It is important that you know before moving what options are available for you and how you can protect your own and your family members in case of medical emergency and how in general you can access healthcare abroad.
Can I Get Free Healthcare Abroad?
According to the NHS Choices website, British retirees living in an EEA country or Switzerland who are in receipt of the British state pension may be entitled to state healthcare paid for by the UK.
This might change after Britain officially leaves the EU, but for now the current agreements stay in place.
To be eligible you have to apply for a certificate of entitlement known as an S1 form in most countries, or an E121 form if you’re living in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland.
Forms are available from the International Pension Centre in the UK [https://www.gov.uk/international-pension-centre] and once you’ve been issued with one you can register it with the relevant healthcare authority in your new country.
In most instances you have to go through this process before being allowed to register with a GP, obtain a medical card or free healthcare.
Once you’ve been issued with and registered your S1/E121 you can apply for a UK-issued European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access state-funded emergency medical treatment if you visit any other EEA countries.
In certain other nations around the world there is state funded healthcare, and your eligibility to access it may depend on your residency status. You will need to carefully check your eligibility, which may also depend on your age for example, before moving abroad to your chosen country.
Never assume you will get free healthcare, and don’t base a decision to move abroad in retirement on such an assumption because it really is seldom the case.
Can I Get Medical Insurance in Retirement?
Some private medical insurers still have a maximum age limit for new policyholders of between 65 and 80 years of age depending on the company in question.
However, many companies are increasing the age limit or even removing it altogether in order to remain competitive, attract and retain custom, and to reflect the fact that ageing doesn’t automatically mean ill health.
Having said all of that, it will be essential to research your options ahead of a move abroad.
You don’t have to choose an international insurer either, you may find more competitive deals offered by insurers in your new nation.
Also, if you’re moving to a country that offers you free or subsidised healthcare as a retiree, you may be able to buy top up insurance for an extended or better level of care and service.
If you cannot afford health insurance what is the likelihood of you being able to pay for a major operation or even just a couple of night’s stay in a private hospital – let alone treatment for a chronic or critical condition?
It seldom makes sense to base your healthcare decisions on paying as you go unless you are extremely wealthy and have a very strong income.
If you are in such a fortunate financial position however, it’s likely that you will be able to save money by buying insurance!
If you are unable to buy insurance because of pre-existing health conditions for example, you need to think very realistically about whether an international retirement will be right for you and your family.
Can I Access the NHS if I Move Abroad?
If you’re retiring abroad on a permanent basis you will no longer be entitled to treatment on the NHS for free because the NHS is a residence-based healthcare system. Therefore don’t plan on popping back to the UK if you fall ill overseas.
If ever you’re in the UK for a short-term visit and you fall ill, you may be entitled to emergency care.
Expats who are residents in the EU need to show their European health Insurance Card (EHIC) issued by the country of their residence.
British pensioners retired to Europe and registered for healthcare in their country of residence with an S1 form are entitled to the same NHS healthcare as people living in Britain.
What Are the 10 Critical Health Considerations When Retiring Abroad?
1) Medical evacuation/repatriation insurance
It’s not uncommon for expats living in nations with poorer quality medical facilities to have insurance that evacuates them to a country with better healthcare standards, or repatriates them home.
As an expat retiring abroad you may want to look into whether you can get, and indeed want, an insurance add-on that will get you back to the UK for treatment in the event you’re diagnosed with a critical illness for example.
2) Social and welfare care
Can you get access to carers or at home medical or welfare support in your new nation in the event you need it? Needing at home care and support can be a reality for anyone at any age – just simply for a broken leg for example. But as we age the likelihood that we may at some point need more help needs to be considered.
Is there social and welfare care available in your new nation if you need it? Can you afford to pay for it if you have to?
3) Facilities and standards for healthcare
In the UK we expect the best of the NHS even though it is extremely underfunded. Internationally healthcare standards and even medical facilities differ greatly on a country-by-country basis. What’s more, in some nations there are only facilities in the largest towns…
What’s the reality for the nation you’re moving to? Check out the standards and facilities before you move and make sure they are practical for you.
When you move abroad think carefully about where you live. You may dream of living a hundred miles from anyone and anywhere, but in the event you need quick access to a doctor or even just a pharmacy, how long will you actually have to travel?
Also, in the event of an emergency, could extra long travel times affect your prognosis?
Think also about the accessibility of your new nation for your family in the event they need to come and visit you in an emergency, or if you need to travel to them in an emergency.
5) Your health today, your health tomorrow
None of us can guard against accident or every illness, and whilst you may be in rude health today, you may need to call on healthcare professionals one day in the future.
This is a reality to accept – and from this point of view you need to honestly appraise everything from the practicality of your chosen nation, to your insurance provisions.
Don’t bury your head in the sand – if you’re well prepared then the event of ill health or an accident won’t be exacerbated in terms of its stress or seriousness by a lack of careful consideration and planning of your healthcare abroad, and decision-making on your part.
6) Adequate insurance coverage
Not all insurance policies are written equally! Be careful when considering health insurance. Make sure that your healthcare abroad policy will cover you as you age, and continue to cover you even if you have to make a claim for an ongoing illness.
7) Climate extremes
The thought of retiring abroad to a sunny country is beyond appealing to most of us! However, the reality of living in a very hot climate shouldn’t be underestimated especially if you have any underlying health conditions such as heart problems or even asthma.
Skin cancer can also be an issue for those who move abroad to live in a very hot country…
What’s more, in some nations where it is hot for most of the year, the winter months can seem extremely harsh in comparison, and some houses are not adequately built to withstand the damp and the cold.
Think carefully about the climate in your new nation and any risks it poses to your health and well-being.
8) Language barrier
If you need emergency or even complex medical or dental care how good are your language skills for your new nation? Whilst some healthcare professionals may well speak English, not all will, and when it comes to specific medical terms you may struggle if you’re not fairly fluent in the language.
This is just an extra incentive to make sure you take the steps necessary to integrate and learn the language!
9) Is treatment transferable?
If you’re suffering from a chronic condition before you move abroad such as arthritis, diabetes or asthma can you get the care provision you need in your new nation? And/or can you get any medicines you need overseas?
It’s highly likely you will be able to pay as you go for such medicine – but do check before you relocate, and make sure you won’t have to pay handsomely to get re-diagnosed overseas before you can begin getting your prescriptions.
10) Welfare payments
In the UK there are welfare benefits available for the chronically ill and long-term disabled and for carers too. Are you currently claiming any benefits in the UK, and if so, are these transferable abroad?
Also, if you become ill or end up caring for your spouse overseas, is there any financial support available from the state for which you will be eligible?
It’s worth considering this and checking out the options potentially available in advance of a move.