International Health Insurance – an Expat Primer

18 February 2019

If I asked you what ‘Health Insurance’ means, you’d probably be able to give me a pretty good answer, or would you? Surprisingly, the exact meaning of this term can vary from one country to another, and even more so when you add in language barriers and complications. Not only can it confuse matters, it can also get you in hot water with your medical insurer if you’re not careful.


What Does It Mean?

With terms such as Health Insurance, International Health Insurance, Medical Insurance, Private Medical Insurance, and International Private Medical Insurance all banded about by everyone in the expat and insurance industries with careless abandon, it can be difficult to see the difference. In fact, some publications will even use them interchangeably which can confuse matters even further. To help you out, here’s a rundown of what the terms commonly refer to:


Health Insurance

This is the most catch-all term for insurance involved with people’s health. It can be;

  • Offered by state or private insurers;
  • Voluntary or mandatory,
  • Cover treatment in public and private hospitals.


All categories of person are generally included under this umbrella, including citizens, residents, visitors, foreign workers and expatriates.


Medical Insurance

This often refers to the same cover as Health Insurance, although it is used in some countries to indicate a more limited range of cover


Private Medical Insurance

This is a bit more complex can standard Health Insurance and the ‘Private’ can indicate that treatment is focused explicitly in private hospitals and clinics as opposed to public ones. Such policies are generally from private insurance groups and may offer more limited access to facilities, albeit ones of a higher quality than others in the region.


Expatriate Health Insurance

This term is generally quite well established, as it commonly defines medical cover for expatriates who are temporarily working in another company on a short-term contract. Expatriate Health Insurance is most common for those from the United States and the United Kingdom, but isn’t limited to these nations.


International Health Insurance

This can cover;

  • Full treatment in the country that the expat lives and works in
  • Minor procedures covered locally, with funds provided for repatriation in more severe cases,
  • Treatment in a variety of regional countries.


Worldwide cover is also a possibility for expatriates who conduct a significant amount of global travel as part of their position.


Making it Clear

Now that you know what the terms (usually) mean, it’s time to see what’s available for you and your needs. Whether you’re going through a broker (often the best option) or getting quotes directly from insurers, remember that they might have slightly different definitions, so always make sure you have a proper understanding of the products on offer. You don’t want to sign up for cover which doesn’t actually cover any of your needs.


This is especially important when it comes to understanding which countries your insurance plan provides cover for and its limits. Many expatriates mistakenly believe that because they have International Health Insurance, they are automatically supplied with international cover. As explained above, that’s not necessarily the case, and this misunderstanding can potentially cause a few nasty surprises for those who take their medical protection as a given.




Are you covered? Free Health Insurance Quotes

Get FREE quotes from leading global Insurers to compare and find a plan suits you.

Get free quotes