Health Insurance

What's the difference between international health insurance and travel insurance?

Going abroad should be a fun, memory-making time. But you want to remember it for all the right reasons. Accidents and the unexpected happen, so insurance is crucial. But how do you know whether you need expat insurance or travel insurance?

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What's the difference between international health insurance and travel insurance?
  • International health insurance and travel insurance are very different
  • International health insurance is sometimes referred to as expat insurance
  • Expats usually can’t use a travel or domestic health insurance policy for cover when living abroad
  • Knowing what cover you need is vital to ensuring you can travel with peace of mind

International medical insurance vs travel insurance: FAQs

  • What is international vs local health insurance?

    International and local health insurance are two types of health insurance that differ in coverage and availability. International health insurance provides coverage for individuals living or travelling outside their home country. On the other hand, local health insurance provides coverage for individuals living or working within a specific country or region.
  • Do I need travel insurance if I have global healthcare insurance?

    While global healthcare insurance can provide comprehensive coverage for medical expenses and emergency medical evacuation while you are abroad, it may not cover all of the additional costs and risks associated with travel. For example, travel insurance can provide additional coverage for events such as trip cancellation, lost or stolen baggage, and travel delays, which global healthcare insurance typically won't cover. Additionally, travel insurance may offer other benefits such as emergency medical assistance, legal assistance, and personal liability coverage.

  • Does the NHS cover medical expenses abroad?

    The NHS provides free healthcare services to eligible residents within the UK. However, the NHS does not cover medical expenses abroad, except in certain limited circumstances. The Global Health Insurance Card, however, may offer some help. The GHIC, available to residents of the UK, means you can access emergency healthcare if you can't wait to return to the UK. For instance, if you are unwell on holiday or are involved in an accident.

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Before going on holiday or moving overseas, many of us spend a lot of time researching where to go and what to see. Spending a little time exploring the type of insurance we need is also necessary. 

Insurance can protect us against unexpected financial costs when we're abroad. But how do you know what type you need before you travel?

What are international health insurance plans? 

International health insurance plans are insurance policies that provide coverage for medical expenses incurred while travelling or living outside of one's home country. These plans cover individuals not covered by their domestic health insurance policy while abroad. They are sometimes referred to as expat insurance plans. 

International health insurance plans typically offer a range of benefits, including coverage for hospitalisation, emergency medical treatment, surgery, diagnostic tests, and prescription medication. Some plans may also cover preventive care for your overall well-being, such as routine check-ups and vaccinations.

Plans can also be customised to meet the policyholder's specific needs. They can be purchased on a short-term or long-term basis and may include coverage for individuals or families. In addition, policyholders may have access to a network of healthcare providers in their host country. Some plans may also offer medical evacuation, providing transportation to a medical facility in emergencies.

International health insurance can provide peace of mind for travellers and expatriates, knowing they can access quality medical care and financial protection in case of unexpected illness or injury when changing their country of residence.

What is travel insurance?

Travel insurance is designed to cover costs and losses associated with unexpected events before or during international travel holidays or even domestic trips. These events may include trip cancellation or interruption, medical emergencies, lost or stolen baggage, and other travel-related issues.

Having travel insurance cover means you can claim for non-refundable travel expenses in the event of an unexpected event that causes you to cancel or cut short your trip. Policies typically include medical coverage for any healthcare costs incurred while travelling, including treatment and hospitalisation. In addition, baggage coverage provides reimbursement for lost or stolen luggage, while travel delay coverage reimburses expenses incurred due to a delayed flight or other travel-related delays.

You can buy travel insurance for a single trip or multiple trips over a specified period. It is essential to carefully review the policy terms and conditions to understand what is covered and what is not and any exclusions or limitations that may apply.

As with expat insurance, travel insurance can provide peace of mind for travellers, knowing that they will not incur hefty debts should something go wrong whilst on holiday. 

Why can’t expats use travel insurance? 

Travel insurance and international health insurance are two different types of insurance offering very different types of coverage. Travel insurance is not suitable for expats to use as their sole healthcare coverage for several reasons. 


Travel insurance primarily covers trip-related issues such as trip cancellation, interruption, travel delay, and lost or stolen luggage. In contrast, international health insurance covers medical expenses incurred while working or living abroad.


Travel insurance is typically purchased for a specific trip or period of travel. In contrast, international health insurance can be purchased for short or long-term coverage, depending on the policyholder's needs.


The cost of travel insurance is typically lower than the cost of international health insurance, as travel insurance covers a narrower scope of issues. 


International health insurance policies may have exclusions or limitations for specific medical conditions or treatments. Travel insurance policies may have exclusions that limit or exclude coverage for particular events or situations, as well as pre-existing medical conditions. 

In summary, travel insurance covers trip-related issues. International health insurance covers medical expenses incurred while travelling or living abroad.

How do I know if I need travel insurance or expat insurance? 

When deciding between travel insurance and expat insurance, consider factors such as the duration of your trip or stay abroad, your access to healthcare, the activities you plan to engage in, and your overall level of risk. Once you've done that, you can choose the provider you need. 

