Health Insurance for U.S. Expats Living Abroad

Contributed by International Citizens Insurance, 12 August, 2020

There are an estimated 9 million Americans living overseas. Every year, thousands more join them, embracing the dream of being an expat, experiencing different cultures, meeting new people, and growing professionally. For some, the chance to live abroad comes after years of planning, while for others it's a last-minute opportunity that's too good to turn down. But for all US expats living abroad, expatriate health insurance is a top priority. If a move overseas is in your future, here are some important considerations to take into account when researching health insurance options for US citizens living abroad.

Do American Health Insurance Plans Cover You Abroad?

In a word: No. Your local health insurance plan in the United States is designed for American residency. There may be some specific circumstances in which some plans or programs will offer limited coverage outside the United States but they're rare. In any case, the American government strongly recommends that all Americans carry private medical insurance coverage while traveling or living overseas. On, it says: "You should purchase insurance before you travel (or move abroad)... In general, Medicare and Medicaid do not cover medical costs overseas." Therefore, you are responsible for researching, comparing international health insurance and choosing a quality plan.

Can I Drop My U.S. Health Coverage Once I'm Living Overseas?

This isn't an easy question. If you're truly living abroad and have no plans to return to the United States, it may be sufficient to consider yourself a tourist in your own birth country when you do travel home. In that case, you would simply require appropriate travel medical insurance - which may or may not be included in the global medical policy that covers you overseas.

The situation is more complicated for Americans who split their time between living abroad and being in the United States. The government mandates the American citizens have an ACA compliant plan in place if they are living in the United States for 35 days or more each year. If you're living abroad for more than 330 days in a calendar year, you don't need this coverage. Given that it's hard to predict just how much time you'll spend in each country, especially after you just move, many US citizens will opt for a global health insurance plan that covers them worldwide, including the United States. Learn about the best international health insurance companies.

Understanding How Healthcare Works in Other Countries

Before you move abroad, you'll likely have people ask if healthcare is "free" in your new home. It's a tricky question! On the one hand, many countries around the world do have universal healthcare. And, in many of them, there is no cost for medical appointments, tests, or hospital procedures. However, that doesn't exactly make healthcare free.

As local residents are quick to point out to expats, they do pay for their healthcare. Taxes, payroll deductions, and other forms of contributions take the place of insurance subscriptions and premiums. And as US expats living abroad soon find out, they're rarely eligible for public healthcare programs until they themselves become part of the taxpaying public. It can take months or even years until Americans living abroad are eligible to enroll in local healthcare programs.

Is Health Insurance Mandatory Overseas?

In many countries, enrolling in the public health insurance program isn't an option. If you're in the country on a work visa, you'll automatically have payroll deductions made as your healthcare contribution. However, in some cases, you have the choice of opting out if you can prove you have adequate coverage through private insurance.

It's common for many countries to require proof of medical insurance before processing work visa applications. Others require you to have your own private health insurance that's active from when you arrive in the country until you're finally enrolled in the public program, however long that may take. But mandatory or not, there are a lot of good reasons you'll want to carry private insurance.

The US Department of State recommends all US citizens traveling abroad should have some type of medical coverage. "Finding a quality plan at a reasonable price should be part of every US expats checklist" according to Joe Cronin, President of International Citizens Insurance. "There are plans for every budget, age, and demographic. Shop around and find the right plan before moving abroad."

Cost of Healthcare Outside the U.S.

Many people are attracted to expat life because of the low cost of living in many overseas countries. Rent, food, and even healthcare costs can be dramatically lower in many other countries - and a lot of those countries are also free from snow and boast gorgeous beaches. What's not to love!?

Minor maladies are often treated - and treated well - for just a modest cost in many countries. However, it's foolhardy to expect this same level of care and cost for more severe problems. The cost of specialist treatments, MRI diagnostics, support systems like translators and home care nurses can add up to an astronomical cost. And that doesn't take into account transportation. The very isolation that attracted you to a beloved island, reef, or mountain village will work against you when you need to hire an air ambulance for a medical evacuation

Having Private Health Insurance Gives You Comfort in Difficult Times

Most people don't mind waiting a bit to have a minor concern like a sprained wrist or a small rash looked at. And it doesn't really matter how comfortable or modern the clinic is - you just need a doctor to look at things, write the appropriate prescription and you'll be on your way. However, it's much, much more challenging to be patient, relaxed, and flexible when minor concerns become major problems.

Being sick or hurt is a miserable experience and, when you're in a foreign country and far away from loved ones, it can be downright scary. Things that might be common expectations at home, such as having privacy during an exam or being able to request a male or female practitioner, are impossible. Carrying a private medical insurance policy helps you avoid these awkward and uncomfortable experiences. Plus, it means you're seen in a timely manner, in facilities that are comfortable and private, and you can count on having either multilingual staff or the support of a translator.

For some would-be American expats, the idea of having private health insurance may at first feel rather elitist. After all, you're not a celebrity! Why would you need to be seen in a private hospital? But the kind of private hospitals and clinics used by expats and local alike are nothing like what celebrities use in Beverly Hills! No one will be bringing you champagne and chandeliers are in short supply. Instead, you'll be taking care of your health in a clean, modern facility without the wait times and congestion characteristic of the overburdened public system.

Your Health Matters Too Much to Not Have Insurance

Few things matter so much as your health. It's what allows you to take on adventures like living overseas in the first place! Medical insurance for US expats living abroad is affordable, comprehensive, and brings tremendous peace of mind. Instead of worrying about what will happen if something doesn't go well or what you'll do if there's an emergency, you know you'll receive excellent care and have the help and support of the insurance team. Take care of your health and your health will take care of you, no matter where you are in the world.

Request a quote for international health insurance today!

About the Author

Joe Cronin is President of International Citizens Group, Inc. and International Citizens Insurance, a leading broker of international health, life, and travel insurance plans located in the United States.

Tags: Healthcare | International Living | Health Insurance | Healthcare | Insurance |



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