Expat Health Insurance 101

Recently I was in Peru and went white-water rafting for the first time. It wasn’t particularly dangerous, but bangs, scrapes, and a dunk in the water are always a possibility. I didn’t worry, though: In the unlikely event that I sustained an injury, there was a good hospital nearby—and I have health insurance to cover it.

Health insurance—qualifying for it, paying for it, and keeping it—is one of the biggest worries we hear about from folks in the U.S. But since I moved abroad it hasn’t been a problem for me. And if you’re thinking of moving abroad, it likely doesn’t have to be a problem for you, either. As an expat, you’ll have a range of health care solutions available to you. Your choice is deciding which option (or options) makes the most sense for your situation.

My health insurance plan back in New York, for instance, wouldn’t have covered me outside the U.S. This is pretty common with U.S. health insurance. In fact, I’d have paid a healthy premium if I’d had to use medical services outside New York. Again, this isn’t unusual with U.S. plans.

That’s not the case with my health insurance in Mexico. My plan here covers me not only throughout Mexico, but abroad as well—whether I’m in Tampa, Toulouse, or Timbuktu. I travel a lot, so this is important to me.

Plus, if I pay out-of-pocket for some procedures, that’s no biggie, either. In Latin America, for instance—where I mostly travel—medical care across the board costs about a quarter to a half of what you’d pay in the States. These days I pay about $35 out-of-pocket to see a specialist in Mexico—which is possibly less than my co-pay would be if I were still in the U.S.

Even in Europe—which many people tsk-tsk as being expensive—health care costs can be affordable. Last summer I went to the doctor in Spain. He sent the bill back to my Mexican insurance company, but I saw the charge: 60 euros—about $84 at the time.

I don’t generally worry about quality of care, either. In the countries International Living covers regularly, excellent doctors and hospitals tend to be the rule, rather than the exception. Most expats find their health care abroad at least as good as what they had back home—and often more accessible.

Admittedly, if you have a rare health condition, moving abroad is not something to do on a whim. You may well be better off with your existing doctors, who know your situation.

But for most of us, the answer is simpler: Don’t let health care hold you back if you want to move abroad.

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