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Health Insurance Comparison

Which Overseas Health Insurance Option Is Best For You?

Choosing a strategy for health insurance is one of the most important decisions you must make as you work to conceive a plan for reinventing your life in a new country. The choice you make depends on your age, your lifestyle, your travel plans, your current state of health, and your budget. This is a hugely personal decision, and there’s no such thing as the “best” approach. It’s what is best for you.

Big picture, you have three options: an international policy, a local policy, or no policy at all.

This third option can be more reasonable than it may seem, depending on where you decide to relocate and how much time you plan to spend there. In some countries on our favorites list (Thailand, for example), medical care is so affordable that it can make sense to pay for it as you need it, rather than insuring against it. I know many retirees and expats, in Thailand and elsewhere, who’ve done the math and come to the conclusion that they’re better off without insurance of any kind.

Of course, though, not everyone is comfortable going naked, as it were. And the most important thing about choosing a health insurance strategy for your new life overseas is that you’re comfortable with whatever you decide. Retiring overseas is about improving your life…not creating new worries that keep you up at night.

If the thought of no insurance makes your eyes twitch, then you’re choosing between an international policy…or a local, in-country one.

Advantages and disadvantages of an international health insurance policy

One of the main advantages of an international health insurance policy is that it can cover you under all circumstances anywhere in the world, making it a good option if you intend to travel regularly beyond your chosen overseas retirement haven; if your retire-overseas plan is to move around among two or three countries; or if you, like our Intrepid Correspondents Paul and Vicki Terhorst, intend never to retire anywhere but to roam the world perpetually, discovering and exploring as your wanderlust dictates.

An international policy also can be a good option if you’re an American and intend to divide your time between your chosen overseas haven and the United States, because it can be possible to purchase an international health policy that will also cover you when you return or pass through Stateside.

This is the kind of coverage Lief and I have opted for. Our Bupa International policy, based originally in Ireland but now in Panama, covers us anywhere in the world, including in the United States when we visit. We’re paying extra for this, as the United States is the most expensive place in the world to obtain medical care. Given our lifestyles and travel schedules, though, we decided recently to make this additional investment.

Generally speaking, an international health insurance policy is more expensive than a local one, sometimes substantially more expensive. Local medical insurance can cost less than US$100 a month. In some countries, depending on your age, less than US$50 a month.

It’s important, though, that you understand what you’re buying. Policy options, details of coverage, deductibles, and premium costs vary dramatically both country to country and agency to agency within a country.

In addition, local insurance providers accept new policyholders only through a certain age that is typically younger than the cut-off age for an international policy. In other words, depending on the country where you’re intending to relocate and your age, a local policy may not be an option. You may have no choice but to invest in a (more expensive) international policy if you want formal health coverage.

Note, too, that some in-country insurance companies allow you to renew your policy only until a certain age. Others offer lifetime coverage.

Bottom line, though, if you qualify, in-country insurance options in some of the world’s top overseas retirement havens can be limited but remarkably affordable.

As I said, this is a very personal decision. What’s best in your case? That’s the question we’ll help attendees at this year’s Retire Overseas Conference consider, with the help of our top experts, in Nashville, Tennessee, this August.

Kathleen Peddicord

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