GoBear Guide to International Health Insurance

What exactly is international health insurance and how would it benefit you? All your questions, answered.

Introduction - What is International Health Insurance?

You are probably well aware of the need for “regular” health insurance, which helps cover expensive healthcare bills such as hospitalisation and surgery costs. However, if you travel a lot, or if you are an expat, you may not be adequately covered by your health insurance policy when outside of your home country. 

That’s where international health insurance comes in. An international health insurance plan provides medical coverage for people working and living outside of their home country. It works in pretty much the same way as health insurance, except it covers you in multiple countries, even globally. This guide will explain all you need to know about international health insurance. 

introduction to international health insurance

Why Do You Need International Health Insurance?

Generally, there are a few groups of people who may want to consider international health insurance: expats (whether those from elsewhere working and living in Singapore, or Singaporeans planning to relocate overseas for work), overseas students (there are special international health insurance plans designed for students), and other people who have to spend a significant proportion of their time outside of their home country.

That’s mainly because local plans typically do not cover the healthcare costs incurred overseas, in various cities. The higher limits that may be available in international health insurance also helps to reduce anxiousness over the cost of healthcare varying hugely from country to country, even city to city as it has high limits for premium plans. Furthermore, when you are overseas, you may not qualify for subsidised healthcare rates meant to benefit locals. 

Of course, if you are only going overseas for short time, you can get a travel insurance plan that covers non-emergency medical costs, but if you plan to spend a significant amount of outside of your home country, international health insurance would be an important part of your insurance portfolio.

Of course, if you are relocating for a job or as a dependant of someone with a job overseas, you might already enjoy some coverage under the employer’s group health insurance policy. This is a good starting point, but you should understand the policy benefit limits and evaluate if they are sufficient to meet your needs as group plans are designed to cover the majority of workers.  

A personal international health insurance plan can be tailored to a certain extent to meet your own needs and bridge any coverage gaps. As a bonus, it would serve as a safety net in the event of job loss or employee transfers, ensuring there is no disruption to your health coverage.

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What Does International Health Insurance Cover?

The main benefit of an international health insurance plan is hospitalisation coverage. So if you are hospitalised anywhere including overseas, your plan covers the hospital bill, which can include costly procedures like surgery and chemotherapy on top of ward fees. 

Most international health insurance plans also cover pre- and post-hospitalisation costs, such as diagnosis, consultation and treatment. However, the extent of coverage differs; it may be anything from 90 to 180 days pre- and post-hospitalisation.  

Another important area of coverage is emergency evacuation or repatriation. If you have bought travel insurance before, you might be familiar with this benefit: it refers to evacuating you, possibly by air ambulance, back to your home country for emergency treatment.  

All these benefits are subject to an annual cap, sometimes referred to as the maximum payout per policy year.

Make sure that your international health plan covers the cost of healthcare in frequent destinations where you travel, say for work.



What Riders Are Available for International Health Insurance?


riders for international health insurance

When shopping for an international health insurance plan, you’ll most likely notice that the base plan mainly covers hospitalisation, pre- and post hospitalisation, and emergency medical treatment costs.  

If you are planning to relocate and put down roots overseas, it may be worthwhile to consider the following riders (add-ons) to your base plan: 

  1. Outpatient treatment: This refers to medical treatment without requiring hospitalisation. Although not as severe as hospitalisation, outpatient treatment illnesses and injuries (especially chronic ones) can be expensive overseas. Adding on an outpatient treatment rider would help cover those costs. 
  2. Maternity: For the most part, international health insurance plans do not cover maternity-related costs including childbirth. If you are planning to start a family abroad, consider adding on a maternity rider to make sure your pre- and post-natal costs are well-covered. 
  3. Dental & optical: Basic international health plans tend to cover the essentials and do not include dental care and optical care coverage. However, if these are important to you personally, some plans allow you to add on a rider for extra coverage.

Note that the riders will be at additional cost to you, so you’ll have to weigh the benefits and select those that are important.


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How Much International Health Insurance Should You Buy?

Just about every international health insurance plan comes in several coverage tiers (e.g. “Basic”, “Premium” and “Luxury”). Similar to travel insurance and health insurance, the tiered system allows you to choose the level of coverage you want. 

For example, a low-tier international health insurance plan may have an annual claim limit of $500,000, while the top-tier one would cap it at $2 million.  

Of course, the lower the tier (with lower limit and fewer benefits), the cheaper the premium. However, that’s not the best way to choose an international health insurance plan, as policy deductibles mean you might need to pay high upfront costs should you get hospitalised overseas. 

To choose the right amount of coverage, you would need to know the cost of healthcare in your destination. If you are going to live in multiple countries, do the research and peg your coverage level to the most expensive one. 

Generally, the topmost tier should be sufficient to cover healthcare worldwide, including in the US, where healthcare is regarded as the most expensive in the world. Do note that a number of plans exclude coverage in certain countries such as the US. 

If you are going to live in a much cheaper country like Thailand or India, then you can choose a lower coverage limit and save on your premiums.

Compare the best international health insurance on GoBear


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What Happens If You’re Hospitalised Overseas? 

overseas hospitalisation

If you are hospitalised while covered by an international health insurance plan, there are a few possible procedures. 

If it is a medical emergency, you should call the insurer’s global hotline to make arrangements — either you get directed to a local hospital, or, if there are no nearby medical facilities, to arrange an emergency evacuation. 

When hospitalised overseas, you can pay the hospital and surgical bills out-of-pocket first, then submit a claim to your insurer for reimbursement. Be sure to submit all relevant records such as your receipt, discharge documents and medical certificate. 

