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Travel or Expat Health Insurance? 5 Factors to Consider

Posted in: Ecuador Travel, Expats in Ecuador, Living in Ecuador

How will you handle medical costs while living abroad? Do you need travel or expat health insurance? In this post by Moti Bashkin of Buenavida, you’ll learn how to choose between the two. Bonus: we include a decision flow chart to help you decide between travel or expat medical insurance. Jump to bio.

Expat health insurance

Travel or Expat Health Insurance? 5 Factors to Consider

If you’re planning on living or working abroad, then one of first things to consider is health insurance.

Public health services and the cost of healthcare varies hugely from one country to the next, so if you aren’t covered by an international health insurance package, you could end up with a medical bill that you can’t afford.

  • Travel insurance might seem like an option, but most of the time, this is usually only suitable for a short term, or temporary stay. Here’s more about travel insurance.
  • Permanent health insurance provides much more extensive coverage for the long term. But, even then, there are many different types of permanent health insurance policy and what suits your needs best will depend on your personal circumstances and your plans for the future.

Here’s a decision flow chart to help you answer the question: Do I Need Travel or Expat Health Insurance? (click image to expand)

Expat health insurance infographic

Here’s what you need to know about buying travel health insurance for South America

1. Travel Insurance vs Permanent Health Insurance

Travel insurance is designed for short-term stays, although some policies can be purchased for up to year and may even be extended for another two years. Most of these policies cover emergency medical treatment so you are well enough to fly home to continue treatment.

Significantly, travel insurance doesn’t cover you at home where you will continue to be covered under the public healthcare system, or through your private insurer, should you have one.

Permanent health insurance is designed for those living or working abroad long term. Like travel insurance, you’re covered for emergency treatment, but general day to day healthcare expenses are also included, as well as extras such as dentistry and routine check-ups.

If your work requires you to visit two or more countries, some plans, (known as international health insurance, or expat health insurance) can be adapted to ensure that you’re covered anywhere in the world.

However, there are some exceptions, such as the USA. In these cases, you may need to purchase an add-on policy.

2. Choosing the best coverage for your needs

The best way to explain it is that travel insurance ensures you get emergency care, in a foreign country, and that you get home to receive any further care needed.

But if you are moving to a country for the long-term, typically for a year or more, you really need a permanent overseas health insurance policy for that country.

It gets more complicated if you already have an existing medical condition, or develop one while abroad, as many travel insurance companies may put limitations on your cover, or not provide any cover at all.

This can also mean, if you return home and then go overseas again, you could have less coverage than before you left, as you won’t be covered for any new conditions. So it can only make sense to use travel insurance for a long term stay if an expat or other permanent health insurance policy isn’t available.

Also, on the subject of age limits, if you’re moving abroad permanently, travel insurance comes with age restrictions that do not apply to permanent health insurance. However, you should be aware that the older you are, the higher the cost of any health insurance policy.

It can even be difficult to get cover past a certain age, so it’s a good idea to take out a policy as early as possible. Taking out a policy while you’re still healthy could mean that you keep that coverage for life, and waiting too long is one of the most common mistakes people make when choosing health insurance.

Make sure you avoid these health insurance pitfalls.

Canyoning in Ecuador

3. Planning on starting a family?

Many expats choose to start a family in a new country and this is where things can get a little more complex when it comes to healthcare and insurance.

The cost of medical care for childbirth can vary hugely from one country to the next (from an average of US$5,000 in Latin America to as much as US$20,000 in Hong Kong, and these costs does not factor in post care or complications, such as a C-section).

So, if you think there’s a possibility of having a child while living abroad, it’s vital you source a health insurance plan with the required cover.

Note also, that most health insurance companies operate a waiting period (typically between 10 and 24 months) between the time you take out a policy and the time you are able to claim for expenses associated with a pregnancy or childbirth.

Travel insurance will not cover you for childbirth or any routine expenses associated with a pregnancy.

Travel insurance for expats

4. Pre-existing conditions and chronic treatments

Travel insurance is designed for short-stay emergency treatment until you can get home to your regular doctor, or healthcare service provider. As such, most of these products will only cover life threatening medical conditions.

If you or a member of your family has a chronic condition that needs regular treatment, you won’t be covered.

That isn’t the case with permanent health insurance. Here, many medical issues can be covered, depending on your needs and the details of the policy you take out.

Today, many international health insurance companies will agree to cover pre-existing conditions, either partially or completely, so bear this in mind when comparing and selecting the most suitable package.

5. Do you have a health insurance policy in your home country?

If you already have some form of health coverage in your home country, whether private or through the public healthcare system, then, in the short-term, you have the option of returning home for non-emergency treatment.

However, it might eventually make sense for you to cancel any health insurance plan in your home country if you’re living abroad long term. You may also no longer qualify for private or public healthcare due a prolonged absence from your native country.

It’s in this scenario that international private medical insurance can ensure you get the coverage you need, wherever you are in the world, including your home country. It also means that you no longer need to take out a separate travel insurance policy when you go on vacation.

Expat health insurance in Ecuador

Final Thoughts

A comprehensive travel insurance policy, taken out in your home country, is the best option for people who still aren’t sure how long they are going to be living abroad.

As your personal circumstances change and you become more settled in your new country, an international health insurance policy can offer more extensive coverage – meaning you can enjoy your new life with the peace of mind of knowing there’s a limit on how much you might have to pay out for healthcare.

Author Bio: Moti Bashkin has been an international health insurance specialist for the past 12 years and is the co-founder of Buenavida International Health insurance, which provides expats with a wide range of options and competitive rates for international health insurance.

Expat medical insurance

Your Turn

What are you planning on using for medical insurance abroad? Have a question about expat health insurance? Join Moti in the comments below!

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. He is a travel blogger and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with GringosAbroad.

4 comments… add one
  • Doreen Dvorin Apr 24, 2019, 5:08 pm

    I have a similar question. We are planning on retiring to Ecuador, want to explore private insurance (age is one factor). Do you have a discussion on what’s available or can you steer me to a few companies I can query? Thanks mucho. D.

  • Terry Jun 27, 2018, 11:07 am

    I listened to a health insurance presentation in Manta by an Ecuadorian for an Ecuadorian company. I was pleased with what I heard and, compared to the insurance you mentioned, was reasonably priced. There must be several Ecuadorian companies that fifer health insurance. I’d be interested in seeing an exploration of those companies offers.

    • Bryan Haines Jun 28, 2018, 8:08 am

      Hi Terry, thanks for your comment. We’re always happy to share more information with our readers. Do you recall the name of the company giving the presentation?

      We had private, local health insurance for a while and were happy with it. Every expat must weigh off price vs coverage vs reliability when choosing a policy and provider.

      Let me know and we’ll look into profiling the different local options.


  • Mike Southerland May 13, 2018, 5:27 pm

    I am going to be moving to Cuenca in September or October and will turn 71 in September. My wife is 60. Where do we look to find PRIVATE insurance for the 2 of us? The reason I say private is because we are getting mixed reviews on IESS and mostly not so good. We have budged $300 per month for this insurance. Your feedback would be appreciated. Yes we are both healthy.

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