Skip to Content

How To Find The Best Expat Health Insurance For Your Life Abroad

We take pride in providing authentic travel recommendations based on our own experiences such as unique images and perspectives. We may earn a commission when you purchase a product or book a reservation. Learn more ›

Moving abroad is always challenging. Administrative tasks in your home country, let alone those in a foreign country, can be complex… and when it comes to health and travel insurance for expats, it can be even more complicated. How do you begin determining what international medical insurance plan you’ll need?

Don’t worry, we’re here to help. In this post, we’ll explain everything you need to know about finding the best expat insurance. We’ll also show you how to get a quote for expat health insurance today.

You could be the healthiest person in the world. Still, it’s always a good idea to have a backup plan.

Stethoscope on top of  world map
samc / Adobe Stock

Read on to learn more about the best expatriate health insurance plans. We’ll also show you options for worldwide coverage, local health insurance available where you’ll be traveling, and more.

TL;DR: Best Types of Expatriate Medical Insurance

Best for International Health Insurance Cigna Global
Best for Digital Nomads SafetyWing
Best for Pre-Existing Conditions Seven Corners
Best for Covering Specialty Activities World Nomads
Best for CFAR (Cancel for Any Reason) Travelex
Best for Multi-tiered Coverage Atlas
Best Marketplace TravelInsurance.com

Do I Really Need to be Insured?

Finding the best travel medical insurance is essential if you’re an expat. The reasoning for this is the same as why you’d take any other precautionary measure. Living in a foreign place differs from your home country; you never know what could happen.

Expat medical insurance is that definitive factor that can make rising healthcare costs a little more affordable… even if you opt for minimum essential coverage. That’s why it’s important to have preventive care for any health emergencies.

Public vs. Private Healthcare

Hand holding umbrella wood block cover Insurance icon
Jo Panuwat D / Adobe Stock

Before we look into finding the best travel medical insurance, see what type of health coverage your new home offers. In Europe, most countries offer some form of free healthcare through their government system; this continuous coverage ranges anywhere from inpatient hospital services to other multi-national benefits.

Living in France or the UK means you’ll likely take advantage of the country’s free healthcare system, which provides basic medical coverage for all residents (and the threshold for being a “resident” in both nations is pretty low).

On the other hand, if you move to a country like Switzerland, which doesn’t have universal healthcare, you’ll need to purchase private health insurance.

Public Healthcare

Patients Wearing Facemask
JinnaritT / Adobe Stock

As mentioned, some countries offer a public healthcare provider, usually funded by taxes. Suppose you’re a citizen of that country or a legal resident. In that case, you’ll likely be able to enroll in the public healthcare system.

In most cases, public healthcare will cover basic medical needs such as doctor’s visits, hospital stays, and prescriptions. Additional perks, like dental coverage, may come separately.

Although some countries offer public healthcare systems, they only sometimes cover 100 percent of the costs. For example, in France, full-time workers must have a mutuelle, a third-party insurance covering the costs that public healthcare won’t. If your social security covers 75 percent of an operation, the mutuelle will pay 25 percent.

Although this mutuelle is a third-party insurance, it’s not the same as private health insurance coverage you’d find elsewhere, such as the UK.

See Related: The Things I’ve Learned From Becoming a Digital Nomad

Private Healthcare

Doctor Vaccinating a Senior
Konstantin Yuganov / Adobe Stock

You can purchase private health insurance if you don’t have access to public healthcare or want additional medical insurance for living and working abroad. International private medical insurance plans vary depending on your country, but they typically offer a more comprehensive range than public healthcare.

For example, private health insurance in Switzerland often covers dental benefits and vision care, which is not typically covered by public healthcare.

Additionally, some employers will offer health care coverage as a benefit to employees. Some employer-sponsored health insurance plans may only cover basic expenses, while others may also provide coverage for significant medical assistance. It all depends on the health insurer and your chosen program.

You’ll need to purchase insurance if a government health care plan or an employer-sponsored group health plan does not cover you. As a traveler, finding a policy that covers healthcare services and travel-related costs, like lost luggage or travel delays, will also be in your best interest.

Whether you need a top-up for what is already covered (or want private funding), we recommend using a reputable, international brand. These brands offer comprehensive plans specific to travelers.

A great example of this is an international medical group like Cigna. The Cigna Global Health Benefits plan covers medical expenses, including doctor’s visits, hospital stays, and prescriptions. The project also covers the aforementioned travel-related expenses that can spring up unexpectedly.

