Q: I'm planning on living abroad for several months. Do I need special health insurance?
Taking an extended trip abroad requires an enormous amount of planning. Although it may not be foremost in your mind, your health insurance coverage is an important part of this planning.
Standard health insurance plans are generally not designed to cover extended periods of international travel. Most managed care plans do cover emergency treatment regardless of where it is administered, but other types of care are typically limited to a local network of providers. Health maintenance organizations (HMOs) may pay nothing if you seek routine care from a non-network provider, while preferred provider organizations (PPOs) generally cover only a portion of these costs. And most Americans do not qualify for the national health-care programs offered to citizens of many European nations. Before you go abroad, find out what coverage you will have. Tell your insurance company how long you will be overseas and what countries you will visit.
For some travelers, travel insurance may be an adequate solution. However, travel insurance may provide only limited coverage, typically for no more than six months.
If your stay abroad will last more than six months and you want to get the most comprehensive health insurance available, you may want to look into expatriate health insurance. Many larger insurance companies such as Lloyd's of London offer this type of insurance specifically for Americans living in other countries.
Expatriate health insurance plans can be customized in many ways. In addition to standard medical and emergency coverage, you can get a plan that includes maternity coverage, specialty treatments such as acupuncture and chiropractic, and even emergency evacuation. Choosing the right features depends on your family's needs, your financial situation, and your travel plans.
If you decide to purchase an expatriate plan, you can expect to complete an extensive application. You'll need to disclose any health problems your family members have had in the past 10 years, from broken bones to hereditary conditions to substance abuse. The cost of an expatriate plan varies depending on the features you choose, the number of family members to be covered, the age, sex, and state of health of each family member, your travel itinerary and various other factors.