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How To Get Health Insurance As An American Living Abroad

Moving abroad is an exciting experience, but you have to keep in mind that it is not just a long vaca

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Moving abroad is an exciting experience, but you have to keep in mind that it is not just a long vacation. Which means there are certain expat-specific things you need to prepare before packing your bags and going to the airport.

One of the most important things to do? Get a health insurance plan.

Most US-based health insurance policies do not cover your medical expenses while you are out of the country. This means that once you leave US borders, your policies become essentially ineffective. And even for the healthiest people, it is essential to have health insurance while living overseas.

Fortunately, there are ways to get health insurance as an American living abroad. Let’s look at where to look for international health insurance and what options are available.

Talk to your existing health insurance company

Most health insurance plans do not cover you abroad, but if yours does, you should first check the extent of that coverage with your insurance company.

For example, some plans may only cover emergencies, or if they cover routine medical services, it is at the off-network rate (which is much higher than the in-network rate).

If you can maintain your U.S. health insurance plan while living abroad, it is likely to offer limited coverage. Be sure to ask the following questions about your plan before you move:

  • Are pre-existing conditions covered?
  • Do you have to pay something in advance before you travel?
  • Are there any exclusions for “dangerous activities”, such as scuba diving or mountain climbing?
  • Is pre-authorization required?
  • What are the co-payments and co-payments?
  • How long does the cover stay in effect?

Consider travel medical insurance

Travel medical insurance is short term health insurance that provides medical coverage while traveling. However, it usually only covers emergencies due to unexpected illnesses or injuries. Travel medical insurance not cover elective procedures or standard doctor visits while living in another country.

Like a regular health insurance policy, every trip medical insurance plan is different, so you should always check the details. However, here are some services that can be covered:

  • Hospitalization.
  • Emergency room visits.
  • Ambulance ride.
  • Labs and imaging.
  • Prescription medication.

Read more: Travel for Cheap: 7 Ways to See the World for Less

Depending on what other cover you have, travel health insurance can be a primary or secondary policy:

  • A primary policy means it is the only policy you have that will cover your medical needs while you are abroad.
  • A secondary policy (or supplementary policy) means it will supplement your cover after your primary insurance provider has paid their portion.

Most importantly, however, travel medical insurance is not permanent. It only lasts for a short time, and if you stay for a long period of time, your coverage may run out. Typically, travel medical insurance lasts one year or less. If you are going to live abroad for longer, you may want to look at other options.

See if you qualify for a national health plan

Depending on where you are moving to and your situation, you may qualify for a health insurance plan in the country where you live.

For example, if you are attending an international university or you got a job with an employer in another country, you can probably get health insurance from a provider in your new country of residence.

If you can qualify for a national health insurance plan, it must be very similar to your old US health insurance policy. Most plans cover the cost of routine doctor visits, prescriptions, some elective procedures, laboratory tests, and emergency care.

However, you will still want to pay attention to out-of-pocket costs and what doctors and health facilities are in the network.

Read more: What are the different types of health insurance?

Learn more about public health plans in your country

In some countries, Americans may benefit from publicly funded health plans.

Typically, these international health insurance plans only cover emergency care and other medical services cost extra. However, knowing that emergencies are covered can still give you peace of mind.

Here are some examples of international healthcare systems that Americans can use while living in the country.

United Kingdom

Americans living in the United Kingdom can receive emergency care at a National Health Service (NHS) facility. However, you must be able to prove that you are an American living temporarily in the UK to qualify. US tourists are not eligible for NHS medical benefits.


To qualify for free or subsidized health insurance as an American living in Ireland, you must prove that you intend to live in Ireland for at least one year in order to be considered a “normal resident”. If you have lived in Ireland for less than one year, you will not be allowed to get health insurance through the country’s public health care system.


The NHS in Italy offers foreign health insurance for US citizens living in Italy for at least three months. Depending on your situation, you may qualify for free basic health care. Otherwise, it costs a small fee to enroll in the country’s health insurance program.


To get public health insurance in Canada, you must have a work permit that is valid for at least six months and you must work full time. You may also qualify if you have a work permit under the Resident Care Program or Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SWAP).

If your spouse qualifies for public health insurance through their work permit, you can benefit from the health insurance program, even if you do not meet the requirements.

Read more: Do you want to move to Canada? Here’s what it will cost

Frequently Asked Questions

How Much Does Foreign Health Insurance Cost?

The cost of foreign health insurance varies, as does household health insurance. The average American pays about $ 2,000 to $ 4,000 a year for health insurance abroad, but factors such as your age, pre-existing conditions and out-of-pocket costs will affect the premium.

If you can get health insurance through a public health system like the NHS, the cost can be significantly lower.

Private health insurance plans are almost always more expensive than public plans, but keep in mind that public health insurance may have limitations.

Read more: The Cost of Health Insurance – Is It Worth It?

Can you get international health insurance abroad with pre-existing conditions?

Many international health insurance policies have exclusions for pre-existing conditions, just like plans in the US. However, it depends on the specific condition. Some plans cover certain pre-existing conditions, but you will have to pay a higher co-payment or co-payment when you receive treatment.

If you have a pre-existing condition, make sure you ask the plan provider if treatment is covered before buying a policy.

Is health insurance required to obtain an international visa?

Most countries require that you have some form of health insurance before you can get a visa. Depending on the country you are going to, a US-based health insurance or travel medical insurance policy may be sufficient.

Finally, you must prove that you can financially cover any medical emergencies that may arise when you visit the country.

Also keep in mind that some countries require you to have health insurance to visit the country, not just to get a visa. Many countries today also need a health insurance plan that has COVID-19 coverage.

How much international health insurance is required?

Just like US-based health insurance, the amount of international health insurance you need will vary. Your age, pre-existing conditions and financial situation all play a role.

When choosing your plan, you need to consider other factors as well, including:

  • The risks present in the country you are visiting.
  • The type of activities you will participate in.
  • How long you will be abroad.

Whether you fall ill or end up in an accident, adequate health insurance coverage is essential. Although health care costs abroad are often cheaper than in the US, you can still face a large medical bill if you need treatment and do not have a good health insurance plan to cover it.

Final thoughts

If you are moving abroad for a long time, it is essential to get international health insurance.

Whether you have coverage from your existing U.S. insurance policy, purchase travel medical insurance or may qualify for the country’s public insurance program, make sure you have some form of coverage. A medical emergency while you are abroad is scary enough, but not knowing how you will cover the expense can add even more stress.

Ultimately, the most important thing is to make sure the plan is right for your needs, where you are going and how long you are staying.

Finding the best plan may require research and comparison, so give yourself plenty of time to choose a plan before moving.

Featured Image: PR Image Factory / Shutterstock.com

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