• published on 8/15/2023
  • 5min

How does International Health Insurance Work?

Protecting your health is a key concern when you’re looking to move abroad, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the destination country’s healthcare system.

How does International Health Insurance Work?

Table of contents

1. What is international private medical insurance?

2. How much does international health insurance cost?

3. Key features of international healthcare insurance

4. Different types of international private medical insurance

5. Filing a claim

6. What to do when faced with a medical emergency abroad

7. Common insurance exclusions

8. How does it compare to other kinds of insurance?

9. What our members say

International medical insurance can protect the healthcare needs of you and your loved ones when you’re living overseas. Benefits can include quick access to medical care and the flexibility to choose the duration of your cover as well as where you are treated.

With this in mind, it’s important you choose a plan that is right for your individual needs. To help you, we’ve put together a comprehensive outline of what to expect with international health insurance.

What is international private medical insurance?

International private medical insurance (IPMI) provides medical cover for individuals, families and couples working, living, or studying abroad.

It is suitable for many different groups and lifestyles, including:

  • Frequent travellers

  • International students

  • Expats

  • Digital nomads

An international health plan can be shaped to your personal circumstances, including the length and level of cover.

How much does international health insurance cost?

The cost of expat international health insurance can vary, depending on factors such as the number of people on the cover, the age of the policyholder, and the level of cover chosen.

Geographical location can also impact the amount you pay for your premium, as healthcare costs may differ greatly between countries.

For a more detailed overview of how much you could expect to pay for your plan, click here.

Key features of international healthcare insurance


International medical insurance coverage offers flexibility for members, giving you the freedom to choose your doctor as well as where you receive medical treatment.

It is particularly beneficial for those who travel frequently, as you can usually access medical care in different countries so long as it is within your area of cover.

With an international plan, you can also choose the duration of your cover . This is great if you know how long you’re going to be abroad for, allowing you to go overseas safe in the knowledge that your medical needs will be protected.

Cover to suit individual needs

Another benefit of IPMI is its broad range of cover, which can include fast access to diagnosis and eligible treatment, specialist consultations, and maternity care.

This means you can avoid long waiting times for treatment and receive medical care at leading facilities when you need it most.

Saves you from financial loss

For many people, it’s important to have peace of mind that their medical needs are protected in case something goes wrong.

The cost of private healthcare if you don’t have expat health insurance may be very expensive, so having a plan in place can save you from significant financial loss. For instance, the cost of a hip replacement in Italy could set you back around £19,000 .

Many of the costs for treatment can be covered under your health insurance policy – though you could face some out-of-pocket payments, such as excess or paying for things like outpatient prescriptions.

Different types of international private medical insurance

The kind of IPMI you need will depend on your individual needs and how long you will be spending overseas. There are different kinds of plans to choose from, which include:

Take plenty of time to research policies to find the one that suits your lifestyle and healthcare needs.

Filing a claim

If you have to pay for medical treatment at the time of the appointment, such as specialist consultations or optical care,  you will need to submit an insurance claim along with documentation to your insurance provider for reimbursement. Do this as soon as you can, and remember that the length of time it takes to receive the cost back will vary between providers.

If you’re being admitted into hospital for planned, be sure to pre-authorise this claim with your insurer in advance so they can:

  • Verify your medical treatment is covered

  • Place a guarantee of payment (GOP) with the hospital to facilitate direct billing

This removes the financial burden of hefty medical expenses to your insurer. Lots of companies nowadays have online processes for submitting claims, which can be more efficient and quicker than physically sending the form through the post.

Don’t forget to keep a record of your documentation too, which could include receipts and invoices, as you will need this as proof of your treatment.

What to do when faced with a medical emergency abroad

If you’re faced with an emergency, go to your nearest walk-in centre or to visit an accident & emergency department. As soon as you are able, get in touch with your insurance company to make them aware of the situation. 

It’s recommended you keep your insurance membership card with you as well, which will hold vital information regarding your plan, such as your policy number and your full name. Having easy access to these details can help in this situation.

Many insurers also offer emergency medical and non-medical evacuations as part of their insurance plans. This means you can be evacuated to a safe space if you are faced with any threats such as natural disasters.

In the event that the treatment you need isn’t available locally, you can be evacuated to another location to receive the medical care you require.

Common insurance exclusions

It’s important to be aware of some exclusions that are common in insurance plans, which your insurance company might not cover. Examples of this are:

  • Pre-existing medical conditions

  • Cosmetic treatments

  • Alternative medicine

  • Assistance with reproductive treatments

In some circumstances, you might be able to add some additional coverage for some exclusions, but this is dependent on the insurance provider.

How does it compare with other kinds of insurance?

Travel insurance

Travel insurance is usually designed for shorter trips abroad, and will normally include cover for events such as flight delays or lost luggage.

It will typically cover you for emergency treatment, whereas international medical insurance will provide you with a more comprehensive range of medical cover for your extended time overseas.

Most travel insurance policies also need to be purchased before you travel, but IPMI can be purchased when you’ve already made it to your destination.

Local health insurance

The main difference between IPMI and local health insurance is its geographic scope. Local insurance is usually limited to medical facilities within your country of residence, while you can receive care across the globe with IPMI.

Additionally, with an international policy, customers have the option to choose cover for maternity care, while a local plan will usually exclude routine pregnancy.

What our members say

At APRIL International, we have been delivering comprehensive international health insurance plans for our members for over thirty years.

Have a read here of what our member Keith, a British expat from Macau, had to say about his experience with us.