The Expat Advantage: International Health Insurance Options

Words by Stephen Revere
Illustration by Jonathan Burello

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The Expat Advantage
International Health Insurance Options

As explained in the previous article, while Korean National Health Insurance is amazing value for dollar, there are some weak spots and even a few gaping holes to worry about. If you hold a passport for another country then you have another option; you can look into getting an International Health Insurance (IHI) policy. If you’re a foreigner working for a foreign company, you can also choose to opt out of the NHI – as long as you prove that you have alternative health insurance coverage.

There are a few big advantages to IHI policies over domestic supplemental insurance companies. Most give you millions of US$ in total coverage while local companies are legally limited to top out at W50 million (under US$50,000) in coverage. Combined with the NHIS policy, it’s probably more than enough for almost any illness treatment in Korea, but your treatment is limited to Korea. As an international policy, you and your family can get treatment anywhere in the world, although you may choose a policy with certain regions excluded to save money. Either way, if you spend much time abroad this can give you peace of mind while traveling. These factors can make an International Health Insurance (IHI) policy an appealing option. In looking for a policy, however, there are a few questions you should ask yourself first.

Will I be heading to the US much?  

The US offers the most expensive health care in the world by a large margin, so if you need to be covered there expect to pay considerably more. Some policies may offer supplemental travel coverage for the US, typically under $100,000 and for a period under a month or two. That doesn’t go very far in the US, but at least it will get you by in an emergency, and then you can head to Canada, Mexico or back to Korea for serious treatment. Either way, save money by choosing a policy with “Worldwide excluding USA” coverage if you won’t be there very often.

What deductible (or excess) am I comfortable with?

A “deductible,” otherwise known as “excess” is the money you have to pay out of pocket before your insurance will start paying. If you have the NHIS insurance, your medical bills are likely to be partially covered, but you could still end up with up to W20 million in medical bills for a serious illness or injury. Do you have that money on hand? If you don’t, you may want to be safe and go with a low deductible of US$500 or so. If you do and you’re really just getting this policy to cover yourself while you travel and in the event that you want to be able to get the best care available anywhere in the world, then you could go with a higher deductible of US$5,000 – US$10,000, and consequently reducing your monthly bills.

What extras do I want?

Want to get treated back in your home country around friends and family in the event of an emergency? Get a policy with “Emergency Evacuation” coverage. Thinking about starting a family? “Maternity Coverage” would be a good idea. Got some troubled teeth? Add on some Dental Coverage. The optional coverages abound, including chronic condition, psychiatric, optical and more. Add in the coverage you feel is necessary – and expect to pay a little more for each addition every month.

Where can I get more information?

It’s a good idea to visit insurance “brokers” who specialize in IHI and offer insurances from a wide range of insurers. The prices will be the same if you approach the insurers directly, but this way you get to choose from a wide range of different insurers at once rather than individually checking with each insurer.

There’s an extremely helpful website by brokerfish, which has an excellent search function, allowing you to refine your search according to price range, excess range and types of coverage that you’re looking for. Other good IHI broker sites to check out include medibroker and aoc-insurancebroker.

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