Answers to all your burning questions

FAQ’s Answered by an International Health Insurance Expert

Need some help with your medical insurance or have a burning question that needs answering? In the FAQs below, you’ll find answers to questions we get asked most often. We thrive on answering the trickiest of international health insurance questions, so contact us for any queries, or to discuss your individual situation.

International cover

Which "area of cover" is most suitable for me as an expatriate?

This largely depends on a number of factors, but one in particular is whether you expect to return, reside or travel to the USA at some point. The USA is considered one of the most expensive places in the world to receive medical care; therefore insurers tend to manage their exposure to risk in this area by offering policies which either include or exclude the USA.

For instance, you might see a policy that is “Worldwide excluding USA” which is the most comprehensive international insurance cover for expatriates who won’t need cover for any time spent in the USA. Such a policy allows expatriates to be globally mobile, knowing their international coverage follows them wherever they reside.

What's the difference between in-patient and out-patient policies?

An in-patient policy covers treatment you receive while you are a patient in hospital or receiving emergency care at a hospital. The in-patient portion of your policy covers treatment such as (but not limited to) surgery and associated fees, hospital room fees, intensive care, organ transplants (some insurers apply limits to this benefit), kidney dialysis, cancer care, emergency dental, reconstructive surgery, specialist consultations and medication, acute chronic conditions, diagnostic imaging and tests, mental health, ambulance and emergency room fees, and rehabilitative unit care (which usually has a monetary value or number of days limit applied).

In-patient policies that are of good quality will also cover pre and post-hospitalisation care as an out-patient, such as specialist consultations, diagnostic tests, medications and physiotherapy. If these are included, limits of between 30 to 180 days cover, and/or a monetary value are usually applied.

An out-patient policy covers treatment received at a clinic or in a hospital (non-emergency) when you haven’t been admitted. The out-patient portion of your policy covers treatments such as (but not limited to), GP visits, specialist consultations, prescribed medication, diagnostic tests (radiology, pathology, MRI, PET, CT scan), physiotherapy, complementary therapies, (provided by a chiropractor, osteopath, acupuncturist, homeopath or Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner), kidney dialysis, chronic condition maintenance, psychiatric and psychological care, non-surgical and minor surgical procedures and treatment.

Because out-patient policies are used most often compared to in-patient policies, insurers attempt to control their costs through applying limitations to the benefits. The insurers Global Albatross works with offer variations to out-patient limits giving you a range of options to choose from.

At Global Albatross, we do all the product research to find the most suitable in-patient/out-patient combination to suit your budget and situation, so that you don’t have to. Let us help.

Can I simply buy out-patient cover without the in-patient portion?

Out-patient benefits can only be added to an in-patient plan. They cannot be purchased on their own. At Global Albatross, we find and structure the best plan combination for your situation, needs and budget.

Can I get a policy for my child without purchasing my own?

Yes, Global Albatross works with a number of insurers that will cover a child on their own policy, without an adult. This is not a common feature with the majority of insurers; however we can provide a number of options.

What is an excess or deductible?

This is the set amount that a policy holder is required to pay before any costs for treatment are reimbursed. The insurer pays the remaining total amount, up to the limits of your policy.

Insurers all have different excess or deductible options from zero upwards. These can be on a per year, per condition or per visit basis. Some insurers offer a “co-pay” option, designed to keep the cost of a policy down through the policy holder paying a percentage of the cost of each treatment.

Is alternative medicine covered?

Yes. Commonly referred to as complementary medicine, alternative medicines include but are not limited to, homeopathic treatment, osteopathy, chiropractic treatments, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and acupuncture. Some insurers will also provide coverage for ayurvedic medical treatment.

Whilst such treatment is often sought, these aren’t considered standard medical interventions and therefore insurers place limits on the level of cover. If alternative medicine is an important element to your insurance needs, please contact us for the most suitable options.

Are sports activities covered under international health insurance policies?

Global Albatross works with professional and amateur athletes as well as recreational sportspersons.

International policies usually cover participation in sporting activities as long as the individual isn’t being paid to participate. There are however some insurers that don’t cover injuries arising from any sporting activities, so as an expatriate, if you intend to play any type of sport it is important to clarify this aspect of a policy, otherwise you could be exposed to significant financial risk.

Global Albatross specialises in protecting professional athletes, covering any illnesses or injuries long term, including injuries sustained while competing.

Will international health insurance cover me in my home country?

The majority of insurers that Global Albatross works with do provide cover in your home country for holidays or extended stays. The length varies between insurers from 60 to 180 days or up to the renewal date of a policy.

An international health insurance policy is designed to cover policy holders outside their home country.

Because we know the fine print, you are welcome to get in touch to clarify the extent of your coverage for temporary visits to your home country.

Medical emergencies and repatriation

What is emergency evacuation and how does it apply to me?

