Global expat insurance explained

Global Expat Health Insurance: What it is, and how it works

International expat health insurance can give you and your family access to quality medical care wherever you are in the world.

International expat health insurance can give you and your family access to quality medical care wherever you are in the world.
There are many reasons why we might pack up and find greener pastures abroad. Some may make the move to pursue attractive new roles overseas. Others yet may desire a new pace of life or personal adventure.
So, whether work has taken you abroad or you’re moving your family for a new lease of life, you’re likely to have to consider a variety of new issues in your destination.
One such topic will be your healthcare. Not everywhere has a healthcare system like the one you’ll be used to. Ensuring you can protect the health of you and your loved ones and that you can access the local system is likely to be one of the first items on your new home to-do list.
Learn more about how health insurance works for expats and what a policy covers so you can jump into life abroad with both feet.

What is global expat health insurance?

If you’re an expat living abroad, international expat health insurance can give you extensive medical cover wherever you are in the world. International health insurance is different from travel insurance, as it can help cover the cost of both routine and emergency medical care while you live outside your country of citizenship.

Different countries have different types of healthcare systems, including those financed by taxes, employment, or via an out-of-pocket system paid for by the consumer. Depending on which country you live in abroad, it may even be a legal requirement for expats to have health insurance.

It’s key to understand exactly how you’ll be able to access healthcare services should you need them, and how much it could cost if you weren’t insured. This is where international expat health insurance excels, opening the door to a high standard of healthcare no matter where you are. Expat health insurance is an inclusive safety net for you and your family to live your life abroad without restriction.


How does expat medical insurance work?

International expat health insurance works by limiting how much you would otherwise have to pay for expensive medical care abroad. Here’s how it will typically look when you arrange for services and make a claim:

  1. You’ll find and sign up for a health plan that fits your needs.

  2. Then, when you need treatment or health services, you’ll contact your insurer.

  3. They’ll liaise with good quality healthcare providers near you to arrange guarantee of payment and check that the treatment is covered by your policy.

  4. You’ll use the medical facilities, whether it’s a hospital or a clinic.

  5. Your insurer will either pay your medical provider directly , reimburse your provider via an invoice, or you may be reimbursed after paying the costs yourself.

The regular upkeep and terms of your health insurance can vary depending on the provider and the plan you choose. This is often how health insurance works in a nutshell:

    • You’ll pay a premium, which is usually a monthly fee to keep up your insurance plan.

    • You may have a deductible. This is a sum of money that you would have to contribute to medical services each year before your health plan helps to pay. You can often choose how much you’d like this to be, which can influence the cost of your premiums.

    • After you meet your deductible, you’ll share the costs with your health plan. This is called ‘coinsurance’, where you’ll agree to pay a share of eligible costs that equal 100 percent. For instance, your coinsurance contribution could be 20 percent, which means your health plan would cover the other 80 percent of your medical services.

    • Routine care usually costs nothing. Compared to the large fees it could cost if you had to pay for services abroad on your own, preventative healthcare is often covered for you. This may include medical services such as check-ups, flu shots, children’s vaccinations and some types of wellness screenings.

    • Some plans may require copayments. Depending on your insurance plan, this is a flat fee you might have to pay at the time of your medical visit or when you pick up a prescription. Copays cover your portion of the cost of the medical care.

What does international health insurance cover?

You can often customise your health insurance plan with a range of optional benefits. What you pay for yourself and what your insurance will cover can depend on various factors, such as :

  • Whether you’ve met your yearly deductible

  • What percentage your coinsurance is

  • If you’re getting more affordable care from in-network healthcare providers

  • The type of health service or treatment

Your health insurance plan may include:



Dental cover can help you pay for regular preventative appointments and check-ups. It can also help reduce the cost of more serious treatments while living abroad.

Emergency treatment

Plans can vary, but most health plans don’t require you to visit in-network emergency rooms. Your insurance plan may cover some of the cost of an ambulance ride, though you’ll have to check your agreed terms.

You may also have the option to visit urgent care centres rather than the ER.

Hospital stays

Essential hospital stays are often included in core healthcare plans, which may include hospital accommodation, as well as surgeon and consultation fees.

Preventative visits

Annual check-ups are usually covered when you visit in-network care services. This can include adults and children.



Some health insurance plans may cover 100 percent of the cost of annual and child vaccinations.

Non-preventative visits

When something feels wrong  and you need to visit a doctor, this is considered non-preventative care. So, that’s anything that isn’t a routine visit and may require a medical diagnosis.

Usually, you may get a reduced rate when you visit in-network doctors and consultants. Your plan will help pay for these once you meet your deductible.

Lab work

The cost of lab work from in-network medical providers will usually be lower than going elsewhere.

Virtual care

Some insurance providers also include virtual care services, which can give you 24/7 access to licensed doctors and dentists for minor health issues. It can also help connect you to mental health practitioners.

Who is international health insurance for?

International health insurance is for anyone working and living abroad for an extended period, or where your employer does not provide health insurance as part of your contract. Professionals, families and students can benefit from health insurance for expats, giving access to worldwide healthcare at the drop of a hat.

  • Working expats. If you’ve moved countries for work and you’re not yet a legal resident or citizen.

  • Digital nomads. If you travel from place to place while working remotely or as a freelancer.

  • Seasonal worker. If you’re in short-term employment abroad and wish to access a broad range of high-quality healthcare.

  • Students. Get international coverage while studying abroad.

  • Retirees. Enjoy peace of mind with international healthcare wherever you settle down for retirement.

Healthcare standards are known to vary widely in different countries. When you move abroad, medical treatment may be different compared to what you’re used to from home. It may be less convenient too.

What’s more, as foreign nationals, you and your household are not likely to be entitled to any free or subsidised healthcare. Expat health insurance can help bridge the gap.

How much is international expat insurance?

The cost of international expat insurance can differ based on your individual needs, as well as a few other influencing factors:

  • Age. Usually, the older you are, the more likely you are to need healthcare services, which can affect your premiums.

  • Medical history. Your personal health will be accounted for in the cost of your insurance plan, which may or may not include pre-existing conditions.

  • Level of cover. Naturally, the more coverage you need, the more it may cost.

  • Benefits included. Adding extra benefits to your plan can help make it more comprehensive, but it may add to the cost.

  • Location. Depending on where you live or work abroad, health insurance can be more expensive in some countries than others.


How to get international expat insurance?

The application process for securing international expat insurance can vary depending on the provider. You’ll often be asked to provide your:

  • Location

  • Name

  • Date of birth

  • Nationality

  • Medical history

This will then be repeated for any family members you wish to include on your health plan.


Get global care on demand wherever the adventure lies with Cigna Healthcare.

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Live life to the full overseas and learn more about expat health insurance with our Cigna Healthcare blog.


Expat health insurance and travel insurance are not the same. Expat insurance can give you medical cover for a long period of time when you’re living or working abroad. Travel insurance can give you emergency cover for short trips away.

Expat health insurance is an important consideration when it comes to spending long periods of time abroad. You’ll need to make sure you can access medical care should you need it, including affordable emergency services. Expat health insurance can make sure you receive the best possible healthcare to take care of your needs.

When you sign up for international expat health insurance, your insurance provider can connect you to quality health and medical services nearby as part of your service package. Cigna Healthcare is part of a global organisation with unrivalled support in more than 200 markets worldwide.