How to choose international health insurance

Once you decide you need international health insurance, you must find the right plan. Here are some key factors to consider:

  1. Coverage: Consider the range of cover offered, including inpatient and outpatient treatment, prescription drugs, emergency care, and repatriation.
  2. Cost: Look at the premium cost, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses to determine the plan's overall cost.
  3. Network: Check if the plan offers access to a network of healthcare services and medical providers in the countries where you will be travelling or living.
  4. Exclusions: Review the plan's exclusions to understand what is not covered, such as pre-existing conditions, high-risk activities, and specific medical treatments.
  5. Customer service: Research the insurer's customer service and claims process to ensure you can quickly get the help you need if you require medical care.
  6. Reputation: Look for an insurer with a solid reputation for providing quality coverage and customer service, such as an easily carried insurance card, a helpline number and transparent terms and conditions.
  7. Flexibility: Consider whether the plan offers flexibility with add-ons and the ability to amend coverage as your needs change - such as removing family members or dependents.
  8. Duration: Choose a plan that matches the length of time you will live or travel abroad.

It is important to compare multiple international private medical insurance plans and carefully review the terms and conditions of each policy before making a decision. Consider consulting with a licensed insurance broker or financial advisor who can help you navigate the complex process of selecting an international health insurance plan.

How to choose travel insurance

If you have decided you need travel insurance, you'll find that picking a policy does include similar research to expat insurance, with a few crucial differences. For example, as with expat insurance, you’ll need to ensure you consider the following: 

  • Coverage
  • Trip duration
  • Cost
  • Exclusions
  • Customer service
  • Reputation
  • Additional benefits

However, you must factor in your destination to your quotes and what activities you'll be doing when on holiday. For example, participating in winter sports and going to the US or the Caribbean will likely increase your premium. Again, read through all terms and conditions, and try a broker if you find picking a policy too tricky. 

Why can’t expats use local health insurance? 

If you don't need travel insurance but need cover for a more extended stint abroad, you may wonder if you can access local health insurance instead. But that's not a workable solution. 

International health insurance plans are typically designed to cover individuals not covered by a domestic private healthcare policy while out of the country. In contrast, local health insurance plans cover medical expenses incurred within a specific country or region. These plans are typically purchased by residents of the country in which the plan is offered and provide coverage for routine medical care, as well as more serious medical conditions and emergencies. Local health insurance plans may also offer additional benefits, such as dental or optical coverage. As a UK resident, you may never have needed local health insurance because of the NHS. 

The main difference between international and local health insurance is the scope of coverage. Therefore, policyholders should carefully review the terms and conditions of each type of insurance to understand what is covered and what is not and any exclusions or limitations that may apply.

What is typically excluded under travel insurance? 

Knowing what to look for in a travel insurance provider’s exclusions is worthwhile. While the specific exclusions will vary depending on the insurance provider, several standard exclusions typically apply with travel insurance. These include:

  1. Pre-existing medical conditions: Many travel insurance policies don't cover pre-existing conditions. This means that if a traveller has a medical condition that was present before the trip, the policy will not cover any expenses related to that condition.
  2. High-risk activities: Many travel insurance policies exclude coverage for injuries or accidents that occur during high-risk activities, such as skydiving, bungee jumping, or rock climbing.
  3. War or terrorism: Most travel insurance policies exclude coverage for injuries or accidents resulting from war, civil unrest, or acts of terrorism.
  4. Illegal activities: Travel insurance policies may exclude coverage for any injuries or accidents that occur while the traveller is engaged in illegal activities.
  5. Pregnancy: Some travel insurance policies may exclude coverage for pregnancy-related expenses or complications.
  6. Mental health: Many travel insurance policies exclude coverage for mental health-related issues like depression or anxiety.
  7. Losses due to alcohol or drug use: Travel insurance policies may exclude coverage for losses or accidents that occur as a result of the traveller's use of alcohol or drugs.

This long list of exclusions is why it is so crucial to review the terms and conditions of a travel insurance policy before you buy it. Some policies may offer the option to purchase additional coverage for specific exclusions, such as pre-existing medical conditions or high-risk activities. You may want your insurance to ensure you have coverage whilst on holiday in the USA, for instance, or when participating in skiing and other winter sports. 

What exclusions are standard for global health insurance policies?

As with travel insurance, you may find that the following are not covered: 

  • Some pre-existing medical conditions
  • Injuries from high-risk activities
  • Accidents from war or terrorist acts
  • Injuries suffered during illegal activity
  • Mental health related issues
  • Pregnancy-related expenses

That’s not to say you won’t be able to find an insurance company that can cover you for some of the above. You may find you can get medical cover for emergency treatment needed for a pre-existing health condition, for instance. At the same time, mental health coverage is becoming increasingly widespread. International health insurance coverage and plan specifics will vary from provider to provider. However, you may find that some international private medical insurance won't cover you for non-emergency care, which can mean routine check-ups or dental care or dental treatment. These can be sizeable expenses, so be sure you buy a policy that suits your financial situation.

International health insurance vs travel insurance

While they may sound similar, there are some critical differences between these two insurance products. It's imperative, therefore, to choose the right one to ensure that you have the comprehensive cover you need. You may be unable to rely on your policy if you select the incorrect type. If you find yourself in a medical emergency or a stressful, unexpected event has occurred while on holiday, you don't want to have to worry about finances. Having the right insurance ensures you won't need to.

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