Cover for emergency evacuation means that in the event you are ill or injured and the medical facility you are located in does not have the capacity and/or capability to deliver the required treatment, then you will be evacuated to a medical facility that is capable.

Evacuation can cover the entire spectrum of transportation to another medical provider, to a different facility in the same city, another city, or another country. If the illness or injury is life-threatening, evacuation will always be to the nearest suitable facility, either in the same country, if such a facility exists, or to a different country with the capabilities to save your life. An evacuation is usually initiated after consultation between a treating doctor and the insurer’s medical team.

While many insurers build medical evacuation into their in-patient plans, some offer evacuation as an add-on to their policy. Likewise, some brokers remove this benefit from their quotes, (for insurers that provide it as an option) in order to provide a lower premium and “win the business”. This exposes expats to huge financial risk.

At Global Albatross, we always provide a quote for cover which includes this fundamental benefit within the policy. It can be removed if requested.

What is repatriation cover?

Repatriation is a return flight to your country of residence following a medical evacuation and is usually built into the emergency evacuation benefit under a policy.

This is an important aspect to consider when choosing a policy, because if you choose to exclude this, you are responsible for paying your own way home if you are medically evacuated to another city or country for some reason. Global Albatross recommends such benefits be included in policies.

Is travel insurance sufficient cover for me as an expatriate?

The short answer is no. Don’t get us wrong, we love travel insurance, but it’s not medical cover for expats. Travel insurance is designed to cover travellers between specific travel dates. If you are ill or injured and need urgent medical care, travel cover will initially treat you, but this illness or injury then becomes a pre-existing condition and is excluded under the next travel policy. And, if the travel cover expires while you are receiving medical treatment, this presents some significant challenges.

If you suffer an emergency and the travel insurer ultimately returns you to your home country, you won’t get shipped back to your new expat country of residence, meaning you will need to fund the cost of your flights back again, along with any ongoing medical care you require. You’ll also need to purchase a new policy, for which your injury or illness will be treated as pre-existing, prompting travel policy premium loadings or exclusions.

Travel polices do not offer continued cover upon your return home either, therefore also paying out-of-pocket for further medical treatment or placed on hospital waiting lists.

Taking a travel policy exposes expatriates to significant and unjustifiable risks. As an expatriate, it is important you protect your future health, wellbeing and job prospects by remaining healthy and in the country you choose to make your expat home.

An international health insurance policy is endlessly mobile and will continue to cover any medical conditions you develop or injuries you receive, as long as you pay the annual premium. Because Global Albatross can find highly competitive options on international health insurance policies, there is no reason to expose yourself to significant risks in order to skimp on the insurance cost. Let us help instead.

We’ve also put together some tips for expats heading abroad in case you want to check them out.

Maternity and family

What is covered by maternity insurance?

Maternity cover can be either an add-on benefit or built into some medical insurance policies. Cover includes routine pre-natal care, specialist fees, hospital charges, midwife fees, delivery including emergency c-section, postnatal care, new-born care and typically the life of the newly arrived for the first 30 – 90 days.

Complications of pregnancy and those arising during childbirth are also covered, with pregnancy complications usually being covered by the in-patient policy. Read more about maternity insurance in this article we wrote.

What is a wait limit or wait period for maternity insurance?

A wait period is a timeframe stipulated by the insurer under which they will not cover any expenses related to pregnancy. The wait period can vary between insurers, anywhere from 8 – 24 months, but because policy limitations differ between insurers, it is important to ask our advice on the best solution for your situation, needs and budget.

I'm already pregnant, can I still get insurance for maternity costs?

First of all, congratulations! Secondly, yes, even if you are pregnant, we can still get some level of cover for you. Pregnancy is viewed as a pre-existing condition if you become pregnant before a policy is purchased, but options are still available, so please get in touch to discuss your individual situation.

I keep seeing "Family Health Insurance" on blogs and other sites. What is it?

There is no such thing as a “family” policy. Global Albatross works with some insurers that provide family discounts if a parent and one or more children are on the policy, or two parents and one or more children.

Some insurers also offer a family deductible, which is a set amount the family pays per year. Medical treatment that any family member receives contributes to satisfying the family excess amount, usually set at between $100 and $1000. Once that total amount is met, all further treatment received by any of the family members is paid by the insurer in full, up to the limits of the policy.

Contact us to determine which policy and excess options provide the best value for money for your particular situation.

Treatment and claims

Can I get medical treatment anywhere in the world?

If the area of cover stipulated in your policy is “Worldwide including USA” then yes, you can receive treatment at any licensed medical facility, or from any licensed practitioner in the world.

If you choose a “Worldwide excluding USA” policy, then you can receive treatment anywhere in the world, at any licensed medical facility, or from any licensed practitioner, except in the USA.