See Related: Best Health Insurance for Travel Nurses

Understanding Expatriate Health Insurance

We want to give you the answers you’re looking for. That’s why we’ve compiled a variety of compelling questions about expat insurance: These include overviews of the potential costs, coverage, the overall application process, and the available healthcare providers you might encounter.

See Related: What is Travel Insurance? Here is the Definition + Examples.

What Difference Does It Make for My Medical Expenses?

Ultimately, the difference in your expenses depends on multiple factors, on top of your medical provider. Think of it like this: every applicant’s health status is different. Whether you visit public or private hospitals, have a complicated medical history, require emergency medical assistance, or otherwise, all of the above can impact the cost of your international health plan.

Keep in mind that it also depends on what you apply for. If you’d like your expatriate health plan to cover, say, dental benefits as well as medical care, it’s safe to assume your expat health insurance cost will rise.

While the exact number is nebulous and dependent on preference, we can say this: The difference in your expenses after the added benefit of an expat health insurance coverage is significant enough to make it worth it. Nobody wants to be stuck in a difficult situation abroad, and heaven forbid something drastic, like a medical evacuation; in exchange, navigating expat health insurance policies is an easy trade-off to make.

Benefits of Travel vs Health Insurance

Travel insurance is designed to cover you while traveling, which is essential for all the digital nomads trotting the globe out there. It can cover medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and lost or stolen luggage, but it doesn’t necessarily cover much else.

Health insurance is designed to provide coverage solely for your health care needs. It can cover doctor’s visits, hospital stays, and prescriptions. Health insurance for international living differs somewhat from your typical travel-exclusive insurance plans.

Still trying to understand? Let’s break it down:

What Are the Benefits of Travel Insurance?

There are many benefits of travel insurance, including coverage for the following:

  • Medical emergencies
  • Trip cancellations
  • Lost or stolen luggage
  • Travel delays
  • Missed connections

If you opt for it, some travel plans can also provide you with insurance coverage on expensive electricals, such as work laptops. Some insurers may offer a minimum essential range on personal techs like cameras and tablets, although it depends on your provider.

Still, we recommend insuring such devices under home insurance, if possible, because in some cases, travel plans won’t cover a high enough value.

What Are the Benefits of International Health Insurance?

Having health insurance coverage also has many excellent benefits, including covering:

  • Doctor’s visits
  • Hospital stays
  • Prescriptions
  • Mental health services
  • Vision and dental care

Some expatriate health plans issued to you may have different standard perks, but for the most part, any local insurance you’ve found through your expatriate health insurance plan should cover your basic needs. Now that you’ve learned all that, is the difference a little more precise?

We’ve looked at the options available to expats and travelers, so let’s look at some of the perks of combining the two into international travel medical insurance.

See Related: Best Health Insurance for Visitors to the USA

Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Crowd wearing a facemask while traveling during Covid pandemic
Nicholas Felix/peopleimages.com / Adobe Stock

In 2020, the world kept us on our toes with the COVID-19 pandemic. The prevalence of this ongoing phenomenon means some expatriate health plans apply to COVID-specific concerns, opting to include them in their general expat insurance plan.

However, the international insurance industry errs on the side of caution when making blanket statements. They encourage would-be travelers to explore the available plans before choosing an expat medical insurance that may exclude COVID-19 as a general health concern.

See Related: Can Tourists Get COVID Vaccine in the USA?

Types of Travel Medical Insurance Abroad

Insurance Concept
jirsak / Adobe Stock

First and foremost, what actually is expat travel insurance? And on that note, what does expatriate health insurance cover?

The simple answer is this: At its core, it’s health protection for expats. This specific type of insurance is designed for people living in a foreign or new country. This type of insurance typically covers medical expenses, trip cancellation, lost or stolen belongings, and other travel-related emergencies.

While their home country’s health insurance may cover some expats, it is essential to check if this coverage extends to your new country of residence. If not, you will need to purchase a plan that covers you while you are living abroad.

Other types of popular health insurance for global citizens include:

1. Emergency Travel Insurance

Emergency Respondents
hedgehog94 / Adobe Stock

This type of insurance is designed to cover you in the event of a medical emergency while traveling. If you need medical treatment, this is especially helpful. It can provide coverage for general health, medical evacuation, and repatriation.

2. Annual Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance Form and Travel Documents
photobyphotoboy / Adobe Stock

Annual travel insurance plans are designed for expats who travel frequently. They can provide coverage for multiple trips throughout the year and can be customized to your specific needs.

3. Student Travel Insurance

Female Teen Student
baranq / Adobe Stock

Student travel medical insurance plans are designed for students who are studying abroad. These plans can provide coverage for medical fees, evacuation, and repatriation.

