Navigating International Health Insurance for Location-Independent Workers
August 23, 2022
By Joe Cronin

Now that many companies are offering the opportunity to work remotely, people who would never have considered becoming a digital nomad are enjoying the opportunity to work from another country. After all, why suffer through a snowy winter or scorching summer when you could work from the Bahamas instead—and bring your family along?

There’s just one hiccup. Except in very rare cases, your employer-provided health insurance plan will not cover you while you are out of the country. How will you make sure you and your family are taken care of if you fall ill or have an accident while abroad? There are several different options, including different types of international health insurance.

Option 1: Cross Your Fingers

Enough people choose this option that we’d be remiss if we didn’t cover it. Some people who choose to work from another country don’t get insurance at all. Sometimes it is because they assume they will stay healthy. Other times, it’s because they are under the assumption that healthcare in a foreign country will be cheap or free. They decide they will save money by skipping health insurance.

Unfortunately, as many location-independent workers have discovered, this can turn out to be a very expensive option. If you fall down a flight of stairs, fall ill from food poisoning or are befallen with appendicitis, you could be in for a very high medical bill. In most cases, even if the country offers universal health care for its citizens, you will still have to pay out of pocket. And in certain countries, such as Mexico and Costa Rica, you will have to provide proof that you can pay in advance.

In addition, if you choose this option, you may not even be allowed into your desired country. Several countries now require travel medical insurance in order to enter.

This option is a big gamble. You might get lucky, but your delightful overseas trip could just as easily become a financially ruinous nightmare. A wise location-independent worker chooses international insurance.

But what kind of plan should you get?

Option 2: Travel Medical Insurance

Many location-independent workers immediately default to travel medical insurance. If you are only planning to be away from your home country for a couple of months, travel medical insurance is an option that can make a lot of sense. This type of insurance will cover you and your family if a medical issue arises. And it tends to be a budget-friendly option for health coverage.

However, travel medical insurance is designed for people who will be out of their home country for only a few weeks or months. If you are planning to use your location-independent status to travel the world for a year or more, you may find that travel medical insurance does not provide the coverage you’ll need for routine care while abroad.

Travel medical insurance is meant largely for urgent or emergency situations. If you want a dental checkup, an annual physical or other preventive health care, your travel medical plan probably won’t cover it. If you’ll only be out of the country for a couple of months, you can schedule all of your preventive care before and after your trip. If you will be away longer and want preventive care on the road, prepare to pay out of pocket.

Also, travel medical insurance is generally designed to stabilize your condition until you return to your home country for further care. So, for example, if you have a simple wrist fracture from tripping over a cobblestone you may be able to get treatment and stay where you are. But if you were hit by a motorcycle and have a compound leg fracture that requires traction and physical therapy, you would probably be transported home to recover. Your care at home would be covered by your home-country health insurance policy, not your travel health insurance policy.

If you are leaving your home country for only a short period, this may make the most sense. But if all your stuff at home is in storage, you no longer have a home-country insurance plan and you don’t plan to return for many months or even years, you may not want to consider an international health insurance plan.

Option 3: International Health Insurance

International health insurance, sometimes called expat insurance, is designed for people who will be out of their home country for three months or more. The way it works is very similar to a U.S. health insurance plan. Some plans require the subscriber to stay within a limited network of providers, while others offer the opportunity to see any provider you wish. You may also be able to choose a deductible in order to reduce your premium.

Unlike a travel medical insurance plan, an international health insurance plan provides coverage for all aspects of your health while abroad. Many plans offer coverage for preventive care, prescription benefits, dental and vision coverage and telemedicine services. If you might need physical therapy or a chiropractor, you can choose a plan that will cover these treatments. International medical insurance plans also offer emergency medical transportation in case you are ill or injured in an area with limited medical services.

Working Remotely From Abroad? Get the Right Health Insurance

With the new remote work revolution, workers have more opportunities than ever to see the world in a new way. Spending time abroad while working is an incredible way to experience a new culture. The differences can surprise you! And with the right international health insurance plan, you’ll be assured that you won’t be surprised by any giant medical bills.