Statistics show a growing need for expat to arrange adequate medical insurance cover. For instance, there are 3,689 cases of Britons being hospitalised abroad in a year, according to figures from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO).

Although British consulates throughout the world will try to assist any British citizens who fall ill or are injured while abroad, they will not cover the cost of local medical treatment and/or repatriation.

This is why the FCO advises Britons abroad to make sure they have adequate travel and medical insurance in place before they travel.

International Medical Insurance

Those who are going abroad on holiday for relatively short periods will find that a good travel insurance policy will provide adequate health cover. But if you are going to work abroad for an extended period travel insurance alone will not provide complete cover. You will need to have medical insurance in place.

International medical insurance is aimed at people who are working or living abroad for an extended period of time. This type of plan is generally paid annually in advance and the cover can then be reduced depending on budget. Repatriation or emergency evacuation benefit is a common feature of expat insurance policies, although some insurers will only provide this cover if the country in which the policyholder has fallen ill/been injured does not have the facilities for treatment.

Although some comprehensive health insurance policies will cover you for medical expenses incurred abroad, you should certainly not assume that your health insurance policy does.

Be careful too that many international medical policies will not cover you if you seek treatment while back in the UK. The NHS has tightened up its procedures covering non-residents returning home for free treatment, and if you seek medical attention while back in the UK you may be asked to pay for it. You may also find that you cannot fill prescriptions.

Primarily aimed at preventing so-called ‘health tourists’ benefiting from NHS medical treatment, these rules can also affect UK nationals living and working abroad who may want to return to the UK for hospital treatment.

Under the current rules, the government states that ‘anyone who spends more than three months living outside the UK is no longer automatically entitled to free NHS hospital treatment in England.  Whether someone remains entitled depends on the nature of your residence abroad’.

There are various exemptions to these rules, but expats are advised to check the Department of Health website for further information and to see how their particular situation applies. For example, if an expat goes to live permanently (or for more than three months each year) in another European Economic Area member state (EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and becomes an ‘insured’ resident of that member state, then they will be entitled to ‘all necessary treatment’ free of charge when they are visiting the UK.

With some international medical insurance policies, but not all, if an expat is resident abroad and returns to the UK, they are covered for UK treatment. In fact, only a few insurers in this market provide this coverage. It is very important for expats to ask themselves whether they expect to have to return to the UK for medical treatment. If so, they need to look specifically for policies which cover this eventuality.

If an expat is living in a part of the world where they simply do not have confidence in local medical facilities, policies which cover you both on assignment and back in the UK should be sought out.

If you have a ‘group’ medical policy provided by your employer you should also check whether this covers you back home in the UK as well as when you are on expat assignment. If not you may want to consider topping up the policy’s coverage.

For more information on international insurance, see our Glossary of terms and our Frequently Asked Questions page.

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