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International health insurance

If you’re working or living abroad, you’ll want peace of mind that you have access to medical treatment if you or your family are ill or injured.

Amy Smith
Amy Smith
Updated 03 February 2021  | 4 mins read

Key points

  • If you’re moving abroad you’ll no longer be entitled to healthcare on the NHS
  • When taking out international health insurance, shop around for the right policy for you
  • The cost of international health insurance will vary, depending on your previous medical history and where you’re moving to

Planning to move abroad?

Reliable health insurance is always at the top of the to-do list, (along with finding a job and somewhere to live).

No matter the reason for your relocation to another country – emigrating, studying overseas, taking on a new job, retiring in the sun, or to be with friends and family – it can be a hugely rewarding experience, and one that you’ll want to be fully prepared for.

Your NHS entitlement

There are millions of Brits living abroad. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that 144,000 British citizens chose to emigrate in the year ending March 2020 alone.

If you’re moving abroad permanently you’ll no longer be automatically entitled to healthcare on the NHS because it's a residence-based system, available to people who pay National Insurance in the UK.

The only exception is if you’re only moving abroad to work for a set period of time.

But this only applies within Europe and can also depend on whether or not you receive UK benefits, like a state pension.

For more information, see the Moving abroad pages on the NHS website.

Healthcare options abroad

Healthcare across the world varies on a country-by-country basis.

Some places, like Spain, offer state-run healthcare similar to the NHS, which is available if you make National Insurance contributions in that country.

Other countries expect you to contribute all, or part, of the cost of any medical treatment you might need. 

Foreign nationals don’t automatically have access to free or subsidised healthcare.

In some cases, you need to have permanent residency, which could take years to finalise and this is why many expats opt to take out international health insurance.

You might also prefer to go private to skip the waiting list and access higher-end facilities.

And you can extend the policy to include maternity cover, dental, cancer and even repatriation if you'd instead prefer to return home for treatment.

To find out what the healthcare system is like in the country you’re moving to, take a look at the NHS's country-by-country guide.

What’s the difference between international medical insurance and travel insurance?

International health insurance covers you for both emergency and routine medical treatment in the country you’re living in long term. 

Travel insurance only covers health emergencies during a holiday or business trip, and it won’t pay for medical care that could wait until you return to the UK. 

The EHIC and GHIC

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) gave UK nationals access to healthcare on the same terms as locals in EU countries. The scheme ended in 2020 and you can't apply for an EHIC anymore. But if you have one already it's still valid until it expires.

You can now apply for a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) instead, which lets you access local healthcare in the same way.

But your EHIC or GHIC can only be used in EU countries and it won't have the range of cover that an international health insurance policy has.

Consider whether you'd benefit from taking out a health insurance policy, even if you are based in the EU and have an EHIC or GHIC. 

Most policies give you 24-hour access to a customer services helpline, so you’ll have the support you need, when you need it, and in a language that you understand

The benefits of international health insurance

One reason you might take out an international health insurance policy is because of its flexibility – you can often choose which doctor you see, the type of treatment you have, and where you have it.

In an emergency, your policy can also cover all transport costs and repatriation, if necessary. Cover isn’t restricted to the country you move to, either. 

Every policy is different, so it’s worth shopping around to find the one that best suits your needs.

With most comprehensive international health insurance policies, you can choose to return home for treatment, or go to another country where you regularly spend time.

How does international health insurance work?

Most international health insurance policies will cover you for a year at a time, and you usually pay for it monthly or annually.

Some policies will offer optional extras, such as cover for your dependents, dental care and/or pre-existing health conditions, but this will cost extra. 

If you fall ill or get injured, you’ll need to make a claim with your insurer within a certain time period. Someone else might be permitted to do it on your behalf if you’re unable to. 

Some policies require you to pay an amount towards your treatment – this is called an ‘excess’ or ‘deductible’. The insurer will then either settle the bill directly with the medical facility or you’ll have to pay the full amount yourself and it’ll reimburse you the cost, depending on what’s permitted. 

Things to bear in mind

It might be tempting to wait until you move abroad to sort out health insurance with a local insurance provider, particularly as premiums will tend to be cheaper.

The downside is that local insurance will rarely cover you outside your country of residence – so you wouldn’t be covered if you plan on returning home to visit, or if you’re travelling.

Local health insurance also doesn’t offer as much flexibility.

You’ll have little control over where and when you get treatment. There might also be communication barriers if you don’t speak the local language.

If you do take out international health insurance, make sure you check the annual and lifetime policy limits, and if there are any restrictions.

Some policies, for example, won’t accept applicants who are over 65, or who suffer from existing medical conditions, like high blood pressure or diabetes.

There are usually also restrictions if you’re relocating to an area of conflict, or where there might be high risk to your personal well-being or safety.

Finally, countries in the Gulf have minimum levels of cover, so carefully read the terms of any international health insurance policy to make sure that if you're in Dubai, Oman or somewhere else in the region, you're still protected.

See more

What you can expect to pay

The cost of international health insurance varies depending on your age, medical history and the type of cover you’re looking for.

It will also depend on which country you’re moving to.

Medical care in the USA, for example, can be expensive, so your premiums will reflect this.

How to buy overseas health insurance 

International health insurance is a specialist product, sometimes referred to as 'international private medical insurance' (IPMI) and it's provided by a number of larger and specialist insurers.

Although our comparison service can't help you with specialist international health insurance, our partner, ActiveQuote[1], can help you find a health insurance policy that can provide cover for shorter trips abroad.

Beware that overseas health insurance as part of a standard UK policy may only last for up to 70 days, under specialist conditions, so read the terms before signing up to a policy.

  1. Visit our health insurance page
  2. Click the 'Get quotes' button and answer a short questionnaire to browse the UK's top insurers and a variety of policies to suit your needs
  3. Scroll down to the 'Overseas cover' section and click the cross item to find out more details about cover abroad under each policy

Guides on health insurance

[1]Gocompare.com introduces customers to ActiveQuote which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Gocompare.com's relationship with ActiveQuote is limited to that of a business partnership, no common ownership or control rights exist between us. Please note, we cannot be held responsible for the content of external websites and by using the links stated to access these separate websites you will be subject to the terms of use applying to those sites.

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