It’s tempting to believe that medical insurance and travel insurance would combine to give you medical cover when you travel. Tempting, but I’m afraid also completely erroneous. If you spend much time abroad, you should insist on good International Medical Insurance, either at your own expense or at the expense of your employer.
Can’t I just use the local health system?
A few travellers hope to make do without International Medical Insurance, by using the healthcare system of the country they are living in.
This really isn’t a good option, even if you will be staying in a country like the United Kingdom or one of the Scandinavian countries, somewhere with a reputation for free healthcare.
‘Why?’, you ask. The reason is that, even if a country offers good medical care to its own citizens, it will generally not offer the same privilege to resident aliens.
The governments of these countries are well aware of the danger of so-called “health tourism”, where the ill come from across the world to take advantage of their generosity.
As if this wasn’t enough, there is a second problem. Being a non-citizen, it will be much harder for you to get even treatment that you are entitled to under the rules in some country.
The language barrier is the first hurdle. Doctors quite rightly don’t want to treat anybody unless they are certain that they understand what’s going on – neither they nor the hospitals want to be held responsibel for mistreatment due to translation problems. And once you’ve surmounted that, there is a truly incredible amount of form-filling to deal with.
So – even if your local friends swear by the state medical system, don’t try to follow in their footsteps. Be sure that you have good International Medical Insurance.
Different styles for different folks
International Medical Insurance is essential for many different groups of people. Naturally, each of these groups will need something tailored specifically to their needs.
Medical insurance for the long haul
First, there are the long-term expatriates. These people should look for an International Medical Insurance package that covers the same needs as they would have at home. Unlike other groups, they should be looking for a package that includes pro-active care – checkups, health advice, and the like.
This group subdivides again, into individuals and those supported by a company. Individuals are often long-term residents in some country, speaking the local language and being familiar with the culture.
In this case, they might be willing to consider a package which involes treatment in local hospitals, without any specific provision for repatriation in the case of disease.
That kind of International Medical Insurance package tends to be cheaper, but is not so suitable for expatriates supported by a company.
Companies can get a better deal by buying insurance for all their employees (or all their international employees) at once, which usually involves one of the big international providers instead of a country-specific International Medical Insurance package.
Our second group of International Medical Insurance customers are those who spend most of their time in the United States, but travel abroad for short periods of time (perhaps a few weeks, or even a few months).
For this group it makes sense to keep paying for medical insurance within the USA as the primary form of health cover, and to buy a separate package for International Medical Insurance.
This International Medical Insurance will not need to cover the full range of treatments – that’s what their standard medical insurance is for.
But it should provide excellent emergency care, and quick transport back to the United States in the case of a medical emergency.
If you are buying this kind of package, look for a deal which guarantees that you will be treated by doctors who speak fluent English: this is something that is essential for your well-being, and I would advise you to avoid any International Medical Insurance provider who cannot cope with such a requirement.
The last big group are those fortunate people who can describe themselves with that old French tag ‘citoyen du monde’ – world citizens.
They may not be resident in any one country long enough to build up a good relationship with the local medical services, but at the same time they cannot rely on a medical package at home to deal with their long-term care.
People who fall into this group of International Medical Insurance customers come from all sorts of professional backgrounds: those working in sales for international companies, those working for international agencies, footloose writers and so on.
These people are good candidates for one of the more complete International Medical Insurance packages – something that will provide a complete equivalent to the care offered in a standard domestic medical insurance package.