Who might need international health insurance

International health insurance is designed for people who will spend an extended period in a foreign country. This could apply if you're moving abroad to retire, studying overseas, or you'll be working abroad, either temporarily or permanently.

If it's only a temporary move and you'll eventually come back to the UK, you may still be entitled to care via the NHS. However, if you're moving abroad permanently, you may lose access to NHS care as it's a residence-based system available to people who pay UK National Insurance.

International medical insurance can help you access essential healthcare when needed.

Healthcare abroad

Each country has its own healthcare system. Some are mainly insurance-based, whilst others have free healthcare systems similar to the NHS. However, as a foreign national, you may be asked to pay some or all of the cost of your treatment.

An international health insurance policy can pay or contribute towards those costs.

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How international health insurance works

Most international medical insurance plans offer coverage for a year at a time. You'll typically be offered the option of paying annually or monthly.

International medical insurance works similarly to UK health insurance in that you can choose a policy with terms and coverage that suit your circumstances. Then, when you need private treatment, you can contact your insurer to start the claims process.

You can also opt for a deductible on your policy, where you pay some of the cost of your medical treatment, and your insurer settles the rest. They may pay the provider directly or ask you to pay the fees, and they'll reimburse you. It's vital to check the policy terms to ensure that the payment method offered suits your circumstances.

Why travel insurance may not be enough

If you already have travel insurance, you may think this will be enough to provide you with medical treatment abroad. However, travel insurance works in different ways than international medical insurance. Travel insurance allows you to access treatment for medical emergencies abroad. It will also cover lost baggage, damage to your belongings or other trip disruptions when travelling abroad. A fixed financial limit typically covers all of these different elements.

This is fine if you're taking a short trip, such as a holiday or business trip. However, more is likely needed to cover private treatment for a prolonged period.

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What's covered by international health insurance

Your international medical insurance plan can vary greatly depending on the country you'll be travelling to and the type of coverage you need. The main difference between an international and domestic health insurance plan is the level of coverage offered. In the UK, health insurance is designed to supplement the care available via the NHS. International medical insurance policies often have to replace that care as it wouldn't be available otherwise.

It's vital to check the coverage that you're being offered when you get a quote. Most providers provide coverage for emergency treatment, inpatient and day patient care for acute conditions, cancer treatment, scans, outpatient surgery and emergency dental treatment in the hospital. Others will also cover out-patient treatment, consultant fees, home nursing, GP services and care for normal pregnancy and childbirth.

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Differences between international medical insurance and UK health insurance

A significant difference between international and UK health insurance is that international health insurance policies cover services that wouldn't be necessary in the UK. These can include repatriation to your home country and even travel costs to visit a critically ill relative at home.

Most private health insurance includes access to helplines and digital services so you can get medical advice 24/7. International medical insurance also includes a 24/7 helpline for medical emergencies, where you can speak to an operator who speaks your language. This is ideal if you still need to learn the language in your new country.

What isn't covered

Every health insurance plan includes financial limits for different types of treatment. However, there can also be other exclusions, so checking each plan’s terms is essential when comparing quotes.

Health insurance doesn't cover pre-existing conditions, which can apply to international medical insurance. Insurers' approaches vary; some will provide coverage at an additional cost, whilst some won't insure you at all. Some international health policies are only available if you're under 65 when you apply.

There can also be exclusions based on the country you're living in. It's vital to check the terms and research the country you're moving to.

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How much does international private medical insurance cost?

Some of the factors that influence the cost of your international medical insurance are identical to the ones you'd find when taking out a health insurance policy in the UK. These include your age, occupation, overall health, and whether you're a smoker.

The level of coverage you choose will also influence the cost. A basic policy will cost less than one with lots of optional extras.

Regional coverage

One of the most significant factors influencing the cost of your international medical insurance is where you'll live. Policies for UK residents are typically split into three types:

  • Coverage for Europe
  • Global coverage without cover for the USA
  • Global coverage, including the USA

If you're moving to France, your policy will cost less than if you're relocating to America, as you'll only need a European policy. Equally, if you're planning to spend a year or two travelling the world and will require routine healthcare in several different countries, you're more likely to need global coverage.

International medical insurance deductible

Your health insurance deductible is the amount you pay yourself before your insurer contributes. Most UK health insurance plans have the option of an excess, which is also available with international medical insurance.

However, international medical insurance policies also allow you to choose a co-payment deductible, where you pay a fixed percentage of the overall cost. This can increase your out-of-pocket cost, but it will reduce your premiums.

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Get professional advice

It's a good idea to sort out your international medical insurance before you travel abroad. There will be local insurance providers in your new country, and premiums will often be cheaper. However, they typically only offer coverage in one country, so you won't be covered if you travel or need to return home.

Contact us for advice and a comparison quote to find the right international health insurance plan for you.

Lydia Hopkins
Senior Broker

Lydia Hopkins

Lydia is one of our most experienced brokers, having been in the industry for over eight years. Knowledgeable in a variety of types of insurance, she can cover most bases for clients.

Frequently asked questions