Healthcare Abroad: Your Guide To Overseas Health Insurance & Healthcare Access

Healthcare abroad for British retirees: assessing your needs, things to do before and after the move abroad, medical insurance abroad
healthcare abroad for retirees
Healthy retirement is happy retirement

Healthcare is a big factor in retirement. There is no secret that the older we get, the more regular our GP visits become and no one wants to lose the level of health support they need for comfortable live.

That’s why it’s worth researching before moving abroad what healthcare options are available for you in your chosen country and how you can make sure that your health is being looked after properly in retirement.

It is true that we don’t really become old the moment we hit our retirement age. We live longer, stay independent and mobile, and there is plenty advice around as to how to stay healthy, active and fit both physically and mentally as long as possible.

However, the further after 60 we go, the more chance there is we will need a medical attention at some point. So making sure you have access to healthcare facilities abroad is vital for your comfortable retirement.

Accessing Healthcare Abroad

According to the NHS Choices website, British retirees living in an EEA country or Switzerland who are in receipt of the British state pension may be entitled to state healthcare paid for by the UK.

This might change after Britain officially leaves the EU, so check our guide for updates from time to time, but for now the current agreements stay in place.

To be eligible you have to apply for a certificate of entitlement – S1 form(formerly known as E106 or E109).

Forms are available from the UK government site.

Once you’ve been issued with one you can register it with the relevant healthcare authority in your new country.

In most instances you have to go through this process before being allowed to register with a GP, obtain a medical card or free healthcare in your new country of residence.

Once you’ve been issued with and registered your S1 you can apply for a UK-issued European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access state-funded emergency medical treatment if you visit any other EEA countries. It is very useful if you plan to travel and have holidays across Europe.

In certain other nations around the world there is state funded healthcare, and your eligibility to access it may depend on your residency status.

As a British retiree living inside the European Economic Area you have access to free healthcare while in the UK.

Healthcare Insurance

Some private medical insurers still have a maximum age limit for new policyholders of between 65 and 80 years of age depending on the company in question.

However, many companies are increasing the age limit or even removing it altogether in order to remain competitive, attract and retain custom, and to reflect the fact that ageing doesn’t automatically mean ill health.

Having said all of that, it will be essential to research your options ahead of a move abroad.

You don’t have to choose an international insurer either, you may find more competitive deals offered by insurers in your new nation.

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

Here are some tips on what to consider when choosing health insurance:

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.

The narrower your coverage, the more affordable your insurance – i.e., if you restrict coverage to your new nation, or a state within your new nation if we’re talking about the US for example, your insurance will be cheaper.  However, if you travel outside of your insured area you will need to buy travel or top up insurance for the duration of your stay.

Paying for some treatments out-of-pocket. Opting to pay for prescriptions, dental and optical treatment yourself can reduce your insurance premium. It will be wise, however, to research how much such treatments can possibly cost you on pay as you go basis in your new country, and see what’s cheaper: paying more premium or choosing to pay out of your pocket.

Pre-existing conditions: cover or not? Pre-existing conditions can ramp up the cost of insurance, or even be ineligible for cover.

Can you afford not to have pre-existing conditions covered? This will certainly make insurance cheaper.

However, compromising on it might leave you vulnerable in future. If you have such conditions as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, asthma and some other long-term health issues, and if you are not sure you can manage them on your own, it might be worth finding a special health plan.

What is your desired level of cover? Think about the level of cover you need.  Reducing the level of cover to just emergency treatment will naturally bring down your premiums.

But, be realistic…what if you fall long-term ill and need care and treatment?  Look at all levels of cover available to choose the one you will feel safe with.

Shop around.  As there are plenty of insurers out there, it will pay you to shop around every year when you get your renewal. As we mentioned earlier, local insurers in your new country of residence can be cheaper than international providers.

A final word about health insurance abroad – it’s a very tedious subject, but just because it’s boring to even think about, don’t risk going uninsured – the cost could literally be too high.

Do your country-specific research, and then shop around and haggle.

Healthcare Screening

A great way to estimate your health needs in retirement is to go through a personalised health assessment. It will give you detailed knowledge of your current state of health and any future risks and also will make it easier to choose a health cover.

Private health screening can also pick up serious health problems, or reassure you that you don’t have any.

You will first have to go through a comprehensive health screening programme. Based on the tests and analysis a personal action plan will be produced, with all results and expert advice for your future health.
At the end you will usually receive your Personal Health Action Plan.

You can choose to do so in the UK. The health screenings available at a private clinic will provide everything from basic blood and fitness tests, costing around £200, to full-body imaging, including MRI and ultrasound scans, that will set you back a few thousand.

However, full health screenings are a normal procedure around the world, so do check the prices in the country you want to retire to. It might turn out that a much more comprehensive health test will cost you quite a bit less than in the UK.

As an example, one of the private medical centres in Portugal offers a one-day comprehensive premium health screening programme in the state-of-the-art facilities at the Hospital Particular do Algarve in Faro – a very popular expat retirement destination.

Apart from normal procedures such as an initial consultation and lab tests, the check includes MRI scans of brain, arteries, abdomen and pelvis; a CT scan of the lungs; a heart ECG, stress test and echocardiagram.

The health check is offered at a price of €1,600. It is up to 50% less than in several other European countries for the same level of service. At the end you will get advice from a doctor and receive your Personal Health Action Plan.

Getting your health assessed in such a comprehensive way at a start of your retirement can help you have a clearer view of your present and future healthcare needs.

If you decide you would like to have a comprehensive check-up, shop around and see who offers the best price for the level of screening you want. Check whether it is cheaper and easier to do in your new country of residence.

If you already have private health insurance in the UK, check with your current provider for any offers or discounts on a comprehensive health screening.

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