4. Missionary Travel Insurance

Missionaries in Kenya
Jeffery Edwards / Adobe Stock

Missionary travel medical insurance plans are designed for individuals traveling for missionary work. They can provide coverage for medical costs, evacuation, and repatriation.

How to Choose the Best Expat Insurance

Now, our official step-by-step guide for choosing your health insurance abroad. As we’ve gone over the basics and looked at some of the best health coverage for world travelers, it’s time to start looking for a program that suits your needs.

Here’s our step-by-step guide for choosing the best expatriate insurance plan:

1. Determine Your Health Insurance Needs

The first step is to determine your health insurance needs. Do you need coverage for medical emergencies, trip cancellations, or lost or stolen luggage? If so, you’ll want to purchase a worldwide health insurance policy.

Before purchasing a policy, evaluating your health needs is essential. Are you generally healthy, or do you have a chronic illness that requires regular medication? Do you have any pre-existing medical conditions? Will you need any outpatient facility services?

Consider these questions, as these factors will affect the type of insurance policy you need.

Keep in mind that a basic international health insurance policy may be sufficient if you’re generally healthy. However, if you have a pre-existing medical condition or require regular medication, it’s recommended you purchase a policy that covers these expenses.

See Related: Best Health Insurance for Visitors to USA

2. Compare Plans and Prices

Once you know what type of insurance you need, you can compare plans and prices. Online providers often offer free quotes so you can get an idea. To reiterate a tip from before: Remember, the policy you pick should cover all risks you deem necessary!

Throughout the process, compare each plan’s coverage levels, deductibles, and co-payments. Deductible expenses can vary significantly, so choosing a plan with a deductible that you can afford is critical.

3. Expat Health Insurance Plans: Caveats to Keep Sight Of

Some hurdles would-be expats might encounter include the sheer variety of insurance options and the diversity in plans and add-ons. What matters is you know what you need, and you mark those necessities down. Don’t dedicate yourself to one plan before exploring what the others have available, especially regarding your needs.

4. Important Considerations When Choosing Your Expatriate Health Insurance

Purchasing an expat health insurance plan creates a support system for moving overseas. When looking for a policy, it’s important to consider the destination country’s healthcare system and how it will compare to your current coverage. You should also think about:

Does Your Policy Cover Alternative Therapies?

These include things like acupuncture, homeopathy, and chiropractic care. Global health benefits typically cover you for traditional medical treatments but may not cover you for alternative therapies.

If you plan on using alternative therapies frequently while you live abroad, check with your provider to see if they’re covered.

Do You Need 24/7 Support?

When choosing a medical cover for emigrating, one thing to consider is whether or not you need 24/7 support. Some insurance policies come with 24/7 support, while others don’t.

If you think you might need that level of help while you’re away, don’t skip this step. Choose a policy that can care for you at any time or place.

What is Not Included When Making a Claim?

Knowing what’s not included when making a travel insurance claim is necessary if only to save yourself time. Generally, the international insurance policies you’ll find will not cover you for:

  • Canceled or lost travel plans
  • Lost or stolen belongings
  • Civil unrest or political evacuation

If you’re concerned about any of these things, you can purchase a policy covering them. Check out some of the companies we recommended above.

See Related: Interesting, Weird Laws in Germany

Choose the Plan that Best Suits Your Needs

Medical record shown on an electronic tablet screen
terovesalainen / Adobe Stock

Once you’ve compared the plans and prices, it’s time to choose the one that best suits your needs. Be sure to read the fine print before purchasing a policy. This will help you understand what your policy does and does not cover; for example, some policies may not cover pre-existing medical conditions.

1. Choose a Company You Trust

Different healthcare providers offer their perks, and it’s a good idea to find out what those are before you leave. Some of the top expat insurers we personally recommend include (but aren’t limited to) SafetyWingAtlasSeven CornersTravelex, and World Nomads. Top expat locations like France, Portugal, Finland, and New Zealand likely offer reliable plans with these insurers.

What makes these providers special is their individual perks. For example, we think Cigna may be one of the best for overall international health insurance, while SafetyWing corners the market on quick quotes and widespread coverage.

Seven Corners is well-known for assisting with pre-existing medical conditions, while World Nomads covers unique sports and activities you might not see elsewhere.

Likewise, Travelex is great for “Cancel for Any Reason” (CFAR) insurance, which means you can adjust your plans accordingly, no matter what. Atlas offers a multitude of tiered coverage plans depending on your needs.

2. Choose a Policy With Great Coverage

Make sure your policy wholly encompasses your biggest concerns, including medical expenses, travel delays, lost baggage, and any additions, such as pre-existing conditions.

