International Health Insurance (Part 1)

Health Insurance... audible groan. It's become one of those things we dread dealing with. As the years of international living catch up with us, we may find ourselves more concerned about doctor visits and diagnoses than parties and places to see. As a result, knowing what is available outside of one's country of birth becomes an important issue for many who are considering personal diversification.


There are two basic categories of health insurance available that we will explore here. One provides coverage for local care, and may be of interest to those who are settled in one place. The other provides coverage anywhere in the world, and is especially marketed to those who travel extensively.

Local Options

Local coverage is offered by in-country insurance companies or health care providers. It may be quite limited in coverage, so it is important to understand what you are paying for. A hospital plan, for instance, may include doctor visits, labs, tests, x-rays, procedures and hospital stays, but may have no coverage for medications. A common exclusion is any and every form of cancer. This type of coverage may be inexpensive, but it's worthwhile to do a bit of cost analysis to see if the annual premium is worth the potential savings.

Here's an example: a regional hospital in western Panama offers a plan with coverage as indicated above. The cost for a couple in their 60's is $107 per month, or $1284 per year. This sounds great, but you have to relate it to the fees for typical services. For instance, a doctor visit is usually $25, or $12 with the insurance; a lipid profile is $32, or $16 with insurance; a thyroid ultrasound costs $50, or $29 with insurance, for a total savings of $50 on these three services. At these rates it will take an awful lot of office visits and diagnostic tests to break even, making this type of coverage a questionable deal for a relatively healthy person.

The best way to research this type of coverage is through a local expat forum or group for the location in which you live. That way, you'll get the pros and cons from those who have gone before you. As an alternative, self-insurance in the form of a savings account or high limit credit card is an option for low-risk individuals, and keeps the money in your pocket.

Worldwide Coverage

There are many companies that offer worldwide health insurance, with a broad range of coverage options, services and prices, from basic to all-inclusive coverage of medical expenses. If you have an unlimited budget, it's easy to find complete coverage.

An online search for international health insurance is a good way to start when looking for what is available. These pages at ExpatFinder.com and Travel Insurance Center list several companies and offer free quotes. Other companies that appear in multiple searches include Aetna International, IMGlobal, HealthCare International, and InterGlobal. It may be a bit tedious and time consuming, but the only way to find out exactly what each of these companies offers and how much it will cost may be to visit each site.

Interestingly, many companies offer two basic options: one that includes coverage in the US, and the other excluding US coverage. The cost difference is revealing. For example, with one company, IntegraGlobal, coverage for standard medical care excluding the US, with $500 deductible, costs $4170 per year for a 58 year old female, and $8676 for a 69 year old male. For the same coverage including the US, the annual costs are $6959 and $14,480, respectively ... ouch.

There is another, even more inclusive, yet lower-priced option, especially for (but not limited to) actual travel insurance. Many of our readers make exploratory, information-gathering trips, as well as vacations, but even if you are settled in one area for any length of time, this option can work for you. In addition to providing coverage for trip delays or cancellations, lost luggage, and car rentals, these comprehensive packages may include medical and dental insurance, as well as covering accidents and evacuation. A good site for researching various options for this type of insurance coverage is InsureMyTrip.

How to Get Started

What do you need? This is the first question to ask yourself, before you start shopping for insurance. Be realistic about your own health, and what medical services and care you need now, and are most likely to need in future.

Next, research what is available where you live, and how much it costs. This will vary tremendously, of course, and in some places, a healthy person may not need any insurance at all.

With this knowledge, consider where you will need to go for medical treatment. Can you get what you need locally, or will you have to travel to receive the type of care you need? Of course, none of us can anticipate emergencies or accidents, so we have to work from what we know.

Now that you've completed your health care needs questionnaire, you can start shopping for insurance to find the best product at the best price. Before you purchase a new product, be sure you fully understand all the benefits, limits, and restrictions of any coverage you already have. Some insurance policies and even credit cards have small print clauses that may cover you away from home. Likewise, once you've decided what you need, be sure you understand exactly what you are paying for. Be realistic, plan ahead, and leave home knowing your medical needs will be met, wherever you go.

In Part Two, we'll explore Medevac services, Catastrophic Coverage, and Medical Tourism.

[PLEASE NOTE: The publishing of this article does not imply an endorsement of the services being offered. As always, please conduct your own due diligence before engaging in any business.]

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