Healthcare for Expats – What you need to know

medical tourism

You’re an ex-pat, living and working away from your home country for an extended amount of time. It’s very important to sort out your healthcare as fast as you can after you arrive, so if you have an accident or fall ill you know exactly where to go, and understand how the system works.

UK citizens in the EU can access healthcare services using their European Health Insurance Card for now, but when you travel beyond the EU it becomes much more difficult as well as potentially a lot more expensive. At the same time, Brexit is bringing uncertainties of its own. In today’s complex landscape, here are some top tips about healthcare for ex-pats.   

Get familiar with local medical and healthcare facilities

When you’re in your home country everything’s familiar. You know how the healthcare system works and have a reliable mental roadmap about where the nearest A&E is, where the closest hospital is, where your GP surgery is and so on. As an ex-pat you don’t have that advantage – you’ve arrived in an unfamiliar country whose healthcare system might work in a completely different way to the one you’re used to.

Our first tip for ex-pats is to go explore as soon as possible after you arrive. Pin down the location of the best healthcare facilities, find out where the nearest A&E is and how to get there, find yourself a GP and a dentist, and get registered with them as soon as possible. Make a list of the contact numbers so they’re there when you need them. And find out exactly how the different medical systems work so you don’t suffer delays in an emergency.

Choose a good healthcare insurance plan

Relatively few ex-pats self-fund their medical care. Most people protect their finances with health insurance, and it’s important to choose cover that doesn’t let you down. First, if you have an existing medical condition make sure the product you buy includes the health problems you already have. Most policies don’t cover pre-existing conditions unless you specify them and while the cover is more expensive than insurance that doesn’t cover existing conditions, it’s important for full peace of mind.

You need to buy international health insurance that covers you locally, regionally and globally. After all, if you need emergency evacuation by air ambulance after an accident it can cost literally thousands of pounds. And you need cover for the whole family even if you are perfectly healthy right now, since you can’t predict when any of you might become ill. If you’re the least bit likely to fall pregnant, you need an insurance policy that covers the expenses of pregnancy and birth properly. Bear in mind that as a rule, you get what you pay for – cheap policies rarely provide the best cover.

It goes without saying that scrupulous honesty is the name of the game on application forms. It’s no good concealing a pre-existing medical condition, for example. It just means your insurer can legally turn down every claim you make, completely invalidating the policy. If you need to take prescription drugs you need prescription drug coverage too, to deal with the potentially sky-high cost of drugs for major illnesses.

The small print on medical insurance policies is extensive… and very small! You should make the effort to read it from end to end and ask the insurer to explain any jargon or legalese you don’t understand. It’s your responsibility to get to grips with the product you’ve bought. Last but not least there are several ways to cut the cost, including applying an excess like you do for motor or home insurance, where you cut the premiums down by agreeing to pay a sum yourself before the cover kicks in. You might, for example, accept an excess of £1000, so the insurance only pays out for a claim of more than £1000.

The best route to finding a suitable policy? You can do it online but you might be best off finding an independent insurance broker who can access the entire market to find you the most appropriate, best value protection and answer any questions.   

Keep the paperwork in a sensible place

To make a claim, you need to phone the insurer. To phone the insurer you need the contact telephone number and your policy number. Always store your medical insurance paperwork where it’s easy to find in an emergency, and take it with you to the hospital, dental surgery or GP.

Long stay visas sometimes demand health insurance

In some countries, you can’t use the country’s state welfare system or stay long term unless you have a specified amount of health insurance in place, sometimes state-recommended cover. It depends what country you’re going to live in.  

Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, for example, all have large ex-pat communities and medical insurance is mandatory. In some cases, the Emirate has barred foreigners who don’t have the right paperwork.

Follow the above and you should find it easier to get the right medical treatment, from the most appropriate place, when you need it.

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