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Three quarters of expats put health at risk when moving abroad

PUBLISHED: 1 March 2017 | LAST UPDATED: 3 March 2020

New research by AXA’s international health specialists, provider of international medical insurance, has found that almost three quarters of expats waited until after relocating to purchase health insurance cover, with 54 per cent doing so within two months of arriving and 17 per cent doing so only after experiencing the healthcare facilities available locally. Five per cent of respondents said that they had still not purchased any form of health insurance cover which would guarantee them access to medical care locally.

The research, which surveyed over 500 expats, all of whom have at least one child, found that 60 per cent had accessed non-routine healthcare since moving and 1 in 4 (27 per cent) found orientating the local healthcare system difficult. However, instead of purchasing international health insurance to cover the cost and assist with the logistics of accessing treatment, 17 per cent chose to look for treatment locally when the need arises and pay accordingly.

The research indicated that the majority of expats didn’t consider healthcare to be as high a priority as other factors before they relocate. When asked to rank the three most important things that they had to organise for their new home while planning to move, just 32 per cent of expats included access to healthcare. As a priority, access to healthcare therefore ranked below employment (52 per cent), finances (35 per cent) and schooling (35 per cent).

Tom Wilkinson, CEO of AXA’s global healthcare business, commented, “Starting a new life in another country can be a daunting prospect, especially when you have a family to consider. From my own experience as an expat, I understand the sheer amount of planning that is required in order to make such a move a success. 

“However, accident and illness can strike at any time and in some parts of the world, access to the appropriate treatment can be both logistically difficult and very expensive. I would therefore urge expats to research their local healthcare system thoroughly and plan how they will access healthcare with as much priority as their finances or employment status before they move, in order to protect both their wellbeing and their families’.

“An international healthcare policy is about more than just handling the logistics of seeking medical treatment or covering the costs, which can often be significant. These policies give expats the flexibility to access medical treatment where they live or when they go home, which they may choose to do if they’re expecting to be recovering for some time and want the familiarity of their home environment. In medical emergencies, it gives them fast access to specialist care that might not be available locally, or the option of a second medical opinion, in their own language, which can be incredibly reassuring when you struggle with the language and everything feels unfamiliar – even more so when you’re the parent of an ill child. These are the sort of details that we find can be overlooked by expats who plan to navigate healthcare situations themselves with an ‘as and when’ approach, but can often be the most important to ensure effective and straightforward access to quality treatment.”