while in the country but because of the transport and communication links an expat may decide to visit lots of other European countries during their stay.

Indeed, travelling to European destinations from London by train, and also by air is easy and offers great adventures to enjoy other cultures, languages and lifestyles.

This means that with international private medical insurance, the expat will have the peace of mind that they will have comprehensive cover to access appropriate healthcare services when necessary in other countries and not just be restricted to emergency cover when it’s needed.

The other issue for expats moving to the UK to bear in mind is that while their employer may offer health coverage, the expat should take steps to find out how useful and effective it is.

For instance, some employer plans may just be confined to offering emergency treatment and it may not include the expat’s family members. There’s also a good chance that it may not cover any existing or pre-existing condition.

This means that the healthcare cover an expat may be looking for may have gaps in it which could be filled by an IPMI instead.

Also, while the NHS offers dental care this is not free and is effectively a subsidised service but finding dentists willing to offer treatment under the NHS is becoming increasingly difficult so expats with healthcare cover should opt for dental treatment as well.

The need for maternity cover and the potential for medical evacuation back to the expat’s home country should also be considered.

There’s no doubt expats could save money by not having private healthcare cover and instead rely on the often excellent service and delivery of the NHS but for those who want to access quality services quickly and be dealt with more promptly then there’s a lot to recommend international private healthcare while the expat lives in the UK and travels around the European Union.


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