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International health insurance

If you’re planning to leave the UK to work or study abroad, or you’ve set your sights on emigrating or retiring to the sun, international health insurance is likely to be a must-have. We explain how it works, what it covers and when to use it.

If you’re planning to leave the UK to work or study abroad, or you’ve set your sights on emigrating or retiring to the sun, international health insurance is likely to be a must-have. We explain how it works, what it covers and when to use it.

Written by
Mubina Pirmohamed
Insurance expert
6 min read
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What is international health insurance? 

If you’re planning a move abroad, getting international health insurance, also known as international private medical insurance (IPMI), should be on your to-do list. 

When you leave the UK, you’ll probably lose access to the free services provided by the NHS. That’s when international health insurance is worth thinking about. It can cover you for emergency and routine healthcare wherever you are in the world, and you can choose the policy that works for you, based on your needs and budget. 

Given that standards and medical services vary enormously from country to country, international health insurance is a simple way to make sure that you and your family get a good standard of healthcare, plus support, expert advice and the peace of mind that comes with them. 

Although you can’t compare international health insurance with us, Compare the Market’s international health insurance advice partner, Assured Futures, might be able to help. Contact them on 0808 169 4344. 

You’ll find out more below to help you choose the right policy for you, and anyone else who’ll be joining you on your new adventure overseas.

Do I need international health insurance? 

If you’re emigrating or heading for the sun to retire, or you’re studying or working overseas, international health insurance often makes sense or may even be a must-have.

In some countries, if you’re registered as a resident and paying social security, you’ll have access to state-run healthcare. Elsewhere, you may have to contribute to or pay for treatments in full. In other destinations, particularly those with very limited medical facilities, international health insurance is essential.   

There are other reasons for taking out international health insurance too. 

  • Permanent residency can take a long time to finalise. Health cover will tide you over while you wait.
  • It can give you access to medical specialists that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford or get an appointment with.
  • Getting a monthly bill gives you a fixed cost for healthcare, making it easier to budget and removing unpredictable costs, depending on the kind of cover you have. 

To find out more about the country you’re heading to, take a look at the guide provided by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)

There’s also advice on planning your healthcare abroad on the NHS website.

The GHIC and EHIC 

There’s another way to get free or subsided healthcare while you’re travelling within the EU, and that’s with a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC)

The GHIC replaces the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) scheme in most cases – although if you’ve got one of these EHIC cards it’s valid until the expiry date. After that you’ll need to apply for the GHIC which is free of charge. 

With a GHIC, UK nationals who become ill or have an accident while travelling in the EU have access to “medically necessary state-provided healthcare” in the country they’re in. This means medical care that can’t wait until you get back to the UK. 

The treatments covered by the GHIC include: 

  • Emergency treatments in A&E
  • Treatments for long-term or pre-existing conditions
  • Routine medical care for pre-existing conditions that need monitoring
  • Routine maternity care, although you can’t go abroad to give birth
  • Oxygen therapy and kidney dialysis

Do I need international health insurance if I have a GHIC? 

The GHIC isn’t a substitute for international health insurance. For a start, it’s only for short-term stays – usually up to 90 days – so if you’re emigrating, retiring or working abroad for a longer period it won’t be suitable for your whole stay. 

Although it covers you for some treatments in countries within the EU, you may have to pay for others, or make a contribution towards them. 

The card isn’t accepted in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, or any other countries outside the EU.  

It’s also intended to cover you for medical emergencies and some routine procedures, but there are a lot of associated healthcare costs that you won’t be able to claim for, including repatriation.

What does international health insurance cover? 

The level of cover you get from your international health insurance will depend on the insurance provider. However, you can expect to see some, or all, of the following, either as part of the basic plan, as optional extras or part of a more expensive policy: 

  • In-patient/day-care treatments
  • Out-patient treatments
  • Hospital accommodation
  • Coronavirus cover
  • Oncology (cancer treatment)
  • Emergency evacuation
  • 24-hour assistance
  • Cover for dependents
  • Repatriation
  • Chronic conditions
  • Cover while you’re travelling
  • Prescription drugs
  • Maternity/pregnancy care
  • Dental treatments
  • Opticians’ appointments and treatments
  • Your choice of specialist/hospital
  • Worldwide cover, including your home country. If the USA is included, it may increase the premium as healthcare is very expensive there. 

With many comprehensive international health insurance policies, you also have the option to include an excess – the amount you’re willing to pay yourself before you’d need the insurance to kick in and cover the rest. In most cases, the larger the excess, the lower the premiums.


What’s not included in international health insurance cover? 

Once again, your insurance provider makes the call on this, but the following may be excluded or limited by your policy: 

  • Cover for pre-existing medical conditions.
  • Any treatments you have that are against medical advice.
  • The cost of arranging treatment – for example, any phone calls you make.
  • Treatment to prevent rather than treat illness. 

Before you take out any international health insurance policy, always read the small print to make sure it’s giving you the level of cover you need.

How much is international health insurance and how often do I pay it 

The cost of international health insurance will vary depending on: 

  • The number of people covered
  • The age of those covered
  • Their medical history
  • The level of cover required
  • The insurance provider itself
  • The country you’re moving to.  

You usually have the choice of paying monthly, annually or, depending on the insurance provider, quarterly. There may be a discount for paying annually. 

There’s usually a cooling-off period from the policy start date, during which time you can cancel without paying a fee.

How do I make a claim? 

If you have an international health insurance policy and need to make a claim, there’s usually a timeframe in which to make your application – or in certain circumstances, someone may be able to make it for you. 

You’ll need to share your policy number and details of the situation.

Frequently asked questions

If I’m a British citizen living abroad – can I access NHS services?

If you’re no longer a UK resident, you will have lost your entitlement to NHS services. 

However, if you’re moving to an EU country, you might still have access to healthcare paid for by the UK. 

This is determined by whether: 

  • You’re planning to live abroad permanently or for a fixed time.
  • You receive a UK state pension or other benefits. 

Workers temporarily posted to an EU country, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, or Switzerland may also be entitled to UK-paid healthcare.

Do I need international health insurance if I have travel insurance?

The two are different. Travel insurance is usually for short-term trips abroad. It also covers you for non-healthcare related issues like lost luggage. It doesn’t include routine medical procedures or any treatments that can wait until you get back to the UK. 

International healthcare insurance is intended for longer periods of time. For example, if you’re making a permanent move overseas or planning to stay for at least a year, although there are some policies that cover shorter periods. It also only covers healthcare.

Are there discounts for international student health insurance?

You might be able to find a policy that offers a no-claims discount. However, depending on the insurance provider, there are other benefits that you might want to look out for. These can include added extras like destination guides, counselling, or even legal and financial advice, plus other helpful information and services for expats.

Is short-term international health insurance available?

In most cases, international health insurance is for overseas stays of at least a year, although there are policies that will cover you for six months or more , but always read the small print to make sure you’re getting the protection you need.

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