What to consider when living overseas - we check out the facts

If you are living and working overseas or about to make the move, it pays to be well informed and prepared on all aspects of your lifestyle, including the critical area of health and medical insurance cover. We have put together a checklist of key points to consider that may help take the hassle out of healthcare cover and put the planning into your preparations.

1. The first question to ask is have you got healthcare insurance in place for you and your family. If you are working overseas on secondment then your company will no doubt have a group scheme in place for you.

However, many individuals who live and work overseas do not have individual PMI cover, preferring to leave things to chance. Currently, this leaves about 40 – 50% of people without cover or protection!  Debbie Purser, CEO, April International UK comments, “More and more people are leaving the UK for other reasons, with many younger people choosing to leave with families in tow. These people will not have pensions and will probably not be on secondment, preferring to let the low cost of house prices dictate their choice of country. Once there, they will seek out employment and may not in the first instance take out private medical insurance, not realising that complete or top up individual PMI is vital in some countries. Even if they are going to a country that has a reciprocal healthcare agreement with the UK, they may still need to pay for medical treatment.

None of the healthcare agreements cover the cost of bringing a person back to the UK in the event of illness or death. So it pays to be well prepared - do your research before you go, putting medical cover in place and top of the list.”

2. Make sure that when you look at policies you consider more than just the cost alone – value for money and breadth of cover is very important. Debbie Purser continues, “Cover for chronic care costs will be increasingly important as our experience tells us that at the critical buying point most clients move away from the pure cost factor to the more expensive policies providing more comprehensive cover. With more and more families moving overseas, it makes sense to take out a policy which covers the costs of everyday drugs and treatment for conditions such as flu and the common cold. “

3. Think about where you are going to live – the destination will affect the healthcare cover you need. If you will be living in a country with a well developed infrastructure, perhaps in a city, then this will involve fewer risks than living in a rural area or in a third world country. Behaviour also plays a part – will you be travelling around, perhaps going outdoors in the evenings in a malaria-endemic area without taking precautions or understanding the risks. Exposure to insects, rodents or other animals, infectious agents and contaminated food and water, combined with the absence of appropriate medical facilities makes travel in many remote regions particularly dangerous. Talk to your doctor and discuss everything carefully with your healthcare provider as they will be able to help assess the risk and recommend the right policy for you.

4. Get up-to-date with vaccinations and any anti-malaria medication you need. Visit your doctor or a specialist travel clinic at least two months before your departure date – you might not be able to get all the immunisations you need in one go and some take a while to become fully effective.

You may also need to start taking anti-malaria medication before you leave. If you’re leaving in less than two months, it’s still worth getting some medical advice: some protection is better than none. Tell the doctor or nurse where you’re going, if you’re pregnant (or thinking about getting pregnant) and whether you’re taking children with you. You can get some anti-malaria medication from pharmacies without a prescription, so ask the doctor or nurse about the cheapest way to get what you need. Make sure you’ve got all the immunisations you need for the country you’re going to by checking the NHS immunisation website or asking your GP. If you haven’t had diphtheria, polio or tetanus vaccines before, this is an ideal opportunity to get them. Even if you have had them before, you might need a booster dose.

5. If you are over 65 and have a pre-existing medical condition or special need, it is important to consider this carefully and tell your healthcare provider. Not only will this affect the insurance cover you should be looking at, but it will also require special consideration when living and travelling overseas. Make sure you have all the necessary medication with you when you travel along with the necessary information about the condition and treatment required. A doctor’s letter certifying the necessity for certain drugs or other medical supplies such as syringes should always be carried with you when travelling. You will also need to find out if there are any restrictions on taking your medicines in and out of the UK or the country you are visiting – some medicines available over the counter in the UK may be controlled in other countries and vice versa. Ask the relevant embassy or high commission, check the Home Office website or talk to your healthcare provider.

6. If you are doing a lot of travelling that involves a fair amount of sitting still, then it is well worth considering the risks of DVT and taking certain precautions. Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is the formation of a blood clot in one of the body’s deep veins (usually in the leg). DVT is rare, but sitting still for long periods of time in a plane, train or car can increase the risk. Do some simple exercises – rotate your ankles and wiggle your toes – and get up and walk around if you can. Stay hydrated with regular non-alcoholic drinks. If you have ever had DVT or clots in your lungs, have a family history of clotting conditions, have had major surgery (especially a hip or knee replacement) in the last three months, suffer from heart disease, cancer or have ever had a stroke, you may be at increased risk. Ask your doctor for advice.

7. Remember that you should always carry your health insurance assistance telephone number with you at all times. The assistance element of international healthcare is often misunderstood – most clients tend to have visions of emergency evacuations, air ambulances and near-death experiences when thinking about assistance. In reality, whilst having an effective and rapid back-up for air evacuation is indeed important, in the vast majority of cases, the role of international medical assistance is far less dramatic though no less important. On a day-to-day basis, it is the assistance service which all policyholders turn to as soon as they have any kind of medical problem, be it as simple as a child’s ear infection or a more serious broken bone.  Debbie Purser end, “Our assistance service is at the end of a telephone line 24 hours a day, 365 days giving cover all over the world. Core to any international PMI policy, the assistance element is a sophisticated back room engine providing a breadth and depth of service vital to the wellbeing of clients.