Traveling overseas comes with tons of positive new sights, sounds, food, and culture. But what about the not-so-exciting part of traveling—like the new and confusing world of international healthcare?
Although it’s not very glamorous, having the right health coverage is critical. And in a new country? It’s even more so!
We’ve compiled a list of the best health insurance companies for your time overseas and some of the most important factors to consider when making your decision.
Let’s get started.
What’s An Expat?
First and foremost, what is an expat?
An expat, also called an expatriate, is someone who lives in a country outside of where they have citizenship. Often, expats live in a country temporarily, maybe for work. Other times, an expat can be someone that decides to forgo citizenship in their home country for that of another.
The Importance Of Health Insurance For Expats
Medical emergencies can (and do) happen anywhere. Breaking a bone, getting into an accident, or having a major episode like a stroke or heart attack is traumatic enough. Now, imagine having to navigate the medical system in a different country. Not only will you have to worry about translating, but the quality of care and healthcare standards could vary.
A health insurance policy designed specifically for expats will help you understand the healthcare system, translate, and may even help transport you outside of the country if you are unable to get quality care in the area.
Factors To Consider When Choosing A Health Insurance Company
As you browse through your options, consider the following aspects to ensure you don’t have any unfortunate surprises later on.
It’s common for insurance policies to cover emergency services, like inpatient care. However, beyond that, the range of coverage varies significantly. Take an inventory of coverage options that are important to you, like outpatient, preventative care, and maternity coverage. Most policies can add coverages like vision and dental, but you’ll need to ask about that before you sign the dotted line.
Check the network of providers in your area before signing for a policy. Generally, international health insurance carriers will let you visit any licensed medical provider you choose if they’re in your area, but you will want to double-check before you find yourself in an emergency situation.
How The Claim Process Works
Many of us in the US are used to paying a monthly premium and handing our insurance cards to the front desk when we visit a doctor’s office or hospital. A few weeks later, we’ll get a bill for the portion of services that our insurance company did not cover. You might have a different experience outside of the country.
Some carriers require you to pay your medical provider upfront and will reimburse you later. Others may require you to notify them before your appointment so they can call and settle the bill.
Before investing in a private health insurance policy, be sure to research the local laws in your new home. Some countries operate with public healthcare, and you may be eligible, depending on how long you will be staying. Other countries could require you to purchase a plan through the local government. While the US has reciprocal healthcare agreements with some countries, you may need more coverage.
Our 6 Top Health Insurance Companies For Expats
Here are some of the top health insurance companies for expats.
Cigna Global is a top name in the expat health insurance industry and for good reason. Cigna Global boasts a large global network with over 1 million doctors and hospitals in 200 countries. Customers love their comprehensive coverage, including in and outpatient, pregnancy, mental illness, preventative, and substance abuse care.
- Coverage in over 200 countries
- Includes preventative and maternity care
- Mental illness and substance abuse coverage
- 24/7 multilingual service centers
- Secure digital platform to store important documents
Things To Keep In Mind:
As with most things in the health insurance realm, you get what you pay for. And in this case, you may need to pay a bit more to tap into Cigna Global’s extensive network and coverage.
IMG, the International Medical Group, also boasts a large network of doctors for their customers—about 800,000, to be exact. But that’s not what sets it apart from the rest on this list. IMG is especially helpful for expats with underlying health conditions, as they are one of the only insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions.
Other coverage points include
- Options for pre-existing conditions
- Customer platform to help file claims, search for providers, and chat with representatives
- 24/7 medical emergency and travel assistance
Things To Keep In Mind
In order to qualify for coverage for your pre-existing conditions, you’ll need to have continuous coverage for at least two years. While this would work great for those planning to stay at least two years in a different country, it’s not ideal for those planning a shorter jaunt.
Customers also note that there are no $0 deductible options and steep transaction fees if you choose to pay monthly.
