There is a saying that goes “the best things in life are free”, but does this truly apply to healthcare? Whether you’re moving abroad, travelling, or enjoying a holiday, you will undoubtedly want to know how you can stay protected when overseas. Around the world there are several countries that offer free or universal healthcare. However, it is not always clear if this extends to visitors and, if it does, is it truly free?
In this blog post, we are going to share with you the difference between free and universal healthcare, a list of the best countries that offer free or universal healthcare, and how necessary health insurance is.
Which countries offer free healthcare for expats?
Sadly, there’s no such thing as completely ‘free’ healthcare, at least not in the sense that 100% of medical services will be provided, free-of-charge, to anyone.
For instance, while many countries will provide healthcare to all citizens, they may still charge for services such as dentistry and mental health services, and the cost of prescription medications may need to be paid for by patients too.
However, there is such a thing as ‘universal’ healthcare. This is a system in which most services are offered free, or for a very low cost, to citizens, residents and perhaps even non-residents of that country. They are usually funded by individual taxpayer contributions but may come from other sources, such as corporation tax.
This is not to say that these countries will necessarily offer free or low-priced healthcare services to expatriates. Indeed, you may find that many of these countries charge non-residents for treatment. If you are planning on becoming an expatriate, it’s always best to do your research in advance to understand whether you may be in line for treatment fees.
How does free healthcare differ from universal one?
Free healthcare and universal healthcare may sound like the same thing but they’re not.
Free healthcare relates to the cost of treatment and the phrase usually refers to healthcare that isn’t paid for at the point of treatment. A combination of taxes and other contributions from residents help to fund these ‘free’ systems. Hence, they are not strictly speaking ‘free’ to fund, but may still appear ‘free’ in the way they are distributed.
Universal healthcare relates to access to treatment. If a country’s healthcare system covers more than 90% or more of its citizens, the service is usually considered universal. Therefore, universal is not synonymous with ‘free’ at all.
Which counties offer the best free or universal healthcare?
In accordance with the World Health Organization (WHO), the 10 countries with the best healthcare in the world are:
- San Marino
What were the factors that the WHO used for the listing?
The WHO’s original list was designed to rank 191 healthcare systems across the globe according to their efficiency. Countries were scored in a number of areas that contribute to a well-functioning healthcare system, including:
- a steady financing mechanism
- a properly-trained and adequately-paid workforce
- well-maintained facilities
- access to reliable information to base decisions on
Do expats get free healthcare?
Healthcare is never entirely free in any part of the world. Systems are funded by taxes or other contributions from residents and expats may be able to access those services in an affordable way.
You might need to make social security contributions, or show proof of private health insurance cover when applying for your visa, to then access public services. In some countries, such as France, it’s necessary to do both.
Many countries – for instance, Mexico – will also ask you to pay an annual fee to access public healthcare. The upfront costs often work out cheaper than paying for private treatment.
Do expats receive free healthcare from countries with universal health care systems?
Some do, and some don’t. It’s always best to check the local healthcare situation in a country you plan to visit or stay in before you go, to be sure what your rights will be when you arrive.
Funding systems vary by country too. In fact, we can divide these into four models:
- single-payer healthcare
- sickness funds
- national health insurance models
- out-of-pocket models
Why is health insurance still important?
Even in countries offering low cost and universal healthcare you may need private health insurance for one of, or both, of the following reasons:
1. to apply for a visa or register as a resident in a given country (as is the case in countries such as France, Italy, and Spain)
2. to pay for treatments not covered by a country’s local healthcare system
Even in countries with free or universal healthcare models, expatriates should consider an extra level of private medical insurance in order to ensure they are not caught unawares by the cost of treatments that fall outside of their ordinary entitlements.
Furthermore, international health insurance will also cover you throughout your entire cover period, meaning if you travel to, or live temporarily in other countries during your period of cover, you will still be protected.
In addition, by choosing a policy that includes medical evacuation (Medevac) insurance, you can guarantee that if you need urgent medical treatment that isn’t available locally, your evacuation to a location where treatment is available will be arranged and covered.
Simply put, international health insurance is the best way to guarantee you and your family will always be able to access high-quality healthcare, anywhere in your area of cover, despite any local restrictions.
On the whole, no matter how universal the healthcare system in your new home country, anything could happen; and, as an expatriate, it can be hard to know where your rights begin and end when it comes to accessing healthcare.
That’s why it’s important to choose a comprehensive health insurance policy that guarantees you and your family access to high-quality healthcare without the burden of high immediate costs.
At i-Brokers, we offer international health insurance that covers you for everything from minor injuries to long hospital stays. Speak to our team of expert insurance consultants at [email protected] today to see if our policies could be right for you.