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Posted by on Apr 2, 2014 in Blog, Life overseas, Miscellaneous | 1 comment

The ebola virus, health care, and ensuring that a $200,000 hospital bill doesn’t ruin your awesome lifestyle overseas

The ebola virus, health care, and ensuring that a $200,000 hospital bill doesn’t ruin your awesome lifestyle overseas

I have seen some pretty crazy stuff in my travels around Africa.  I have seen 2 people beaten to death by angry mobs, had a close friend pistol whipped and robbed at gunpoint, and recently was sitting next to a young Dutch woman on a public bus in Ghana when she found out her friend had just died in a Ghanaian hospital of an unknown illness.  And on the topic of crazy …  a deadly version of the Ebola virus is currently sweeping through West Africa, killing 90% of the people who contract it.

Car accidents overseas can be insanely expensive

Car accidents overseas can be insanely expensive

To be fair, wherever you live, there is always the risk of something going wrong.  However, moving to new countries (particularly if they are developing countries) can amplify the danger of complicated problems causing huge health care costs.  A prime example of this is the road accident victim whose family spent $200,000 USD on hospital bills overseas and getting him back to the UK from Thailand.

What kind of insurance do you need?

Anyone who has looked for good quality, low cost insurance for developing countries will know how hard it is to find the right kind of information.  This is particularly true if you are choosing to live off the beaten path.  Different types of insurance are suitable for different purposes.  Listed below are some resources that might point you in the right direction.

Short term travel – travel insurance

If you are scouting out a country and only traveling for a few weeks/months, you should be focusing on travel insurance.  You can buy travel insurance directly (Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA) or you can choose to buy it through an array of online broker sites.  Your airline will often offer travel insurance as an add-on to your ticket.

If you have purchased your trip with a credit card, you may already have baggage loss/theft coverage, as well as trip cancellation insurance and possibly rental insurance. You may also have a health insurance plan at home that covers you overseas.  Finally, your Life Insurance Policy may cover certain things such as the expenses of shipping your body home in the event of death, or possibly some coverage of costs in the event of an accident.

Long term travel – health insurance

You are looking for a different kind of insurance if you intend to live in a country for an extended period of time.  Typically, this is called health insurance, or international health insurance.  This is more expensive, but it gets a lot more important because it is less likely you have overlapping coverage you are not aware of.

Groups like IMG Global Insurance and Seven Corners are popular sources of plans, and online broker websites such as Brokerfish can be a good place to start as well.

You should also check out local insurance brokers in the country you are intending to move to as there may be insurance policies availably locally that suit your needs. You will find some insurance brokers relatively quickly if you google ‘[insert city here]+insurance brokers’.  They will help you navigate the local insurance market, compare your options and find you a good price.  Just make sure you know how they are compensated before getting too far into the process with them.  Typically they will be paid by the insurer, so you should understand what incentives they have and how that might impact on their suggestions.  

Some things to consider for your insurance needs:

Charlie was starting to worry that he hadn't packed enough medicine

Charlie was starting to worry that she hadn’t packed enough medicine

Reducing the cost of your plan:

  • Excluding USA coverage significantly reduces premiums, sometimes up to 50%.  This is because health care in the US is rather expensive.
  • Not surprisingly, the more frills the plan has (vision, dental and other extras), the more expensive the plan will be
  • Increasing your deductibles (the amount you pay out of pocket before the insurance company pays anything) will decrease costs
  • Paying more upfront will reduce costs – eg. Paying the cost of the insurance policy in one lump sum annually will (often) get you a discount over paying for the same policy monthly.

Making sure your plan has everything you need and expect:

  • Make sure the insurance company will directly pay the hospital for your in-patient expenses. This will help avoid some nasty out-of-pocket expenses where you have to pay the hospital and wait to get reimbursed from your insurance carrier.
  • Ensure that your policy covers countries you intend to be spending time in.  There is no use getting a policy for only Cambodia if you spend half your time in Thailand.
  • Check that the plan covers emergency evacuation.  This refers to emergency situations where a plane carries you to the nearest and best facility (assuming there aren’t any good ones in your country of residence).   Emergency flights from far-flung places in the world, like Mongolia, can cost over $120,000.  If you only care about this type of coverage, and are willing to take risks on everything else, you can buy an annual membership that covers only this situation.
  • Many plans exclude coverage for specific things, so check the fine print!  Exclusions can include:
    • Pre-existing conditions.  You can often pay extra to get them included, or sometimes if you simply disclose them that is all that is needed.
    • Sport of any kind (whether amateur or professional)
    • Any kind of adventure/extreme sport.  Many insurance companies, like STA, offer a specific insurance policy for adventure sports, so there are options if you need it.

Does your country of choice have good healthcare?

Depending on the quality of the healthcare in your chosen country, you may be able to decide you can simply take up a local health insurance policy and not have to worry about an internationally purchased plan.  There are, for example, a number of countries around the world where universal health care exists, which might provide you with easily accessed and inexpensive local options. As usual, the expatriates currently living in your target country are your best source of information about the quality of these local options and whether they might suit your needs.

Other resources you might want to check out include:

1.World Nomads- Insurance for long term travelers

2.Insure My Trip and Broker Fish –  Websites useful for comparing different insurance plans online

3.Travel Cuts, Sta Travel- Travel insurance for students

4.Professional Hobo – Useful high level info from a fellow traveler of the world

5.International Living – Interesting discussions and articles on insurance.  They are mostly geared towards retirees from the US and there is a strong focus on certain countries in Latin America.

6. UK Telegraph – A collection of resources on a range of different countries.


Do you have any tips on getting the right kind of insurance, or any insurance stories you’d like to share?  I’d love to see them below.

Photo credit Surat Lozowick, The Independent, Jason Potter 

1 Comment

  1. Thank you, Hugh. An insightful post, and extremely important topic! I found it very useful.

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