How To Access Best Quality Affordable Healthcare When You Move Abroad

Your healthcare options when moving abroad from the UK

Access to high-quality healthcare abroad matters whether you are planning to work overseas, establish a business or retire.

Private health cover can be a great solution. However, there are a few things to consider before splashing out on private insurance, which could bring your healthcare bills down.

Paperwork to keep your healthcare abroad costs manageable

If you are retiring to an EU country and are eligible for a UK state pension, almost certainly you are entitled to the same level of public healthcare the local residents have. Such health services will be provided by your new country’s health institutions and paid for by the UK.

You will also be able to return to the UK for any treatment you need if you prefer so. Keep this in mind when researching your private healthcare options.

To be able to get the best value-for-money healthcare in your new country of residence, you need to sort out some paperwork.

Global Health Insurance Card – GHIC

The Global Health Insurance Card covers EEA citizens for immediate and unplanned healthcare needs during their visits to any EEA country. 

What GHIC covers

It allows you to get state medical treatment on the same basis as residents of the EU country you’re visiting. You may need to pay upfront and then reclaim some or all of the costs. 

The GHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance and does not cover private treatment or evacuation to your home country. 

It is a short-term solution aimed at tourists and other visitors staying for up to three months. The GHIC helps you to access healthcare if you get ill or have been in an accident. It also covers treatment of a chronic or pre-existing medical condition that becomes necessary during your visit.

With the GHIC you can access the provision of oxygen and kidney dialysis, although you’ll have to pre-book these treatments before you arrive. 

When using your GHIC to access healthcare make sure you’re not booked with a private healthcare provider. Private services are not covered by the GHIC.

How long you can use your GHIC 

GHIC is a temporary solution. After three months in a country, you should register with the healthcare authorities and access general healthcare as a resident. 

How to apply for a GHIC

You can apply for or renew a GHIC using the official EHIC online application form

A GHIC is free of charge! Don’t apply through any sites that charge you for application.

Once you become a resident in your new country, apply for the locally-issued EHIC – it will cover you during your travels within the EEA. 

S1 form

If you are relocating to an EU country or Switzerland, you may also be eligible to apply for an S1 form when you start receiving a UK State Pension.

Applying for an S1 form

The Overseas Healthcare Services are responsible for S1 forms. You can call them +44 (0)191 218 1999 or email nhsbsa.ohsregistrations@nhs.net

Very often, you will need your S1 form to apply for a visa. If this is the case, you can ask for your form 3 months before your moving date. You can ask for the form to be sent to your UK address if you need it for your visa application.

Registering your S1 form

When you move to your chosen country, you will need to register the S1 form with the healthcare authority in your country of residence.

Public healthcare options in your new country of residence

When you obtain residency in your new country, have a look at whether you can join your new country’s public healthcare system for a fee. Some countries allow that. 

In Spain, for example, you can register for a government-run scheme called Convenio Especial. It will allow you to access public healthcare and other social security benefits for a basic monthly fee of €60 for the under 65s and €157 for over 65s. However, you can only do it after you’ve been a resident for a year. 

To cover the gap, look first at what local private health providers offer.

For more details on moving to Spain from the UK read our Living In Spain After Brexit guide.

Local private health insurance for expats

If you want or need to have private health cover, don’t rush to buy an international plan. You may find more competitive deals offered by insurers in your new country of residence.

Try to get privately insured as early as possible – that is, before you turn 65. After that, it’s both difficult and expensive. And do make sure your insurer won’t bump you off their health insurance the moment you turn 65!

If, as a retiree, you’re moving to a country that offers free or subsidised healthcare, you may be able to buy top-up insurance for a better level of, or extended, care and service. 

As a rule, top-ups are much cheaper and, in most cases, will cover all co-payments and additional services.

International health insurance for expats

If you are 65 and over, not many local private insurers will be ready to give you health cover – and those that on offer are quite pricey. 

In this case, it might be useful to compare local and international health cover quotes

Choosing health insurance: how not to overpay

1:  The bigger your excess, the lower the monthly cost.  

Therefore, if you think you can afford to pay something every time you need treatment, talk to each insurer you approach to see how much you could shave off your monthly/ annual fee.

2:  The narrower your coverage, the more affordable your insurance.  

Restrict your coverage to your new country of residence to get a cheaper quote.

3:  Paying for some treatments out-of-pocket. 

Opting to pay for prescriptions, dental and optical treatment yourself can reduce your insurance premium. It would be wise, however, to research how much such treatments could cost you on a pay-as-you-go basis in your new country to decide which is cheaper: paying a higher premium or choosing to pay out of your own pocket.

For more information on international health cover providers read our International Health Insurance page.

For a better deal on an international health plan request a free quote from our partners International Citizens Insurance.

You might find useful:

  • The Expat Guide to UK Pensions Abroad – detailed information about your state, workplace and private pensions when you retire abroad; your options, tax implications and opportunities if you transfer your pension pot abroad or leave it in the UK;
  • Banking, Saving, & Investments Abroad – a simple guide to your bank accounts and investment options when you become an expat;
  • Visit our homepage for a comprehensive range of Living Abroad guides.
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