International health insurance : Types of cover

Where international health insurance is concerned, there is no such thing as a standard policy. Every insurer has its own wording. Several insurers offer a choice of wordings. There's a lot of technical insurance jargon used. If in doubt, ask them to explain it. The use of sterling for premium payment and policy limits is now less common. There is usually a choice of £, Euro or US dollar. Many companies will accept other currencies.

Limits on international cover

There are two types of limit on international health insurance cover. One is an overall limit for all sections during a year. The other type is an individual limit for each section or sub-section.

Types of insurance cover available

Many policies have options to include cover that you want and exclude the cover that you do not.

Choice of cover policies

Where there is a basic core level of cover and lots of options as to what else you can add or take away, these are known as "Choice of Cover Policies". There are only a few of these.

Package policies

Where there is a compulsory cover and a few options these are known as "Package Policies". Most international health plans are now packages.

Standard cover

There is no standard policy for expatriate health insurance. A policy will usually cover in-patient and day-patient treatment. This extends to professional fees, accommodation, diagnostics, theatre fees, nursing, medication, chronic conditions, oncology, organ transplant, physiotherapy, private ambulance, rehabilitation and more.

Some policies include out-patient cover, others do not. Out-patient cover includes; professional fees, diagnostics, surgical treatment, medication, chronic conditions, oncology, physiotherapy, and sometimes also psychiatric illness. Other options include pregnancy and childbirth, dental treatment, evacuation and repatriation, and mortal remains.

Increasingly, international plans include preventive health checks such as general medicals, prostate and cervical cancer tests. There may also be compassionate cover for flights home, for instance, when a family member dies. Separate policies are often offered for travel, accident, income protection and life.

Exactly what is offered and the words used to describe the cover varies greatly between insurers.

Travel Contingency

If you live outside the UK you will probably have close relatives in the UK.

However fit and healthy they are, if a sudden accident or illness, or even death, occurs you want to be with your loved ones as soon as possible.

The last thing you want to worry about when a family member in the UK is taken into hospital or passes away whilst you are living abroad is the cost involved with travelling to be with them at short notice.  Although in recent years airfares have become more competitive, if you want a flight almost immediately, you’ll end up paying over the odds.  For an annual premium, a travel contingency cover will pay for travel and accommodation, including transfers and taxi fares to and from the hospital. It also professionally handles all of the bookings of these through a 24 hour 365 day call.

Cover for hazardous activities

Some policies automatically cover hazardous sports and activities, others do not. The basic rule is simple. If you are likely to engage in something extra dangerous such as bungee jumping, motor sports or mountaineering- you must tell insurers.

Cover for war and terrorist activity

Cover will usually be included in expatriate / international health insurance policies, but only if you are in an innocent bystander. If you are on a contract to rebuild Iraq, this does not count as being an innocent bystander!

Top up policies

Top up policies cover the difference between the tariff price paid for by the state, and the real cost charged to the individual. They can also offer private rooms, outpatient treatment, pharmacy and dental costs. In many countries, the first port of call is the local GP, who is a lot more expensive to visit than the British equivalent, and not free.


Travelling overseas to study can be an exciting yet unsettling experience. As well as studying hard you will have to adapt to a whole new culture. When you fall ill, suddenly home can feel a million miles away.

But, you can rest more easily by covering yourself in advance for those unexpected occasions with a special policy for UK for students who are studying overseas.

These policies are not for overseas students, studying in the UK.


UK teachers working overseas in international schools may need international health cover as any other expatriate does. Some schools provide cover. Some offer a scheme where special cover can be bought. Teachers may also be able to buy their own cover.

Short-term cover 

Most policies will only cover people away from the UK for 6 months or more. But there is a need for cover for  people on short-term assignments  or having moved abroad until full cover can be arranged locally.



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