International Private Medical Insurance

Essential healthcare protection for today’s mobile population

The world’s population is becoming more mobile. Advances in travel and telecommunications are shrinking the globe and the number of expatriates is booming. According to research company Finaccord ( there were 50.5 million expatriates of all types in 2013, a figure that is expected to exceed 56.8 million by the end of 2017. Saudi Arabia has the largest expatriate population (at 8.9 million) followed by the UAE (5.4 million) and the US (4.8 million). By contrast, the largest group of expatriates comes from India (7.6 million), followed by China (at 3 million) and then the UK (1.2 million). All in all, pretty big numbers.

Expatriates moving abroad face any number of challenges, especially when leaving home for the first time to live or work. Professional expatriates, for example, will be thinking of where to buy or rent, what schools to put the children into (possibly), how they are going to build a social life and, hopefully, their health.

Those moving from countries where healthcare is free at the point of delivery, such as the UK, may be in for a shock when moving abroad. ‘Free’ may no longer be applicable, private medical insurance can be compulsory and those without private cover could find themselves exposed to a sub-standard healthcare system.

Private cover, therefore, can be an essential part of moving abroad and international private medicla insurance (IPMI) is often the one to go for. But what exactly is IPMI and why is it potentially important, even life-saving, for today’s modern expatriate worker?

Broad-Based Healthcare Protection

First off, IPMI policies typically offer exceptional levels of protection. As an expatriate, you could in theory claim in excess of $1.6m (or £1m) each year on your cover. Of course, you would hope not to have to do this but your safety-net is substantial enough to cover the vast majority of health-related claims.

But it’s not only the high financial ceiling that’s important, the range of conditions that are covered is also crucial. An international plan provides wide-ranging cover from every-day afflictions to the more serious such as cancer and AIDS. Optical, dental and maternity is also protectable – sometimes as standard under a policy and sometimes optional at additional cost. Western style treatment is the norm but care indigenous to certain parts of the world – such as Chinese medicine – is now frequently available.

First-Class Treatment

International health insurers operate wide ‘networks’ of medical facilities. They will identify, assess and contract with enough facilities to ensure their customers have access to treatment wherever they are in the world. Hospitals or clinics within insurer networks will be of a high standard and/or offer specialist treatment. Insurers will often monitor the in-patient care of their customers and take action where this is sub-standard or inappropriate. In short, if you are covered by an IPMI programme, you can be fairly confident the healthcare you receive will be first-rate.  

Of course, if you are an insured member of a scheme you aren’t obliged to use a medical facility in your insurer’s network.   However, insurers do want you to use their hospitals and clinics if available – for reasons we’ll cover in a later post – and will encourage you to do so.


Expatriates, by their very nature, are frequent travellers. A job might demand relocation to a new country every few years or travelling frequently from the same base may be integral to the position. In these circumstances, the portability of international private medical insurance cover makes it invaluable.

Unlike local cover – if you purchase private medical insurance in your home country, for example – international cover protects you wherever you are. Travelling from Singapore to Nigeria and back home via the UAE in a two-week period? No problem. If you are injured or fall ill in any one of those locations, you’ll be able to access first class medical care.

World-Wide Customer Service

Given the global nature of international private medical insurance, specialist customer service is fundamental. If an expatriate is injured in a remote part of Africa they want to be able to be able to contact their insurer quickly and easily – and talk to someone in their tongue – to get the help they need.

Fortunately, insurers are set-up to handle this and most other situations. Technology has made it easy to make contact and submit a claim. Networks are comprehensive so the right level of care is never too far away. And where particular attention is required, and not easily accessible, evacuation facilities are on-hand to transport patients where they need to be.

Not just for expatriates

The ability to access top-quality care around the world means that IPMI is often of interest to wealthy locals – especially those in developing countries where healthcare systems are not to the same standard as more advanced nations.   Knowing that you can travel to another country for specialist care or that you are continually covered if you travel frequently is an extremely attractive proposition to those who are able to afford cover.

Expatriates have a lot to think about when they move away from home. But health should be towards the top of the list and putting in place the right level of international private medical insurance is one way to ensure peace of mind that, if something should happen hundred or thousands of miles from home, the necessary medical care will be right where you need it.

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