Healthcare If You Move Abroad

One of your main considerations if you are thinking of moving abroad – either permanently or just to a holiday home in the sun – is if you can receive health treatment in your new location, writes Iain Yule. And, importantly, is the treatment free of charge?

Only 42 per cent of expats-to-be secure healthcare provision before they move abroad, meaning nearly six-in-ten expats-to-be are not prepared for the big move.

Many would-be expats are ignoring the potential consequences of failing to prepare, despite the fact that over 80 per cent of respondents to a survey by AXA PPP International feel concerned about accessing quality healthcare while abroad.

The research has highlighted that moving abroad comes with a plethora of worries for expats-to-be and that many are simply not prepared to deal with them. For example, 83 per cent of people moving abroad are worried about finding a good doctor in their new country. Despite this, only 42 per cent go ahead and organise healthcare for when they arrive and 19 per cent believe they can cover healthcare costs with travel insurance alone.

The staggering potential cost of needing emergency medical treatment abroad has recently been highlighted.

While the average travel insurance claim is just over £700, emergency medical and repatriation costs when overseas can be much higher. This is according to a report by the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

Despite the high costs of emergency medical treatment overseas, an estimated one in five Britons go abroad without travel insurance.

With some of the highest treatment and medication costs of any country, emergency medical bills in the USA can be considerable. For example:

*Treatment for an abscess in the abdomen resulted in the insurer covering the £101,000 medical cost;

*Over £500,000 was paid for treating a multiple fracture of the leg and artery tear in the USA with an air ambulance back to the UK

Anyone travelling overseas should always take out appropriate travel insurance for the duration of their trip, and declare medical conditions when they take out their policy. A valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) when travelling in Europe is also strongly recommended. Though not a substitute for travel or medical insurance, the EHIC is free and provides access to state-provided healthcare on the same basis as a resident.

Brexit Effect

The effect on the EHIC scheme of the UK leaving the European Union would be dependent on the UK’s circumstances after it pulled out. There are a number of possibilities.

  1. The EHIC works within the European Economic Area (or ‘EEA’), not just the EU itself. The EEA was created in 1994 in order to allow certain non-EU states to participate in the European Common Market. If the UK pulls out of the EU but remains part of the EEA, the use of EHICs may not be affected in the long term, as it isn’t with countries that are outside of the EU but are part of the EEA, such as Iceland and Norway. However, this would depend on the willingness of the EU and its member states to acknowledge the continued validity of EHICs.
  1. There is also a possibility that the UK will leave the EEA when it leaves the EU. In this case, EHICs would almost certainly be rendered invalid, as the UK would no longer be part of the ‘club’ of countries on which they are dependent.
  1. The UK could leave the EU and the EEA but negotiate specific agreements with individual EU countries. In this case, EHICs may still be valid in the countries where the UK successfully negotiates agreements, provided there is a particular provision made for their use in each of those countries.

With no EHIC, Britons in Europe would have no access to local healthcare, without having to pay upfront for it. In this scenario, a current health insurance policy would be needed to cover the cost of any medical attention. You can find out more on this at the website.

Iain Yule is the Editorial Director of

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