Health Insurance : Often the biggest obstacle to a worry free retirement overseas

overseas health insurance for retired Australians

We are very much in favour of Australians considering retirement overseas, particularly into some of the lower cost Asian countries. It is not without it's challenges, and you need adequate financial resources, but in many cases it will provide retirees with an interesting lifestyle unattainable in Australia.

However, it is not for everyone, and apart from the issue of being separated from your family there are a few practical considerations to bear in mind. A major one is continuing to ensure that you have access to high-quality medical and hospital treatment and that you are adequately insured at least in relation to significant medical events. This issue exists in relation to both the Asian countries and virtually any expatriate location unless you have a right of abode in the country and therefore access to a (quality) public health care system. Particular care needs to be taken where you are relocating, for whatever period, into traditionally "high cost" healthcare locations such as the US, Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and most of Europe.

It is common for many retirees, particularly in Asia, not to have international health insurance because of the cost, but to (sometimes) rely upon travel insurance to return them to Australia in the event of an emergency. Having repatriation cover is absolutely essential, as the cost of emergency repatriations can be extraordinarily high. Those relying on travel insurance run the risk of insurers potentially voiding your cover if you are resident overseas rather than in Australia - most policies are subject to you being an Australian resident.

Our preference is always that expatriates take out comprehensive international health insurance when proceeding overseas and if the cost is too expensive then you need to consider whether moving overseas is appropriate. Having said that we recognize that there a particular problems for retirees. These include the fact that:

  • International health insurance is typically not available from Australian insurers after age 65
  • There are international health insurers that will provide cover after age 65, but it is expensive and the cost rises steeply with age.
  • Many international health insurance will not accept new entrants after age 65, and existing conditions are, almost without exception, excluded.
  • Even if you are a retiree below the age 65, many Australian insurers will simply not accept cover - they only provide cover to individuals employed overseas. In these cases we need to pursue cover through Internationally based insurers.

In these circumstances, our preferred approach is to suggest that:

  • Individuals arrange international health insurance if at all possible, and that they give very real attention to the scope of the cover and the reputation of the provider
  • If international health insurance is not available, or the cost is prohibitive, then investigate taking out health insurance which provides cover in the local country and have insurance in place which will provide repatriation back to Australia for emergencies. As above, the scope and quality of the local insurance needs to be investigated thoroughly and this consideration needs to be borne in mind when considering the locations in which you may retire. Some developing countries cater to sophisticated medical tourism markets and consequently have very good medical facilities available at reasonables cost - examples include Thailand and Malaysia - and considerations such as these should factor in your decision about where you retire.

There is a considerable deal of complexity surrounding healthcare insurance, particularly for expatriates, and it is absolutely vital that you give it the time and attention it deserves prior to any move overseas. More details, and access to quotations from specialist brokers is available from our sister site Exfin. There is at least some suggestion in the market that Australian insurers are beginning to recognise and service this market.