With belt-tightening in full swing in the west, there’s a temptation for people travelling or living abroad to gamble on cutting out insurance against injury, illness, theft and a host of other misfortunes. As an expat, whether you have recently just landed or have been overseas for years, rolling the dice with your health is really not a wise decision. Even if you think you have the right insurance for living in China – would it still cover you if you went on holiday or business trips?
According to Axa, which claims to be the UK’s biggest travel insurer, one in ten Britons who took a winter sports break last year were uninsured. How many on top of this were underinsured?
Statistically speaking, one in three is seriously injured through their ski and snowboard antics at some stage in their lives. It is reasonable to assume therefore that a high proportion of expats also decide to gamble in similar fashion.
A serious injured skier in the Alps requiring airlift could be on the hook for a £25,000 hospital bill if requiring airlift. The bill from a US medical facility would run somewhere in the region of £40,000.
As an expat, these figures equally apply to say, a motorbike accident victim in Bali, a pregnant woman who develops serious complications in Laos, or a mining executive who suffers a stroke in the remotes of South Africa.
Getting it Right in Shanghai
A vibrant city, loads to do, fantastic people, new bugs for the immune system to battle amongst other hazards such as road safety to contend with. International standard hospitals in Shanghai and Beijing are comparable in costs to those in the US – China has not only jumped up the league table of economic power – but also of healthcare costs – Shanghai United Family Hospital can certainly not be accused of being cheap.
To protect yourself, you don’t want to get seriously ill in China without insurance even if you have a good amount of cash tucked away in the bank or settled in other investments. To illustrate, recent costs incurred by expats in China include an Irish expat who broke his finger during a football match – cost for treatment $15,000. A stroke victim whose treatment cost $145,000 and a 29 year old who picked up E.Coli 157 from eating out faced a $8,000 hospital bill. Road traffic accidents are only too common in developing countries - a recent victim ran up bills of over $200,000.
Like many Asian countries, if you are not a native, then the majority of China’s social systems are not built for locals. As such, local health insurance or travel insurance is unlikely to be adequate for your period overseas. Hopefully your time in China will be thoroughly wonderful, however, if something were to happen – whether caused by an accident or you just falling ill – you don’t want to fall into one of the many alarming stats of horror stories relating to foreigners not being adequately insured whilst abroad. Having the right international health insurance plan is a must.
What Do I Get For My Money?
Besides covering the financial cost of catastrophic illnesses or accidents, an international health insurance policy ensures access to quality medical care. Depending on where you are based or where you travel to, you will typically find that state run or local private medical facilities are underdeveloped and unsophisticated compared to western standards. Holding an international policy allows you to receive treatment in some of the world’s very best hospitals and healthcare teams. Indeed, you are free to choose any particular hospital or doctor you wish which can, in some cases, the can be the difference between life and death.
In addition to the plethora of benefits that are typically included in international policies, many plans feature what is known as “emergency evacuation”. With this benefit, the insurance companies will cover eligible expenses for flying you out to the nearest centre of medical excellence should such a centre be not located nearby. In some cases you can even elect to fly home to be treated in the comfort of family and friends.
The Small Print
How many expats read the small print of their medical cover? It’s a complicated and boring task to get to grips with the intricacies of what you are buying but because there are so many potential pitfalls, exclusions and opportunities to under-insure, or over-insure, time invested is seldom wasted. Check out the BrokerFish Insider’s Guide To Buying The Perfect International Health Insurance Policy for some tips.
Irrespective of the type of insurance you hold, accidents or illnesses related to drug/alcohol abuse are excluded and many insurers may not provide cover for certain sporting activities. Even hiring a scooter while on holiday in Thailand for example carries with it risks. If you are not wearing a helmet or don’t have the relevant license and insurance to drive the bike (in other words you are not legal) – insurers may reserve the right to decline to pay out for medical expenses related to an accident.
Some employers and expats opt for local insurance. Be very careful to check your cover. Levels are typically lower which means if something serious does happen, then you may be stuck in a local hospital. This might be adequate for a short stay, however, know that there are many horror stories of foreigners receiving treatment in non-western standard hospitals.
Local plans seldom cover evacuation costs so if you needed to be transferred out of the country the bill for this could run into thousands and thousands given the costs of sectioning off part of a commercial flight of for yourself, medical support equipment and personnel. The cost of evacuation by private aircraft (often used by international insurers) would be financially prohibitive even if you have some savings behind you.
If you’re going to be based in China for longer than one year, try your best not to go without health insurance and always make sure you understand what you are covered for.
Bio: Philip McCusker represents Brokerfish.com, a dynamic, innovative company that helps individuals and organizations from all over the world gain a clearer picture of their health insurance options. BrokerFish.com allows you to compare premiums for 1,000+ expat insurance policies instantly.