If there’s one thing the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us, it’s that health is fragile. If you’re an expat who’s still relying on your employee insurance, it’s about time you considered getting some decent protection against Singapore’s high healthcare costs.
International health insurance is one option that might be suitable for foreigners, particularly if you travel a lot or intend to leave Singapore in a few years’ time.
It is also suitable for Singaporeans planning to relocate abroad, as there are limits to how much you can claim with regular travel insurance.
Whether you’re a local or expat, here’s a guide to choosing the right international health insurance plan for your needs.
International health insurance plans in Singapore
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.
If you’re wondering where to buy international health insurance policies, here are the top insurers who are offering them.
|International health insurance plan||Max. coverage limit||Annual premium|
|MSIG Prestige Healthcare Elite||$900,000||$920|
|Cigna Silver Plan||$1 million||$2,183|
|FWD International Health Insurance||$3 million||$2,336|
|Liberty MyHealth International Essential||$2 million||$3,786|
|AXA International Exclusive Plan C||$2.5 million||$5,015|
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, 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.
Not sure which to pick? We’ll walk you through these plans to help you decide.
1. MSIG Prestige Healthcare Elite
This is one of the most affordable international health insurance plans you’ll find. It’s the lowest tier in a series of three plans, so check out the Deluxe or Platinum plans if you need more coverage, as they’re also relatively affordable compared to the other plans on this list.
Coverage for hospitalisation and related services is up to $900,000, which is a bit lower than the other plans on this list but still decent, so long as you don’t go for heart surgery in the US or something.
You do get an additional $300,000 of international cover when you are outside your country of residence, in additional to emergency medical evacuation and repatriation. The only optional add-on is for maternity benefits if you’re planning for a kid.
As you can see, this is a pretty basic plan. Don’t expect to be covered for dental and vision, for instance. But it does deliver in the areas which matter most, with 120 days of pre- and post-hospitalisation cover. All in all, given the low premiums, it’s a very decent plan for those on a budget.
2. Cigna Silver Plan
This plan covers inpatient and daypatient costs internationally, making sure you can stay in a private room. You also get full cancer and newborn care cover. Without additional add-ons, you only get up to $15,000 worth of outpatient benefits.
There are several optional add-ons that you can pay for if you think you need them, namely international outpatient cover, international evacuation and crisis assurance, international health and wellbeing and international vision and dental.
You can also adjust your deductible and cost sharing based on the premiums you are willing to pay.
Overall, not the most comprehensive coverage, but the plan is relatively affordable and the customisability makes it ideal for those with specific needs.
3. FWD International Health Insurance
FWD’s international health insurance has a unique feature — the plan doubles your annual limit when you don’t make any hospitalisation claims for two years. Your annual limit is also automatically reloaded if you have exhausted it and need to pay for accidental hospitalisation incidents.
The plan can be ported internationally, except to the US, Canada, Japan, Korea and sanctioned countries.
Given the volatility of the Covid-19 situation, you’ll want to beware of this if you’re moving to a badly affected country anytime soon.
The plan is highly customisable, so you can choose an annual limit from $100,000 to $3 million, and can also adjust your deductible to be anywhere from $0 to $10,000.
Optional add-ons include outpatient, dental, vision and maternity benefits.
The coverage is pretty standard, with hospital charges, worldwide emergency treatment to be paid in full, cancer treatment, organ transplant and pregnancy complications to be paid in full.
They offer 90 days pre- and post-hospitalisation treatment, which isn’t the best.
If you’re considering this plan, it’s a good idea to play around with the coverage amounts and deductibles to see if you can hit the sweet spot of decent coverage at affordable premiums. If you just want basic protection with a higher deductible, the plan can work out to be quite economical.
4. Liberty MyHealth International Insurance Essential
The Essential plan offers a decent range of benefits, including inpatient and daypatient costs, as well as 30 days of pre-hospitalisation and 90 days of post-hospitalisation benefits. Cancer treatment and organ transplants are also covered.
All plans also come with emergency medical evacuation and repatriation as well as legal expenses and assistance. Optional add-ons include outpatient treatment, maternity care and dental and optical.
Overall, it is a vanilla plan with premiums that are on the high side. We’re not impressed with the measly 30-day pre-hospitalisation cover.
5. AXA International Exclusive Plan C
This plan offers comprehensive coverage which includes the usual inpatient and daypatient costs.
Pre-hospitalisation cover is offered for all consultations from which the need for hospitalisation is concluded, while post-hospitalisation cover is up to 90 days from the date of discharge.
You can also pay for a pregnancy and childbirth cover add-on that takes care of healthcare costs from the pre-natal stage to 42 days after childbirth.
The coverage is meant to be very complete, with a total claim limit of up to $2.5 million, coverage for pre-existing and congenital conditions and outpatient treatment.
And it is indeed quite comprehensive except for the 90 day post-hospitalisation time limit.
The plan is expensive, as it is meant for someone who wants virtually all healthcare costs to be taken care of and is willing to pay a high premium for it.
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.
Should you get local or international health insurance?
Foreigners based in Singapore can also opt to purchase local health insurance, known as Integrated Shield plans, instead of international health insurance.
Integrated Shield plans are about 2 to 5 times cheaper than international health insurance, but they are meant to be used only in Singapore.
They may provide some limited overseas coverage (for instance, if you need to seek emergency treatment while abroad, your basic medical costs might be reimbursed), but the coverage 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. It’s also portable, so you can use it if you decide to leave Singapore for elsewhere.
International health insurance also allows you to conveniently cover your family all in one policy. So although the premiums might look high, they’re not that bad if your spouse and kids can get covered too.
This is something that the local Integrated Shield plans can’t offer — you’d have to purchase individual plans instead.
Finally, if extensive coverage is import to you, many international health insurance plans will let you add outpatient coverage, maternity coverage, dental and vision or ay other perks that you wish to have covered.
But isn’t employee health insurance enough?
The Singapore healthcare system is one of the region’s best… but it’s also very expensive. It is designed to place a degree of responsibility on the individual in order to discourage people from unnecessarily overloading the system or becoming free riders.
In other words, it’s going to cost you, so health insurance is important whether you’re a local or foreigner.
Singapore citizens and Permanent Residents are automatically covered by the government health insurance scheme and get to take advantage of subsidies when they use the public healthcare system.
As a foreigner who doesn’t have the benefit of MediShield Life, Medisave or subsidised public healthcare, health insurance is a must unless you want to find yourself slapped with medical bills that’ll make you weep.
Employee health insurance can be very basic and might not be enough to cover healthcare costs over a long period. It can also cease once you lose your job, which in this precarious economy is a possibility nobody should rule out.
What about travel insurance: What’s the difference?
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.
What should 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
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.
All international health insurance policies will offer payouts for treatment if you are hospitalised, although exceptions might apply.
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.
Some policies offer coverage for routine check-ups at regular intervals.
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.
Most plans permit claims for treatment arising from pregnancy complications.Maternity charges can often be included as an optional add-on.
Newborns are usually offered protection under the mother’s plan subject to certain conditions.
Dental treatment can often be included as an optional add-on.
Benefits might include routine eye examinations as well as expenses for glasses and contact lenses.
If you require emergency medical treatment in a remote area, evacuation costs will be covered.
Repatriation, if included, will bear the cost of sending your remains home if you pass away.
How to choose the right international health insurance plan
There’s a mind boggling array of international health insurance policies available. 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 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.
This article was first published in MoneySmart.