Expats buying international health insurance are faced with a multiplicity of plans, benefits, restrictions and conditions. Weigh them against the premium amount and you’ll realise that every choice hits your pocket directly.

Western standard medical care in Asia also comes with a corresponding high price tag, which varies sharply from city to city. Some of the best Western standard medical care in cities such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai are also among the most expensive. Without any health insurance plans or having inadequate health insurance coverage will expose you to potential huge medical bills. Here are 12 things to note when considering a health insurance plan before starting a career in Asia.

1) Singapore Average Medical Bills

The average medical bill at a private hospital here is about S$18,000 – $63,000. Medical bills can range from S$42,000 for hand fracture or S$84,000 for leg fracture all the way to a S$320,000 medical bill for colon cancer treatment. 

2) Health Plans

Most health plans broadly fall into three categories: basic, comprehensive and deluxe plans.

  • Basic plan: Covers hospital in-patient that is hospitalization and surgical only.
  • Comprehensive plan: Covers additional items like out-patient, specialists, diagnostic tests/scans, medical evacuation, chronic illnesses, etc.
  • Deluxe plan: This is a high end plan that includes dentistry, maternity, physiotherapy, post-hospital care, etc.  

However, not all plans would fit exactly into the above categories as health insurance plans range from the complex mix-and-match menu of benefits to the simple plans with basic benefits levels. Comprehensive and deluxe plans may vary in their level of comprehensiveness.  The mix-and-match plans usually have a basic core with the flexibility of added modular benefits matching customer needs. 

3) Excess (deductible) and coinsurance vs premium

Excess is the amount you pay for the first slice of a claim and coinsurance is the amount you pay to share the cost of claim after your excess has been paid. The higher the excess or co-insurance you pay, the lower is your premium. Check out the average medical bill for common medical treatment in your country of residence to decide the appropriate level of excess for your plan.

Also, look at whether the excess is per claim or policy year. Better plans offer excess per policy year.

4) Basic cover: Out-patient and Dentistry

The most expensive benefits are out-patient, dentistry and maternity. Depending on your country of residence, it may be cheaper to pay out-of-pocket for out-patient and normal dentistry.

5) Chronic diseases

Chronic illnesses need continual medical treatment and medication, you should check your plan’s coverage for chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, skeletal injury, arthritis, etc.

6) Critical Illnesses

Critical illnesses require expensive long term medical care which can deplete all your savings. Find out if your plan’s coverage included critical illnesses like cancer, heart attack, stroke, diabetes as additional benefits.

7) Special treatment

Do you need cover for maternity or pediatric treatment; chiropractic or psychiatric treatment? Does your plan cover alternative medicine (such as traditional Chinese medicine)? These may not be a given in health plans, be sure to double-check if you required such coverage.

8) 24 hour (multilingual) hotline

Generally, healthcare practitioners use English as the lingua franca but being able to speak in your own language to convey the most accurate message is critical too. Check if you had access to a 24-hour multilingual hotline.

9) Emergency cover

These would encompass ambulance road transport and emergency care for accident or injuries.

10) Medical evacuation

As an unwell expat in an unfamiliar country or environment, how much can you depend on your health plan? Will you be taken to the nearest location where appropriate Western standard treatment can be given? Or will you be taken to your country of residence or home country if medical care is not available locally?

Whatever the depth of your pockets, there are no substitutes for the expertise of an international assistance company to facilitate the arrangement of medical evacuation, doctors and hospital for treatment upon arrival when you are ill.

Medical evacuation bills

Medical Evacuation is a must have for underdeveloped countries or remote places with poor standards of care and hospitals which may require medical evacuation to the nearest Western standards medical facility. The price tag ranges from USD25,000 to USD65,000 for air ambulance and medical support. The medical treatment bill would be top of this.


The above medical costs were provided courtesy of AA International, an international assistance company.

According to Sharon Tan, Managing Director of AA International, medical evacuation requires significant expertise to arrange for air ambulance, border crossings, specialists and hospitals that are gear up for treatment upon arrival. Let the experts do their magic for you when you are down and out with illness.

11) Portability

Portability allows continuous coverage without re-underwriting when you move to another country or change jobs. You may be uninsurable, excluded from coverage or incur heavy medical loading if you developed critical illness, chronic illnesses or long-standing medical condition.

12) Guaranteed renewability

Guaranteed renewability plans protect your rights by ensuring that you have continuous health insurance regardless of your claims, as long as you pay the premium on time. Your insurer cannot terminate your health insurance at any time especially when you need it the most.


Moving to Singapore for a new career? Find out what you should know besides the "obvious"

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