Top considerations when planning international health insurance

Top considerations when planning international health insurance

Health plans come in many shapes and sizes, but how do you know what’s right for your business and your employees when they’re working abroad? The devil is in the detail when it comes to planning health insurance for a global workforce, so it pays to get the right advice from an industry expert.
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The fact is, there’s a lot to consider. While cost determines the level of cover and benefits that can be provided, this shouldn’t stop companies from taking the plunge and buying a health plan. That’s because business health insurance today is less expensive than you’d think. And there’s a simple reason why - companies are no longer locked into products they don’t need and instead have the flexibility to choose the tools and services that best meet their requirements. While this applies to home-based employees too, it’s particularly important in relation to expatriates and the complexities of living and working away from home.

Because health plans are more affordable, your budget goes that bit further. This is good news, especially for small businesses looking to buy a plan for the first time or achieve more from their investment in healthcare.

Here are some of the factors employers should consider when weighing up their health plan options.

The healthcare system in the country of residence

The employee’s new country of residence is an important consideration and here’s why. The quality and availability of healthcare vary around the world – some systems operate effectively, while others struggle to meet demand. If health services are expensive, inadequate or unavailable, then your staff may not get the care they’re looking for. Another complication is that they may not be entitled to free or subsidised care in the host country. With this uncertainty, expats need a reliable alternative – a company health plan.

As healthcare systems are a reflection of a country’s wealth and GDP, it’s no surprise that the world’s richest countries and territories rank highly consistently. Trusted sources such as the World Health Organisation regularly publish their findings, with countries across Europe and the Far East featuring strongly. In comparison, healthcare in many developing countries is among the poorest because these systems lack investment. As a result, the health infrastructure is weak and demand for services outstrips resources on a massive scale. While it’s an inescapable fact that such differences exist throughout the world, the disparity reminds us that company health insurance is the only way to provide certainty and ensure that the well-being of employees is not compromised.

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The assignment journey

With a typical international assignment lasting anything from one to three years, health plans have to reflect the reality of the expatriate life. Think of it as a journey with four distinct phases: Pre-departure preparation and planning; early days and the challenge of living in a new country; day-to-day life during the assignment; and returning home and the repatriation process.

Each phase of the journey can impact employees in different ways. While some may take the whole thing in their stride, others might find it all too much and struggle to cope with the uncertainty of being away from home and the demands of a new job. Initial excitement can sometimes give way to homesickness and feelings of isolation as real life kicks in. While it’s impossible to predict every eventuality, by designing a plan around the unique challenges employees might face along the way, services can have a greater impact and costs controlled more easily.

At the pre-departure stage, everything is centred on making sure employees leave for their new life abroad in the best possible health. Data from online assessments identifies if there are any underlying health risks and confirms the medical needs of employees and their families. The emphasis shifts to resilience, early intervention and preventative care during the early days of the assignment as resources focus on making the transition as stress-free as possible. Existing medical conditions can be managed more easily using digital tools and apps and there’s a strong emphasis on mental health too, with counselling and psychiatric care offered through the International Employee Assistance Programme. With services such as Global Telehealth and the Cigna Wellbeing® App, staff can become more proactive in monitoring their health and improving their lifestyle. And as the assignment ends and employees return home, they have the peace of mind knowing that their health plan will provide uninterrupted cover throughout the repatriation phase.

By designing health plans in this way, services and resources can be targeted accurately and prove more effective in helping employees manage their physical and mental health and cope with the challenges of working away from home.

Globally compliant healthcare solutions

We live in an increasingly regulated world and for Cigna Healthcare and other providers, this means our products and services must comply with exacting country-specific rules and regulations before they can be sold. This is a key consideration with company health plans, particularly when the job takes employees to the four corners of the world. Our plans are globally compliant and we have sales capability in more than 30 countries and jurisdictions through local licences and partnership agreements. And because Cigna Healthcare has a Global License base, we can also develop insurance solutions in other countries where there are specific compliance restrictions.

Local knowledge goes a long way. We employ around 200 legal compliance and privacy experts who are based around the world. This gives us an understanding of what’s happening on the ground in different territories and how regulatory changes could impact the delivery of our services. When the ultimate goal of healthcare compliance is the provision of safe, high-quality patient care, international employees can be assured that their health is in good hands.

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Whole Health programmes to improve employee well-being

Living and working away from home can be challenging - that’s only to be expected. However, when things get too much, employees may struggle to cope and their health will suffer as a result. The scale of the problem is concerning, with findings from our 2022 360° Global Well-being Study: Exhausted by work – the employer opportunity reporting that 90% of employees admitted to being stressed and 98% experiencing symptoms of burnout. And let’s not forget financial uncertainty, which for many employees is a constant worry in their lives. These are probably the reasons why 73% said they were currently re-evaluating their life goals to enjoy a better life-work balance.

Given the reality of expat life, the well-being benefits provided in company health plans are now considered invaluable. They are instrumental in helping employers create a corporate culture that prioritises health and supports employees working abroad. This is particularly important in relation to mental health. With the right tools and services – and plenty of encouragement in the workplace – staff can manage their health and well-being with a more positive mindset and be better prepared to take preventative action to stop problems from escalating.

We provide Whole Health solutions for expatriate and home-based employees. With our popular Cigna Wellbeing® App, they can tap into the Global Telehealth service and a range of online resources including personalised wellness coaching programmes, health and well-being assessments, biometrics tracking and counselling programmes. With these and many other useful tools, employees can find the care they need, manage their health and change their lifestyle behaviour from anywhere in the world.


If you’d like to discover more about our health plans, talk to us today. We are responsible for the healthcare requirements of over 180 million customers and patients worldwide and lead the market in developing cost-effective, sustainable plans that can be customised to include the products, services and tools each client needs.

Cigna Connect is our latest solution. Designed for small businesses, our Connect plans fill a gap in the market for simple, affordable and flexible health insurance that offers outstanding cover and great value for money.

Discover what makes Cigna Connect the choice of SMEs around the world

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