Healthcare and Health Insurance While Working Abroad
There’s enough uncertainty when you plan to live and teach English in a foreign country you’ve never set foot in. As fun as any adventure feels, you must acknowledge and be prepared for certain risks before you travel abroad. Forgetting your favorite dress isn’t a big deal, but not having proper health insurance coverage abroad can have terrifying consequences.
Luckily, there are many comprehensive healthcare packages out there, flexible to serve your personal needs. Depending on your school and teaching destination, your health insurance may already be covered by your employer. And the good news is that international health insurance most likely costs less than your domestic healthcare plan in the United States!
Do I Need to Purchase International Health Insurance?
Teaching ESL in Asia
It depends on where you’re going and which school you’ll be teaching at. In most Asian countries such as China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore and Thailand, your health insurance will be covered by your employers. In some cases, you may be required to contribute $20 to $50 of your monthly paycheck towards paying for your health insurance. In smaller schools and less developed areas, you may be responsible for your own healthcare.
Teaching ESL in Europe
Many European nations such as Spain or Italy are notorious for being strict about giving out work permits or work visas. Thus, many foreign ESL teachers who work for cash (off-the-record) will have to buy their own health insurance. If you do have a work permit to legally teach ESL in Europe, your healthcare should be covered with a co-pay deduction from your paychecks. On the other hand, the well-known government-operated teaching assistantship programs in France and Spain will pay for your health insurance.
Similarly, in Latin America, if you teach English off-the-record (meaning, without a work contract or work permit), you are responsible for your own healthcare. Large schools in Chile or Mexico may be more likely to cover your health insurance, given that you have a legal work visa and contract.
Lastly, if you teach ESL in the Middle East, your healthcare is usually covered in countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the U.A.E, or Kuwait. However, in less developed nations like Egypt and Morocco, you’re likely to buy your own health insurance.
Overall, ask questions to your employing schools or job placement agencies about your health insurance while teaching ESL abroad. If it’s not covered, you’ll be required to buy your own and show proof of health insurance during your intended length of stay in that country, in order to be granted a visa and admitted. Your coverage should also meet certain requirements set forth by your destination country if any. So it’s time to research your options!
International Health Insurance vs. Travel Insurance
What is travel insurance?
Travel insurance is designed for short-term vacationers or travelers, who plan to visit a foreign country for a short period of time only. Travel insurance usually protects you against travel-related issues like cancellations, lost/stolen/damaged luggage, or emergency medical expenses. Your travel insurance will not cover long-term medical treatment and is limited to only certain cases of illnesses that should be carefully read in the fine print when you purchase.
What is international health insurance?
This is the one you need while living and teaching ESL abroad! It’s designed for expats living overseas for a long period of time. It covers everything related to healthcare: both emergency and routine checkups/treatments.
International Health Insurance Providers
You should first check with your current health insurance provider to see if they have coverage overseas as well as what’s covered while you’re abroad. Yet it may be more expensive than other providers who specialize in international healthcare. Sometimes, you may need to use a combination of both, depending on your health conditions and needs.
It may be tempting to get local insurance when you’re already abroad. However, the downside is that local health insurance won’t cover when you’re visiting home for the holidays or traveling outside of that country. Additionally, the local language may be a difficult barrier when you try to research and buy local health insurance.
Some well-known international health insurance providers include:
- HTH Worldwide (aka GeoBlue): Their Xplorer plan is perfect for expats in the USA as well as US expats living abroad. It’s an independent Blue Cross / Blue Shield licensee, thus grants you access to the extensive BCBS network of doctors and hospitals in the US as well as globally. It even comes with healthcare coverage in the USA while you live abroad.
- Cigna Global Health Insurance: This provider allows you to pick certain benefit packages, thus comes with flexibility and lets you exclude certain benefits you don’t need. The service is excellent while claims are usually processed quickly.
- Aetna International Health Plan for Expats: Aetna is a Fortune 100 company with an amazing network of hospitals all over the world. However, it should be noted that their plan is not available in all countries worldwide.
- International Medical Group (IMG): This provider offers both short-term travel insurance and long-term international health insurance. Their plans are affordable and have a wide coverage all over the world.
- Premier Health: It’s an international healthcare provider, with the strongest coverage in South and Central America.
If you’re going for a short-term gig, you may want to consider some of these health insurance providers for travelers:
- Start The Adventure (STA) Travel: It offers single trip and annual multi-trip health plans that cover up to 24 months.
- World Nomads Travel Insurance: This covers not only trip cancellation, your belongings but also 24/7 emergency assistance (with a multi-lingual team who can support you) as well as many adventure activities. The plans and prices vary depending on your travel destination and duration.
There are even group medical plans for schools and universities for your consideration. Once you choose and buy suitable international health insurance, make sure that you print out your policy and bring the physical insurance card with you at all times. Print a claim form and have it ready with you, just in case. Make sure the contact information and/or available hotline number are all highlighted and saved in your phone.
How Much Will You Pay for International Health Insurance Plan?
It all depends on where you’re from, where you’re teaching ESL in, your age, medical history, your needs, the amount of deductible and add-ons. Your international health insurance plan payment ranges from as little as $40 to $1,500+ a month for a more comprehensive plan. However, when it comes to healthcare, don’t select the cheapest option. Consider all possible scenarios, your current health situation, and choose a plan that fits.
Having reliable health insurance while living and teaching ESL abroad will bring you peace of mind and allow you to fully enjoy your adventure.
Even if you’re young and healthy, things happen when you travel, especially when you’re in a new environment, breathing foreign air, and may be susceptible to viruses you never encounter at home. Even with simple illnesses like common cold or diarrhea, you may not be able to find the medicines you usually take at home. Don’t add stress to your experience living and working abroad and take good care of your health no matter where you are!