Travel health insurance for those who stay outside the USA for a lengthy period of time can be a complicated matter. But it doesn’t have to be. Expatriates and foreign exchange students face a different set of criteria in their search for a plan than do a honeymooning couple hitting Tahiti for 10 days.
If you’re planning to go abroad for an extended period, exploring available options well in advance will help you secure the best price, the most adequate coverage and generally help you stay ahead of the game (the “game” being avoiding surprises that put a huge financial strain on you and your family.)
Let’s look at expatriate health plans first. Expatriate health insurance is for those individuals who reside outside the USA for more than six months and need a health insurance plan to ensure coverage for themselves and their families. Since most countries won’t cover medical costs for non-citizens, it is important to consider an expatriate health plan that provides for long-term medical needs.
These “Long Term” or “Expatriate” policies are different from short term travel health insurance since they are for extended periods and most short term travel health insurance maxes out at 180 days. Expat policies are designed to help the subscriber in both their adopted country and sometimes in the USA. These policies are also more in-depth because they can extend to cover other family members if desired.
One of the hot-button topics for all health insurance policies is pre-existing conditions, the ACA made it so companies could not exclude you for pre-existing conditions, unfortunately this does not apply to expat health insurance policies, none are ACA compliant, even those that give coverage in the USA.. The policy holder’s pre-existing conditions, from pregnancy to a former battle with cancer, will affect which policy they are eligible for and the coverage. However, that weird rash you get whenever the humidity reaches 90% or a broken leg from a fall wouldn’t qualify as a pre-existing condition. Always be clear when entering a new policy, claims related to a pre-existing condition you neglected to mention, like you’re already pregnant or you have a heart condition will not be honored by the insurer.
How much does expat health insurance cost?
While costs vary widely from policy to policy depending on what you choose from the care menu, it’s often not as expensive as you’d think. But like all other insurance plans, the higher the deductible the lower the monthly premium. Plans that are more expensive come from better known companies, like Cigna and GeoBlue (BlueShiled/BlueCross) and have less fine print in the insurance contract. Plans that tend to be a big more affordable may come from smaller companies and often have more exclusions in the fine print. This isn’t bad, but it is important to be aware of what is included and what isn’t.
As an example, a 67-year-old male buying insurance to go live in, say Mexico, would pay between $3k and $9K annually, depending on the deductible. The cost of this example plan would also cover insurance in the USA for up to six months. Do your research before picking a plan. This will save you money. If you’re not going to have children anytime soon then don’t choose a policy that charges more because it has the best maternity care.
What are the best international health insurance plans for Expats?
One of the most affordable companies offering expat policies is WEA, or Worldwide Expatriate Association. It could quite possibly be the best bargain for expats moving abroad, the policy is widely used by expats moving to Mexico and is expanding quickly in other Latin American countries.. The company also has a reputation for excellent customer service and benefits. Plans come in three levels for varying budgets and meets care needs both inside and outside the USA. Compared to other companies they have pretty strict underwriting, but that’s how they keep their prices so low. WEA also has the best maternity benefit add-on in the business.
Another company focused on expatriate life is Cigna Insurance who offer plans designed for individuals as well as families working and living abroad. They insure millions of people globally and their main strength is the flexibility of their policies. Subscribers can start out with core policies and then build up from there (like choosing toppings for a pizza), adding things like medical evacuation, wellbeing visits, vision and dental. Plans are more expensive than their competitors, but they have the easiest underwriting and the most flexibility. The core plan covers both inpatient and day-patient surgeries, making it a great deal for countries where outpatient care is cheap. You don’t have to pay for benefits you’re never going to use.
IMG Global Medical is a company with a menu of different plans. They specifically cater to both expats with their Global Medical, annually renewable plan (comparable to WEA) and to students on their Patriot student plan. IMG also has a host of plans for short term travel. A subject we will save for another article. Their “Patriot” policies offer some of the best coverage for students either coming to the USA or leaving to go abroad. The kicker for this plan is that many students travelling to other countries need to meet J-1 visa (work-and study-based exchange visitor program) requirements. IMG policies meet these J-1 visa requirements.
These patriot policies through IMG are year-long and annually renewable with four main policies: Patriot Platinum Travel Medical Insurance (the gold standard); Patriot Travel Medical Insurance (good for US and non-US citizens) and Patriot Multi-Trip Travel Medical Insurance (a single plan covers many separate trips within a single year). They also offer Patriot Group Travel Medical Insurance and emergency travel plans.
An F1 visa is a non-immigrant visa given to most international students who want to study in the USA. While it allows students to enter 30-daysprior to their first day of school and depart 60 days after, it doesn’t require students to have health insurance. However, many schools require students to have insurance while at their institution. It’s also a good idea to have insurance to avoid any unexpected medical expenses.
For the long stay travellers, expats and students, choosing insurance doesn’t have to be complicated. Just know that the medical travel insurance needs will be different from those of short-vacation policies, and plan accordingly. If you’re confused or need help just send me an email or pick up the phone and give me, your broker, a call. I’ll help you pick the best plan that will fit your needs.