We often get asked by expatriates if they should simply buy travel insurance instead of an international policy.

The situation and needs for expatriates differ wildly to those for which travel policies were designed.

Expatriates choose to live outside their native country for a period of time, away from familiar support networks. From an insurance standpoint, that time frame is usually for 12 months or more.

Those embarking on travel however, usually undertake shorter trips, returning to their native country in between.

So, is travel insurance sufficient cover for expatriates… ?

The short answer is no! Don’t get us wrong, we love travel insurance, and we have plenty of clients that use it from time to time but, it’s not international medical cover.

What is travel insurance designed for?

Travel insurance is designed to provide cover between specific travel dates and within a specified geographical area. When an individual is ill or injured and needs urgent medical care, travel insurance covers the initial cost of treatment.

But this illness or injury then becomes a pre-existing condition. It is therefore excluded under the next travel policy purchased. Significant challenges can also arise when the travel cover expires while medical treatment is being rendered.

Travel insurance can end up costing more in out-of-pocket expenses.

If an emergency occurs, travel insurance is designed to treat and if necessary, return the patient to the health system within their home country. If this occurs, the travel insurer will not pay for anything further as the health system becomes responsible for ongoing care. The insurer wont cover the cost of returning an expat to their chosen country of residence and as a result, the cost of flights back to the country from which they were evacuated need to be personally funded. Similarly, any ongoing medical care needs to be paid out-of-pocket. This becomes an extremely costly undertaking, and ultimately forces an unintended end to an expatriate’s overseas experience.

A new travel policy can be difficult to arrange in the event the policy has expired and an expatriate has remained overseas. This is because very few travel insurers allow policies to be purchased after a trip has commenced. Likewise, insurers exclude cover for some nationalities and destinations, such as American’s living overseas who want to take a short trip home to the States, making securing cover difficult.

Where a new travel policy is purchased, any injury or illness previously experienced is treated as pre-existing. This results in premium loading or a multitude of exclusions, usually for life. This is particularly so if emergency medical treatment was involved. This means increased costs and decreased cover available to the expat.

Likewise, travel polices do not offer continued cover upon returning home, therefore further medical treatment must be paid out-of-pocket. And if the individual goes back into a public health system, they are then subjected to hospital wait lists.

Why is an international policy important?

Attempting to use a travel policy instead of international cover, exposes expatriates to significant and unjustifiable risks. As an expatriate, it is important to protect future health, well-being and job prospects. This means remaining healthy and in the country chosen as an expat home.

Because an international health insurance policy is endlessly mobile, it continues to cover injuries or medical conditions, so long as the annual premium is paid.

There is no good reason to expose oneself to significant risks in order to skimp on insurance costs. Attempting to use a travel policy to cover the medical costs that expatriates often face, usually ends up costing more in terms of initial outlay, lack of cover, out-of-pocket expenses, time and opportunity.

To discuss possible insurance options get in touch, or for answers to more questions, burning or otherwise, check out our FAQs.