Some insurers also offer a cashless pre-authorisation service so you can seek treatment with greater peace of mind. If the situation permits, you can do this by calling your insurer to arrange a planned hospital visit, along with a Letter of Guarantee. 

For outpatient treatment (if your plan covers it), you may pay upfront and claim later. But you may want to check if your insurer has a panel of clinics in your destination country where you can enjoy cashless medical treatment. 


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How to Choose the Best International Health Policy?

How to choose the best international health insurance

International health insurance is highly customisable, and therefore suitable for just about any kind of overseas living/working arrangement. However, that also means that there are more choices compared to, say, travel insurance. 

Here are some considerations to think about to help you select the most ideal policy.

  • Who to cover: Unlike local health insurance which is tied to the individual, with international health insurance, you can choose to cover yourself and your spouse, yourself and your kids, or the entire family. Who you cover would depend on whether your family might move over or live with you overseas for a significant amount of time. Your family arrangements would also impact whether you opt for maternity cover or not.
  • Geographic region: You do not have to be too granular about which countries to get covered in, as insurers usually offer just a few geographic tiers to choose from. For example: Asia, Worldwide excluding USA, and Worldwide. Apart from making sure that the destination country is covered, you should also anticipate the countries you’ll be travelling to for business or leisure, and make sure those are covered in the geographic region you select.
  • Living/working arrangements: Is there a chance that you’ll have to relocate somewhere else or perhaps become a permanent resident of another country? Sometimes it’s hard to know where life/work will take you and your family. If so, look for a “portable” international health insurance plan which would follow you as you move across the globe.
  • Existing coverage: If you are relocating for work or school, you are probably covered by some form of group insurance already. This can vary a lot from organisation to organisation, so do check the policy documents and find out what your existing coverage is. Take into consideration as well your spouse’s existing coverage, if any, to avoid duplicate coverage.
  • Personal health concerns: Those with pre-existing health conditions especially would want to customise their international health insurance plans to cover specific areas of concern. Note that some international health insurance plans do cover pre-existing conditions (often subject to a waiting period), but you may need to pay higher premiums.
  • Premium cost: Finally, the cost of premiums is a factor — the more coverage and add-ons you have on your plan, the more expensive it will be. Still, given that you are unlikely to enjoy citizen healthcare subsidies abroad, your international health insurance premium could be well worth every penny.


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Do You Need International Health Insurance If You Have Local Health Insurance?

International health vs local health insurance

If you are a Singapore citizen or Permanent Resident, you would already be covered by Singapore’s mandatory health insurance scheme, MediShield Life. You might also have opted to boost your coverage with an Integrated Shield Plan. 

Both MediShield Life and Integrated Shield are local health insurance policies meant to cover the bases when it comes to hospitalisation and treatment bills in Singapore. 

If you will be spending a significant amount of time overseas, your local health insurance would generally not cover healthcare expenses out of Singapore.

In general, there is little duplicate coverage between an Integrated Shield Plan and an international health insurance policy for overseas healthcare costs. Do consider getting both so that you are adequately covered wherever you are. 

On a final note, be aware that, while you can use your MediSave to pay for your MediShield and some of your Integrated Shield premiums, international health insurance is payable in cash only. 


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Do You Still Need Travel Insurance If You Have International Health Insurance?

Do you need travel insurance if you have international health insurance

The answer is yes – travel insurance covers cancellations, personal belongings and emergency medical treatment while international health insurance provides more comprehensive medical care coverage than basic emergency treatment.

International health insurance vs Travel insurance

  International Health Insurance Travel Insurance
Types of coverage Medical coverage – in both emergency situations and daily care
  • Travel inconveniences and mishaps
  • Medical – emergencies only
What is covered

Typical coverage (depending on premiums):

  • Emergency medical treatment
  • Pre-existing conditions
  • Routine medical check-ups
  • Cancer treatment
  • Outpatient coverage
  • Maternity benefit
  • Dental benefit
  • Optical benefit

Typical coverage:

  • Emergency medical treatment
  • Trip cancellation
  • Baggage delay
  • Flight cancellation/disruption
  • Theft and loss
  • Damage to belongings
  • Personal liability 
Period of coverage

A sustained period of time - even if you're relocating

For the duration of the policy year

Usually it's only effective for short trips abroad

For the duration of the trip and in some cases follow-up healthcare costs in Singapore

Area of coverage A wider area of coverage (more countries) depending on your plan Specified area or country

If you plan to travel for work or leisure while based abroad, we highly recommend buying annual travel insurance, which eliminates the hassle of getting insured as a foreigner (not always possible!).

For longer (or indefinite) stays abroad, we recommend adding you may consider international health insurance to extend your medical coverage limits. The optional outpatient and maternity coverage, which are not available with all travel insurance policies, would also come in useful for longer stays. 


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Plan for Overseas Medical Costs

What with all the packing, planning, and excitement of relocating overseas or travelling long-term, it’s easy to forget all about the potentially high cost of healthcare overseas.

Wherever you are, you can’t predict when you’ll need medical attention. International health insurance is an important part of your portfolio, so don’t get caught off-guard by high medical bills when abroad.


Disclaimer: The information in this article is accurate as of 16 Dec 2020 unless otherwise stated. Whilst we endeavour to keep the information accurate and updated, GoBear makes no representation or warranties for the accuracy of the information in this article or content of any websites which may be linked.  

This article is for informational and promotional purposes only; it does not constitute advice or recommendation and does not take into account your own individual circumstances. The information in this article may not be updated and you should always refer to the relevant Policy Wording and insurer for the full terms and conditions. In the event of any inconsistency, the Policy Wording and/or information from the insurer shall prevail.

Last update on Dec 16, 2020