William Russell has been providing health insurance for expats since 1992, so they have had time to tune up their policies. In addition to a network of 40,000 hospitals, William Russell offers coverage for cancer care and treatment, including chemotherapy and wigs.
You may also enjoy a lower monthly cost, as this company calculates premiums based on the country you’re going to, so you don’t end up paying US prices in a land with significantly lower healthcare costs.
- Coverage for cancer and mental health
- Medical evacuation is offered in all plans
- Options for life insurance, income protection, dental, and vision
- 24/7 emergency assistance (without the call centers)
- Zone 1 coverage includes emergency treatment for visits back home to the US
Things To Keep In Mind:
William Russell is a great option for expats, but you must be under the age of 70 when your policy starts. This is also not a great option for people living with pre-existing conditions.
Geo Blue is part of the extensive and trusted insurance carrier Blue Cross Blue Shield. This company works with employers to offer long and short-term options for international employees, so be sure to check with your employer to see if they offer Blue Cross and have options through Geo Blue.
What customers love most about this company is its highly vetted network of English-speaking doctors in 190 countries, so you don’t have to worry about translating when it comes time to visit a doctor. They also offer direct billing and preventative care benefits.
- Reputable company
- English-speaking doctors
- Option to add on vision or dental benefits
- Unlimited medical maximum limits
- Direct billing, so policyholders bypass filing claims
- GeoBlue mobile app available
- Great for those who plan to travel to the US frequently
Things To Keep In Mind:
While working with English-speaking doctors is a significant plus for those who don’t feel comfortable translating, it means that their network is smaller than other options. Also, these policies tend to cost more than others.
SafetyWing is one of the hottest new options for digital nomads and is great for individuals who are making shorter jaunts to other countries, as there are options without long-term commitments or annual contracts. Customers also love covered visits back to the US and the fact that young children can be included in the plan.
Another thing that sets SafetyWing apart from the rest is the fact that there is no deadline to secure coverage—you can sign up even after you’ve left your home country.
Want even more SafetyWing options? They are in the process of offering a more extensive option for international remote employees. You can sign up for their waitlist to receive more information when it becomes available.
- You can start coverage after you’ve left
- No annual or long-term contracts
- 2 children under 10 can be included on the policy free of charge
- After 90 days, you have covered visits back to the US
- SafetyWing is in process of offering a more extensive plan with a 0% deductible
Things To Keep In Mind:
SafetyWing does not offer coverage for pre-existing conditions. Also, they have a few notable exclusions, including cancer treatment and high-risk sports activities.
Allianz Worldwide Care is an international health insurance company that was ranked World’s #1 Insurance Company in 2021. They offer an extensive network of over 1.3 million medical providers and a 2/47 helpline in six different languages.
Customers love their 48-hour claim turnaround time, competitive rates, and optional add-ons, including dental and maternity care.
- Network of 1.3 million medical providers
- Competitive rates
- Short turnaround time for claims
- Options to add dental, maternity, and outpatient care
- 24/7 telehealth services in 6 languages
Things To Keep In Mind:
You may need to provide a pre-treatment notification before visiting a provider. If you fail to do so, you could experience a lack of coverage. Also, this company doesn’t automatically include outpatient care, so you will need to add that on separately.
Here are two of the most commonly asked questions regarding health insurance for expats.
Can I choose a US health insurance policy?
Remember that while most insurance carriers offer coverage in both the US and international countries, you will pay more for that option. Even if you choose a company that offers both types of coverage, you’ll have the option to choose whether or not you want that feature included in your policy.
What are the components of a health insurance policy for expats?
Health insurance policies for expats are similar to health policies in the US. You’ll get to choose your coverage amounts and limits. You’ll also be responsible for premiums, deductibles and copays.
Traveling outside of the US can be an exciting time. However, if you find yourself needing medical care, it can also be an incredibly stressful time. Do your research now to find the right health insurance policy before you embark on your new adventure to avoid any unfortunate surprises later on.