Video: Covering the (Low) Cost of Health Care Abroad

Now and again I post a query on one of International Living’s Facebook pages, asking people about their experiences with health care either at home or abroad. It’s a topic that always hits a nerve—everyone, it seems, has a beef about how expensive U.S. health care has become, or a story about excellent, affordable care abroad.

I have a few stories along those lines myself. For instance, I cut my thumb badly—enough to need stitches—shortly after moving to Mexico a few years ago. The bill at the local clinic: $5 (and I was moved to the head of the line in the emergency room).

The most I’ve ever paid for a doctor’s visit in Mexico is about $45. He was an ophthalmologist in Mérida near the Star Médica Hospital. He had a swank office and state-of-the-art equipment, so clearly he was making a good living off his fees.

And that’s important to keep in mind: In countries where everything else costs less than in the U.S., health care does, too. Without compromising quality. That’s why, in many countries of Asia and Latin America, expats can afford to pay cash for health care.



But paying out of pocket is only one of the ways expats can choose to cover their health care expenses overseas. Here are just a few of the options full-time expats consider:

Buying international, private health insurance. Expats who travel a lot from country to country (for instance, expats who live in Asia and travel a lot throughout the region) or who have homes in several countries may choose to buy an international health insurance plan that covers them all over the world.

Buying country-specific, private health insurance. Expats who aren’t globetrotters may prefer a plan that gives them in-depth coverage in the country they live in. National insurance companies offer these… And you can usually get a rider to cover international travel outside the base country—including back to the U.S. or Canada.

In some countries, such as Panama and Uruguay, top hospitals may offer membership plans that act like private insurance. Members get discounts—often substantial ones—off the cost of health care services that are performed in the hospital.

Opting into a country’s nationalized health service. Many Latin American and European countries have universal health coverage for citizens and residents of those countries. In many cases, expats who hold a valid residence visa for the country can opt into these plans. Sometimes you must pay a monthly fee to the country’s health service. In other countries you pay for services rendered, rather like a co-pay.

Of course, many expats choose to take advantage of more than one option, depending on their specific circumstances. And part-time expats may want to consider other options altogether.

But the bottom line: There are many ways to receive—and pay for—your health care when you move abroad.

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