Travel Insurance or Health Insurance?

Travel Insurance or Health Insurance?

Are you planning to live or work overseas for an extended period of time?

If so, you’re probably looking to buy a travel insurance policy in case you need medical treatment while you’re overseas.

Whether you have private health insurance or rely on Medicare, Australians have the benefit of high quality healthcare – either through the public or private system.

But, what about while you’re away?

You may want to live or work in a country where there is no Reciprocal Healthcare Agreement and you therefore wont be entitled to free (or subsidised healthcare). Do you need travel insurance or something else?

When considering if travel insurance is right for your circumstances, it’s important to understand the key differences between it and health insurance.

When it comes to medical treatment, travel insurance is an “Accident” style of cover.  This means that it covers you for the cost of medical treatment received overseas if you suffer an “Accidental” injury or illness.  The terms “Accident”, “Injury” and “Illness” (or variations of these words) are usually defined in the policy.

Essentially then, the medical cover provided by travel insurance policies is for emergencies or unforeseen injuries and illnesses which occur while you are travelling.

Travel insurance is a short term contract and the premium is usually paid upfront.  It covers the traveller for a nominated period of travel away from their home country.

It pays the cost of medical treatment received overseas but also provides for the insurer to repatriate the injured or sick person to their home country for treatment.  The decision on whether 1) treatment will be provided overseas where the injury / illness occurs or 2) the injured / sick person will be returned to their home country for treatment, rests with the insurer.  This decision will depend on a number of factors including the nature of the medical complaint, whether the person is fit to travel, the cost of treatment overseas versus the cost of repatriation and of course the wishes of the person concerned.

Travel insurance does not cover you for medical treatment which can reasonably be delayed until you return home.  Similarly, it does not cover treatment which is elective, preventive, routine or cosmetic.

Private health insurance covers you for urgent care (eg accidental injuries and illnesses) but it also provides cover for certain elective, routine, preventive and cosmetic treatments.  For instance, if you have “extras” cover, you can claim for preventive dental treatment, reproductive and maternity care, gym memberships and the cost of medical monitoring devices.  The premium can be paid annually, monthly or fortnightly and on an ongoing basis.

If you are living or working overseas for an extended period of time, you may not be classified as an Australian resident.  Many travel insurance policies stipulate that policies are only available to Australian residents (as defined in the policy).  A travel insurer may not consider you meet their residency criteria even if you have retained Australian citizenship.  In that case, you would need to consider alternative insurance products.

Depending on where you are living, it may be that you are eligible for health insurance provided by a local insurance carrier.  For instance, many private health insurance companies offer products to suit non-residents who are in the country for a short period of time.  Alternatively, there are providers who offer expatriate insurance for people who are citizens of their birth country but (permanently or temporarily) resident in another country.

Final words …

Travel insurance is a short term contract to cover a period of travel.  The medical coverage provided by travel insurance is usually for accidents and emergencies.  It does not cover routine, elective or preventive treatments.

It also provides cover for additional risks including baggage, trip cancellation etc etc.

Expatriate insurance is best suited to people who are living / working abroad for an extended period of time and provides much the same cover as private health insurance – eg accidents/emergencies and preventive/elective treatment.

As an alternative to expatriate insurance, many private health insurers offer cover to people who are living away from their home country for an extended period of time.

Neither expatriate nor non-resident health insurance policies provide cover for non-medical risks such as baggage and trip cancellation etc.  They also do not provide any cover for repatriation of the policyholder to their home country for treatment.

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