Is your health insurance as flexible as you are?

Hopping on a plane is the easy part, making sure your health insurance extends as far as your wanderlust takes you however, is not so simple.

Big international insurers offer “all encompassing” health insurance plans which cover you across a large number of countries but are limited in terms of flexibility.

Despite appearing to be a stress free option for expats on the surface, these plans are not as straightforward as they seem. Especially now that certain countries are making it more difficult for expats to access healthcare without jumping through certain hoops to get there first.

Problems with portability

There are some countries which are more stringent in terms health insurance, take the Netherlands for example, where it is mandatory for all residents of the country to have at least basic health insurance from a local provider. To add another “hoop” into the mix, these countries insist on health insurance provided by a local insurer or an international insurer with local ties. This means that certain “all encompassing” insurance plans become redundant.

The portability of your health insurance is further affected if you are limited to “zones” in which you are covered. While you could purchase a new health insurance plan when you move outside of your coverage zone, problems arise if you have a poor medical history or an ongoing chronic condition.

Big name international insurers vs small insurers

In order to decide which health insurer to choose you need to weigh up your options. The big name international insurers are more likely to have local ties in more countries. This means they can tap into their domestic networks (which are likely to be more far reaching) in order to make a seamless transfer.

Smaller insurers, on the other hand, are likely to have more room for flexibility regarding individual requirements. If you know which countries you plan to reside in, smaller insurers working in certain countries are likely to have a greater degree of specialist knowledge of the laws and specifics for expats in that country.


Big vs small, who wins the race?

Also, rather than expecting you to fit their premade plans, they offer tailor-made plans reflecting the needs of their customers. For those needing specialist cover, or with pre-existing conditions, they may find smaller insurers more willing to adapt their coverage. With less clients to deal with, there is no doubt that smaller insurance companies will be on hand for individual cases. So you can enjoy better customer service with a personal touch.

If you don’t know how long you are going to stay living abroad, a flexible insurance company offering both short and long-term coverage is preferable. You don’t want to end up paying for a fixed contract long after you have returned to your home country.

Advice for those with different requirements

  • For those suffering serious illnesses and who are likely to need surgery: it’s a good idea to look out for portable plans which allow the patient to receive their treatment in their home country. This means that despite being in a difficult situation, you will be in a familiar environment and your family and friends will be nearby to support you.
  • For those on short-term overseas postings: some insurers offer options to extend cover for a limited time to the country the person is moving to.
  • For the expat who plans to move to more than one country: this is a case of self-assessment. Try as best you can to think to the future and choose a provider with a strong network in your preferred country of residence.

Ultimately, the most important thing to remember is that there is no “one size fits all” health insurance, especially for an expats who needs may be more varied; flexibility is key.

Image: [Canon in 2D, Marc Kjerland]