• published on 6/14/2023
  • 4min

Should you choose a local or international health insurance plan?

As an expat, when the question comes to what kind of medical coverage you want for yourself, your family, or even your company, one of the decisions you’ll need to make is whether you want to take out a local private health plan or an international health insurance plan.

Should you choose a local or international health insurance plan?

Deciding what kind of insurance plan best suits you will be heavily based on your personal situation; how healthy you are, the quality of the local healthcare system and hospitals, whether you’re settled in your country of residence or move frequently, and whether you travel frequently among other factors.

Choosing the right health insurance plan can be a daunting task, especially if you are moving to a new country. One of the most important decisions you will have to make is whether to opt for a local or international health insurance plan. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, and it's important to understand the differences between the two before making a decision.

Here are some of the things you may want to consider when comparing local and international health insurance plans.

How much your insurance plan costs

In general, expats living abroad may not have access to the full range of benefits a public healthcare system offer, so you will have to take out some kind of private health insurance policy to cover the costs of healthcare. The biggest concern is the overall price of your plan, and whether or not the benefits it offers makes it worthwhile.

How your health insurance premiums change at renewal?

One of the biggest advantages of a local health insurance policy is the price. Premiums for local health plans are typically based on your claims experience, so if you’re a healthy individual or family with no serious medical issues, premiums can be very cheap.

However, experience-based premiums do have their drawbacks. If you have a serious injury or illness that requires expensive treatment, then your next year’s premium will rise accordingly. So while a local plan may start out cheap, it can quickly become unaffordable with a few years of expensive claims.

International plans on the other hand, tend to have pool rated premiums, also known as community rated. This means that premiums are calculated based on the treatment everyone in your age bracket received during the year, and premium increases aren’t tied to whether or not you or your family got sick or injured.

Benefit limits on your health plan

Another reason local health insurance plans are less expensive is due to the fact that they tend to include stricter limits on covered benefits than international health insurance plans. For example, there may be a sublimit on coverage for cancer treatment which could leave you paying a fair amount of money out-of-pocket once all is said and done, whereas an international plan would cover the treatment in its entirety up to the annual limit.


One of the large differences between local and international health insurance policies is the age you can continue renewing your policy up until. Many local private health plans will have a cap on the age you can continue to renew your policy, usually around the age of 65-70.

Considering that people tend to develop more health conditions as they grow older, not being able to renew your insurance can be a serious problem when you’re going to be needing it most. International health insurance plans on the other hand are almost always lifetime guaranteed renewable, so you will always be able to renew your plan for as long as you need it.

Cover outside of where you live

One of the things you’ll have to ask yourself is whether or not you need coverage outside of where you’re living, which could be important for expatriates, or those who travel frequently for business or vacations.

As the names imply, a local plan will only provide you coverage in that country, while an international plan will typically offer coverage either worldwide, or worldwide excluding the USA (although they will usually provide 30 days of cover for emergencies even outside your area of cover).

If you are on a local medical plan, you can always take out travel insurance to cover any emergencies, or a short-term international health plan for longer travels abroad such as sabbaticals or extended business trips and vacations. However, it is important to note that in some cases where serious medical treatment is needed, a travel plan may focus on transporting you back to your country of residence, after which the travel insurance company will no longer have to cover your treatment in your home country.

International health insurance plans, whether long- or short-term, will include coverage for emergency medical evacuation and assistance, which includes evacuating you to a place where you can receive quality medical care, medical referrals and second opinions, tele-medicine consultations and more.

Do you need to take your health insurance with you when moving?

If you’re an expat who frequently moves countries due to your job, or if you plan to move back to your home country at some point in the future, then one thing you will want to consider is how you will be covered when you move.

If you’re on a local plan, then you will have to take out a new plan once you’ve moved. This can be an issue if you’ve developed a medical condition or suffered a serious illness, as the insurer in your new home may treat it as a pre-existing condition and exclude it from coverage.

The majority of international health insurance plans are globally portable, so you can take them with you when you move with no breaks in coverage, and no need to go through the underwriting process again which means you’re not in danger of being refused coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Finding the right international health insurance policy for you

Choosing between a local and international health insurance plan ultimately depends on your personal situation, budget, and preferences.

It's important to carefully consider the factors outlined in this article before making a decision. Whether you choose a local or international health insurance plan, having adequate coverage is essential for your peace of mind and wellbeing while living abroad.

Whether you’re about to expatriate to a new country, or already living abroad, our expert advisors are always ready to help you find the right plan. You can browse any of our range of plans and get quotes online:

Or contact us today and we can help you find a plan that suits your needs.