Health Insurance

International Health Insurance in Singapore for Expats & International Students

international health insurance

Joanne Poh

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Expats living in Singapore who are looking for health insurance should consider international health insurance.

The most common local health insurance option in Singapore is the Integrated Shield Plan, which is designed to work hand-in-hand with MediShield Life. Foreigners with no MediShield Life coverage are also eligible.

MediShield Life is the national health insurance policy which citizens and PRs are automatically enrolled in, but the coverage it offers is so basic that you’d be right to start panicking if you got hospitalised and that’s all you had.

If you want the option of choosing your own doctor or enjoying the generally higher standards and shorter queues offered by private healthcare, you will need to buy health insurance.

But there is another option — international health insurance. Despite the rather ambiguous name, this kind of health insurance policy can be useful to both Singaporeans and foreigners.

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Top 6 international health insurance policies in Singapore

If you’re wondering where to buy international health insurance policies, here are the top insurers who are offering them.

International health insurance plan Maximum payout per year Cheapest premiums per year
MSIG Prestige Healthcare Elite $900,000 $920
NOW Health Worldcare Essential $3.9 million $1,195
CIGNA Silver Plan $1.5 million $2,183
FWD International Health Insurance $3 million $2,336
Liberty MyHealth International Essential $2 million $3,786
AXA International Exclusive Plan C $2.4 million $5,015

*Premiums are for the cheapest available plan.

Thanks to the sheer number of international health insurers worldwide, premiums can vary considerably. Aside from the cost of premiums, it is also important to compare annual limits and check if dental and maternity costs are covered. Do note that most of the worldwide coverage may exclude the US.

Other plans include AIG PROHealth International Health Insurance Prestige A, AIA Platinum Health and Aetna International Health Insurance Pioneer 1750. Further compare and buy International Health Insurance policies.

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How does international health insurance work?

International health insurance offers medical coverage in a particular country or region, or even all over the world, depending on plan’s terms and conditions. It’s a little like getting annual travel insurance within Asia as compared to getting single-trip travel insurance to one destination.

Do note, however, that even if a plan offers worldwide coverage, certain countries or areas might be excluded. For instance, the USA is often excluded due to how high healthcare costs are there.

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Local vs international health insurance

The main difference between international health insurance and local health insurance in Singapore such as an Integrated Shield Plan is that local health insurance is meant to be used only in Singapore. While limited overseas coverage might be offered in limited circumstances (for instance, if you need to seek emergency treatment while abroad, your basic medical costs might be reimbursed), the plan is meant to be used locally and will lapse when you are no longer legally residing in Singapore.

On the other hand, international health insurance usually has worldwide coverage minus excluded countries or regions. You will receive the same benefits in any of the approved countries.

You can buy international health insurance from certain Singapore insurance providers, or from insurers based in other countries.

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Do you need international health insurance?

International health insurance is generally used by expats and international students who live abroad. They could be:

  • Non-Singaporeans living in Singapore
  • Singaporeans residing in other countries
  • Anybody who spends a significant proportion of the year abroad

Usually, these people are not covered by state-provided healthcare benefits in their country of residence, or the public healthcare benefits are inadequate and they wish to obtain better protection.

For non-PR foreigners in Singapore, both of the above apply, thus health insurance, whether international or local, is essential.

Singaporeans living abroad will need to decide if they need such insurance based on the public healthcare benefits they are receiving in their country of residence and whether these are adequate. For instance, if you qualify for universal health coverage in your country of residence, you might not need additional health insurance.

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What does international health insurance cover?

While international health insurance policies of course differ from plan to plan and from insurer to insurer, there are certain standard areas of coverage that tend to be offered by many of them, such as the following.

Type of coverage

Description

Regional or worldwide coverage

Many international health insurance plans offer coverage in one or a few regions, while some will cover you worldwide, although certain countries or regions might be excluded. If you have coverage in a certain region, you will continue to enjoy protection at the same premium if you move to a different country in the region.

Inpatient treatment

All international health insurance policies will offer payouts for treatment if you are hospitalised, although exceptions might apply.

Outpatient treatment

Most policies will cover you for pre- and post-hospitalisation costs, though these may be subject to time limits. Some policies also offer outpatient treatment if you are not hospitalised (eg. GP visits), or let you include it as an optional add-on.

Routine check-ups

Some policies offer coverage for routine check-ups at regular intervals.