Is there a wait period before I can claim treatment costs?

Generally not. Most insurers allow treatment from the start of the policy. A small number of insurers do apply a 30-day wait-period for any non-urgent care, but of course any treatment required during that time that is due to an accident is covered. 

One thing to note is that if you receive treatment within the first few months or so for a condition that could be considered to have developed over a period of time, insurers tend to ask for historical medical records to determine if the condition is pre-existing or not.

It is important not to prejudice oneself in such instances, and this is where having a broker such as Global Albatross is important. We keep a close eye on insurers who attempt to look back into medical records and therefore manage the flow of information between the medical facility and the insurer.

We also challenge decisions that are unexpected and push for correct outcomes. We consistently turn claims decisions around.

Do I need to pay for medical treatment upfront?

This depends on the type of policy you have and whether your insurer has a network or third-party administrator that manages the direct-billing.

Insurers in Hong Kong, China, Singapore and Malaysia provide cashless out-patient direct-billing, meaning you can receive treatment at a medical facility that operates within their network and the cost of treatment will be paid by the insurer directly to the medical facility, as long as the treatment is covered under the policy.

Elsewhere and without a direct-billing network, payment is usually made by the policy holder to the medical facility of choice, and then claimed from the insurer.

Many insurers require pre-authorisation for treatment costs above $500, which means that the insurer needs to be made aware of the treatment prior to it being received, as this enables insurers to plan for high-cost treatment and ensure the cost of care is at industry or market rates. If you hold this type of policy, Global Albatross takes over the pre-authorisation work for you, managing the flow of information and any additional information requests in order the authorisation is actioned and confirmed received by the medical facility ahead of the planned treatment.

When a policy-holder receives emergency care or is admitted to hospital either unexpectedly or for planned treatment, the policy holder effectively requires “in-patient” care, which means any treatment costs are paid directly by the insurer to the medical facility. Upon receiving medical reports, a guarantee of payment (GOP) letter is sent by the insurer to the treating medical facility confirming they will cover the estimated costs. If an excess is stated on the policy, this is usally paid directly to the medical facility by the policy holder.

Which currency will my claim be reimbursed in, and how long will it take?

International insurers will usually refund you in the currency of your choice. The length of time it takes for an insurer to process and pay a claim can vary depending on the insurer and the complexity of the claim. Standard processing time can be anywhere between a few days and four weeks.

Global Albatross ensures we get across claims early so that we determine if insurers have all the information they need in order to complete processing and ensure that clients do not prejudice the claim if further information is requested.

We regularly push for prompt refunds to be paid ahead of standard processing timeframes. We also hold insurers to account, and routinely challenge their decisions. As a result, we consistently overturn declined claims through applying expert knowledge of policies and their fine print.

Global Albatross takes the unknown out of insurance claims, so let us help by assigning us as your broker.

Pre-existing conditions

What is a pre-existing condition?

This is a condition you received advice on, experienced symptoms of, or took medication for prior to starting your insurance plan. Global Albatross specialises in finding solutions for those with pre-existing conditions, so get in touch to discuss your individual situation.

Can I get cover for my pre-existing condition(s)?

Each insurer assesses risk differently. Some exclude conditions altogether; some cover minor conditions and others will cover high-cost conditions by applying a “loading” or additional premium to cover the risk of claims being made in relation to the condition. The medical conditions they determine will be covered depend on a number of factors, such as the severity of the condition, the duration of which symptoms have been experienced, when symptoms were last experienced, if treatment or medication is still being taken.

We take pride in our ability to find solutions for clients, challenge and negotiate underwriting terms, and successfully secure cover for high-cost conditions. Read more about how we have helped our clients, or get in touch to discuss your individual situation.

If I purchase international health insurance cover and return home six months into the policy, will I be reimbursed?

This depends on the insurer and whether any claims have been paid out since inception of the policy. Global Albatross works with insurers that reimburse the unused portion of premiums to specified levels.

My insurance premium keeps increasing, how do I control my premium?

There are several methods we use in order to ensure that premiums remain competitive and policies respond to your changing needs.

  • Plan design – it is important that you have the correct plan design that matches your needs and budget, and we are confident we can find you a plan design to give you that peace of mind you need.
  • Excess/deductible – Selecting an excess other than zero will reduce your premium. The amount the premium reduces by varies between insurers. Each insurer has an excess that is the best-value-for-money-point, so contact Global Albatross to discuss the combination most suitable for your individual situation.
  • In Hong Kong, China and Singapore – insurers that have registered products in these countries can offer a range of plan features, excess variations, and network levels that you can select to control your premium, such as excluding high-cost medical facilities from cover, private room versus semi-private room, out-patient co-pays, high cost facility co-pays. Let us help you determine the best options available for your situation, needs and budget.