International Health Insurance
Are you about to become a WorldTowner? Are you plagued with worry as to what to do about international health insurance? We understand, because we have been there. As we prepared for life as WorldTowners, we spent hours online in travel groups and on insurance sites trying to figure out which insurance best met our family’s needs and budget. It was daunting at times, but, after intense research, we were able to take some of the mystery out managing our health care. We share our learnings, hoping they help you consider and narrow down your options, as you decide what is best for your family.
The first question to ask is whether to carry medical insurance at all. The majority of WorldTowning families we meet have chosen to skip medical insurance. Their reason is that medical care outside many first-world countries, particularly the U.S., is remarkably inexpensive, making medical costs more affordable than the annual premiums of most insurance companies. As a family, you need to decide what your comfort level is regarding medical insurance and what you are prepared to live with if a medical issue arises.
We have chosen to carry medical insurance as we travel. Our comfort level is such that we want coverage for anything chronic or serious, as well as for evacuation from an area if necessary. Although evacuation insurance is not as necessary in some locations, like France, our travels take us to areas where it may be a factor. We never want to be stuck because of lack of evacuation funds or resources.
With all that said, my advice is for WorldTowners to obtain some form of medical insurance. We have seen it save lives and reduce overall medical expenses in many situations. The last thing you want is a scenario in which you cannot afford the medical care necessary to help the people you love.
If you settle your first question in favor of obtaining medical insurance, there are other questions you then may want to consider regarding plans and costs.
1. Does the plan limit how much time you can spend in your home country?
Under our plan, we can only be in the U.S. for up to six months per year. So far, this has not been an issue; however, if we decide to spend more than a summer in the U.S., we need to consider other options for healthcare.
2. Does it make sense to choose a higher deductible to reduce your annual premium?
Our current deductible is $1,000, and we plan to increase that at our next renewal. We are all healthy and have had very few claims in our first three years of travel. As a result, we feel the higher deductible and lower payment would suit us well.
3. Should you add evacuation insurance on to your policy?
If you are out hiking in some remote area of the world and you break a leg, you will most likely want to be airlifted to a medical facility. If you are in an area where the care is not up to your desired standards, you may want to have options for adequate care, hence evacuation insurance. We have it on our policy and although it has not been an issue, I am glad we have it.
4. Do you want a plan that covers office visits?
We chose a plan that did not include office visits. If you are considering this, as well, you may want to determine whether office visits are affordable. We have been very fortunate that office visits have been inexpensive in our three WorldTowning hometowns (Costa Rica, Ecuador and France). If we decide to spend up to six months in the U.S. at any point, we will need to reconsider our insurance options, due to the potential high medical costs associated with office visits.
5. Does the insurance company offer payment plans or would you have to pay annually?
If your insurance of choice only takes annual payments, you will need to make sure you can accommodate the the big financial hit once a year.
6. Does a family member have a chronic condition?
If there is an ongoing medical condition that needs to be considered, make sure the insurance will cover future medical costs.
7. Will you obtain a long-stay visa at your chosen destination?
If so, you will most likely need to prove that you have medical insurance and won’t be a burden on the medical system in that country. Each country has different guidelines. To obtain a visa in France, we were required to pay our medical insurance for an entire year in advance.
8. Do you understand what will be required regarding applications and other documents? Some forms may be complicated, require translations or necessitate extra processing time.
The documents are not complicated or difficult to fill out for the company we use; however, it takes them months to process a claim.
9. Is there an initial waiting period for the policy, during which you cannot make any claims?
When we were in Costa Rica, I learned I had to wait four months on my plan before I could make OBG claims. I only learned this when I had a procedure to remove pre-cancerous cells, and it was not covered. Keep this in mind and verify coverage before you have any major non-urgent procedures done.
10. Does the insurance offer accidental death and dismemberment coverage?
The decision to include this varies from person to person or family to family, but some policies may offer it. If it is important to you, seek out those policies.
11. Does your plan have a high coverage limit for medical expenses?
This is one area in which you may not want to cut corners. We suggest getting coverage of at least $100,000. The last thing you want to do is get a policy that only covers $20,000. If you get a policy that maxes out at $20,000 and are faced with a catastrophic event, that $20,000 could be gone quite quickly.
12. Are you covered in all, most or only some countries?
I suggest looking at the fine print very carefully. Some insurance companies have restrictions as to where they will cover you.
13. What is not covered?
Extreme sports, drug-related injuries and anything reckless are usually not covered. Again, read the fine print and understand each policy’s limitations.
14. Pre-existing conditions are usually not covered.
This is very important if you have a history of a chronic condition, cancer or something similar. You can find companies that will cover pre-existing conditions, but the premium is usually higher.
15. Aside from medical insurance, what other safeguards or requirements should you have in place before you take off on your travel adventure?
There are a lot of possible considerations. Here are some important questions to ask:
- Do you need any vaccinations or immunizations before you go?
- Have you translated your prescriptions into the language for the country in which you will be traveling?
- If you have a chronic condition, have you lined up doctors in your new location?
- Have you gone for your final physical, dental and eye appointments before you go on your journey, to avoid having to search for a doctor for routine care as soon as you arrive in your new location.
In short, my advice is to take the time, read the fine print, ask on FB groups, read the fine print again, call different companies and get all the details, so you can make an educated decision about which policy is best for your family.
While this information may be a lot to take in and a bit overwhelming, if you put in the work up front, you will be thankful in the long run. It is also a helpful list for seasoned WorldTowners, who want to re-evaluate their medical-care choices (which we all should do periodically), to ensure coverage and costs have kept up with your families’ changing needs.
Do you have any tips, tricks or experiences to share? #WTHealthcare
Now that we have eased the international health insurance pains, are you interested in becoming a WorldTowner?