Chronic conditions

If you come down with a chronic condition after signing up for a policy, you might be able to make a claim for medical costs incurred in managing the condition.

Maternity

Most plans permit claims for treatment arising from pregnancy complications. Maternity charges can often be included as an optional add-on.

Newborn

Newborns are usually offered protection under the mother’s plan subject to certain conditions.

Dental

Dental treatment can often be included as an optional add-on.

Vision

Benefits might include routine eye examinations as well as expenses for glasses and contact lenses.

Evacuation

If you require emergency medical treatment in a remote area, evacuation costs will be covered.

Repatriation

Repatriation, if included, will bear the cost of sending your remains home if you pass away.

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What is the difference between international health insurance, travel insurance and normal health insurance?

With so many types of insurance floating around, you might be wondering whether you still need international health insurance when there seem to be alternatives.

Here are some types of insurance that can sound deceptively similar to international health insurance and what the differences are.

Travel insurance vs international health insurance

If you’re a frequent traveller, you might be wondering why you can’t just buy an annual travel insurance policy and rely on that when you move to another country. After all, travel insurance also offers payouts for hospitalisation at your destination.

Well, travel insurance is meant to be used only in emergencies. Necessary treatment at your destination will be covered, but you are expected to travel home to seek further treatment when you can. Post-trip medical coverage is usually subject to time limits (say 45 days). Travel insurance also usually does not offer maternity, dental or optical cover.

In addition, many annual travel insurance policies place a time limit (say, 90 days) on each trip you take outside of your home country, after which you will no longer enjoy coverage.

International health insurance is therefore essential if you are residing abroad on a long-term basis and do not make frequent trips back home.

Regular health insurance vs international health insurance

Regular health insurance is meant to be used in its country of origin. Once you leave the country, your policy will lapse and you are expected to take up a new health insurance policy in your new country of residence.

One example would be the Integrated Shield Plans offered by Singapore health insurers. These policies are meant to be used in Singapore, and overseas health coverage is limited to emergencies. They cease to be valid once you are no longer a legal resident of Singapore.

If you are currently residing in Singapore and intend to settle here for a long time or even indefinitely, buying a local Integrated Shield Plan will be more economical for you.

However, if you envisage moving to another country (other than your home country) after a stint in Singapore, you might prefer to opt for an international travel insurance policy as such plans are usually portable, meaning you can continue to use them in other countries.

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What to look out for in an international health insurance policy

There’s a mind boggling array of international health insurance policies available online and through Singapore insurers. When comparing the terms of various policies, here are some factors to take note of.

  • Annual claim limits: While all international health insurance plans will let you make claims for outpatient treatment, limits vary greatly. The most bare-bones plans may give you only up to 250,000 SGD of annual coverage, while the most generous ones offer unlimited coverage. You’ll want to choose limits that are appropriate to healthcare costs in your country of residences. For instance, if you’re living in Singapore where private healthcare costs are very high, you might want to go for a higher limit.
  • Inpatient benefits: Check for limits imposed on inpatient claims and exclusions. Some international health insurance plans will exclude claims for treatment of pre-existing conditions. Those that let you include them will charge higher premiums. Ensure that the treatment covered includes surgery, doctors’ professional fees, lab and diagnostic tests, intensive care services and prescription medicine.
  • Outpatient benefits: The most basic plans offer only inpatient benefits, and limited outpatient benefits that must be linked to your bout of hospitalisation. You’ll want to examine these to see if there are any limits imposed on outpatient treatment linked to a condition for which you are hospitalised. For instance, some plans impose time limits (say, 6 months) on the pre- and post- hospitalisation outpatient treatment you can make a claim for. If you are willing to pay higher premiums, you can often get more outpatient benefits, such as coverage for GP visits, lab and diagnostic tests, physiotherapy and prescription medicine.
  • Extras like maternal, dental and vision coverage: This type of protection is often not included in very basic plans, or must be purchased as optional add-ons. So if you are thinking of starting a family, have issues with your visions or want to have coverage for dental issues, check if you can get covered.
  • Travel and emergency coverage: Some plans will offer coverage if you find yourself in a remote area and in need of evacuation, which can be very costly. For instance, if you frequently go skiing or hiking in your country of residence, you will want to ensure your plan offers evacuation coverage, especially if you do not have travel insurance for domestic trips.

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Do you currently have an international health insurance plan? Share your reasons for your choice in the comments.

 

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.