An expat, or expatriate, is a person who has decided to live and work in a country that is not their original home country. They may be residing temporarily, long-term, or permanently outside the country of their birth and for a wide range of reasons: they like the culture better, the work opportunities are better, the cost of living is better, and more.
What Insurance Concerns do Expats Have?
Expatriates have a long list of things to think about, including tax laws, whether to take their own vehicle or buy abroad, banking abroad, living arrangements, visa and work requirements, and more. Plus every country is different, so if you move around as an ex-pat, you’ll have to keep up with the rules and laws wherever you go.
As an expatriate, you also have to be concerned about health care. While some countries allow a visitor to receive health care paid for by the government, others are less inclined. If the expat doesn’t qualify as a citizen under the government of the country where they are living, their health care is handled differently – and often paid upfront unless they have an insurance plan.
This is fine as long as you never get sick, break a tooth (or a leg), fall into a ditch, run into a nasty mosquito, or get into a car accident, for example. According to media reports, the cost of health care may be the highest in the U.S. and Canada, but it’s rising around the globe as well. Unless you are one of the few who prefer to risk it, buying an expatriate insurance plan is the way to go.
How is Expat Insurance Different from Travel Insurance?
There are essentially two types of travel insurance: vacation plans and travel medical plans. Most vacation (package) plans cover trips of a limited amount of time (often just 30 days) and the cost of covering a cancellation comprises most of the premium. But as an expat, you don’t care too much about trip cancellation coverage. It’s not useful to you.
For an expat, a travel medical plan is the way to go and the premiums are much less than those for package plans. Plus, they come in short- and long-term periods of coverage (even annual) and they can often be extended for more time or renewed on an annual basis. Plus, periodic visits back home are allowed without invalidating your coverage.
Expatriate Insurance Can Cover Non-Emergency Medical Care
Now that you know you have to choose a travel medical plan, it’s also important to consider where you’re going, what type of medical care will be available to you, and whether you’ll need basic maintenance medical care for minor illnesses and checkups.
If you are living and/or working abroad, you may want to have the same level of health insurance as is typical back in the U.S. – especially if you’re traveling as a family and have (or are planning to have) kids. If so, you’ll want to look into a long-term travel medical plan with coverage for non-emergency medical care.
Expat Insurance May Include some Package-like Benefits
Most insurance plans that are appropriate for expats also include at least some benefits that are more commonly found in vacation plans, like the following:
Trip interruption – if you are suddenly called home for an emergency
Baggage loss – if your bags are stolen or sent to a different place than you are
Travel delays – if your trip is delayed and you will have to shell out unexpected costs
Missed connection – if you miss a connection that causes you to experience a loss
You should carefully review the exclusions of your plan because many plans don’t include coverage for hurricanes, terrorism, political unrest and more. Once you’re in your new country, you can expect your insurance company to get you out unless you have the coverage for it.
Determining How Much Coverage You Need
This is where things can get more complicated because how much coverage you need depends on several things:
How much medical care costs where you’re going
How much money you have available at any time to pay for medical care
Your personal level of comfort with risk
Much like investing in stocks, choosing the right coverage limit is a highly personal decision, but there is some research you can do to make your decision easier. Start by going to the U.S. State Department’s International Travel Information site, and choose the country where you’ll be living as an expat.
Let’s say you’ve decided to spend a year in Australia as an expat, so you choose Australia and the country specific information displays. There are several sources of useful information here, including (links are specific to Australia):
According to the information for Australia, excellent medical care is available but you should check to see if the policy you already have covers you in that country, and if not, you’ll want to have some type of overseas medical coverage.
Finding Expat Insurance Plans
When it comes to finding expatriate insurance plans, we found a couple of plans that you can review for your expat trips:
HTH Worldwide Global Citizen EXP – this plan is worldwide health insurance for emergency and preventative care and includes optional prescription drug benefits, maternity benefits, and more.
Frontier MEDEX TravMed International – this plan has major medical coverage, dental care, and covers evacuations/repatriations for travelers living away from home for extended periods of time.
You can use our compare quotes tool to find an expat insurance plan that fits your needs. Be cautious about any pre-existing medical conditions you may have as medical care for those may not be covered if you choose a plan that excludes pre-existing conditions.
Be sure to check out our Tips to Surviving Culture Shock too!