3. Check Which Countries Are Covered

It would help to remember that service varies by country regarding international insurance for expats. First, you’ll want to ensure that your chosen global health benefits cover you for the place or places you’ll be traveling to.

Will you stay in one country solely, or do you want to be insured for weekend trips away? Health insurance for long-term travel in one place will differ from policies covering quick international trips.

See Related: Best Travel Insurance for the Netherlands: Top Plans

4. Consider Your Budget

Overseas medical insurance policies vary in price, so finding one that fits your needs and funding is crucial. Go over the quotes provided by various insurers and determine which is the most accommodating to your needs.

See Related: Best Weekend Trips from Amsterdam: Top Getaway Options

5. Check Which Activities Are Covered

You’ll want to ensure that your policy covers the activities you’ll be doing while abroad. If you’re an extreme sportsman, it’s a good idea to make sure your plan covers you for those activities. Some healthcare providers specialize in this, such as World Nomads, which covers scuba diving and skydiving.

6. Check the Deductibles and Coverage Limits

You’ll also want to check the deductible and coverage limits when looking at health insurance for overseas residents. The deductible is the amount you must pay out-of-pocket before your policy kicks in, so it could affect you. The coverage limit is the maximum amount your provider will pay for a covered event, so keep it in mind.

7. Check If Pre-Existing Conditions Are Covered

If you have a pre-existing medical condition, you’ll want to make sure your global health benefits cover you for that condition. Some global health insurance policies will cover such conditions, while others won’t.

Likewise, other must-have features that may not come with your expatriate health plan are maternity coverage and emergency medical evacuations. The fine print will detail this, so be sure to read it.

8. Choose How Long You Want Coverage For

You’ll want to ensure your expatriate insurance policy covers you the entire time you’re abroad. Some travel health insurance policies limit this, so ensure your policy covers you for the length of time you’ll need and make adjustments accordingly.

9. Purchase Your Policy!

Once you’ve chosen a plan, you can purchase your policy online or through a travel agent. Print, email, or otherwise keep the information on you; you’ll want easy access for reference if you need to make a claim.

We recommend always having a physical, printed copy readily available. We love to rely on technology, but sometimes, getting your WiFi set up in a foreign country takes longer than anticipated!

See Related: Best Travel Insurance for Children

Real-Life Experiences with Expat Insurance

Woman on a hiking adventure with  arms wide open
icephotography / Adobe Stock

I assumed I was invincible when I started traveling abroad. I moved to New Zealand, staying in hostels while looking for a room to rent, and thought I had it all figured out.

Setting up all the administrative tasks that come with first immigrating somewhere new would be easy, I thought. How silly I was!

Next, I caught a stomach virus from the hostel I was staying in. I’ll spare you the gory details, but it comes down to this: At the time, I didn’t have the immediate means to pay for medical treatment as I would in my home country. This, and about a million other reasons, is why international health insurance when living abroad is crucial for expats.

I recommend searching for plans when you’re beginning to consider moving abroad. It will save you the hassle of sorting it out in another country and potentially rescue you from long-term struggle.

Nobody wants to be sick. The best way to mediate it, though, is with the tools we’ve provided above. So, what are you waiting for? Sign up for that expat medical insurance, then leave a comment and share your unique expatriate experience with us!

FAQs

What is the average cost of global health coverage?

This can vary entirely depending on the country you are moving to. Global medical coverage is usually reasonable for US citizens in other countries. For example, according to Forbes Advisor, for a one-time trip of up to 30 days to Mexico, the average policy costs about $73.

Prices vary depending on your trip length, age, and health. It’s always a good idea to gather quotes from multiple carriers well before your travels, whether you’re leaving for a week or for a year.

How do I choose a provider?

Nowadays, there are more insurance carriers than anyone could fathom. They vary from low-cost and minimal coverage plans through new internet-based companies to comprehensive, well-written programs that offer coverage for nearly any scenario you can imagine.

Many travelers choose to secure their policies with known companies that have been around for quite some time, like one of our favorites, Cigna Global.
Cigna is an excellent choice for penny-pinching travelers who don’t want to skimp on comprehensive, trustworthy coverage. Happy, healthy travels!

When should you buy travel or international medical insurance?

Ideally, you should purchase travel insurance as soon as you book your trip. This way, you’ll be covered in case anything happens between the time you book your trip and the time you travel. Say you book a trip and then have to cancel it—no worries! You’ll be refunded.

International medical insurance is a good idea if you want to mitigate health concerns. Even if you don’t purchase either immediately, it’s still a good idea to get it and set it up a few weeks before you leave.

Related Resources