Prescription Drug Coverage

How Do Expats Navigate Medication Expenses Abroad?

Over the past few years, we have talked to hundreds of people moving abroad for work, retirement or for an overseas global nomad lifestyle. We often get asked how to manage existing or new medical expenses abroad, such as hospital and outpatient costs, but especially unexpected medication expenses abroad.

It makes sense for global citizens to be prepared to cover medication expenses while abroad, as this is key to a worry-free journey. We have put together this quick guide to provide you with a comprehensive overview of strategies to manage medication costs when living abroad.

Medication Costs for Expats: What You Need to Know

1. Buy International Health Insurance

Before embarking on your journey, invest in a comprehensive global healthcare policy. Most plans will have a base of hospital coverage that will be global, excluding the USA or including the USA. Expats can also add vision, dental, medical evacuation and wellness. Note that the outpatient modules of these global plans will contain a provision for covering overseas medication prescribed by your doctor.

Note that if you have an existing medical condition for which you are taking medication, you will have to declare this at the time of application, and their underwriter will let you know if you can be covered with or without an exclusion. Note that it is also possible you might get denied coverage depending on the condition.

Expat healthcare can provide financial protection in case of unexpected medical emergencies, including prescription medications. Expats should make sure to carefully review the policy details, coverage limits, and exclusions. Most expat health plans have a prescription medication maximum, so keep this in mind as some medication costs, such as biologics, can be very expensive.

Note that for ex-pats lucky enough to be covered by an employer’s global benefit plan, the group international health plans should cover pre-existing medical conditions along with much higher limits for prescription medications. Check out our corporate page for more information.

2. Carry Essential Prescription Medication

Global citizens should try to obtain an adequate supply of their essential medications, especially when they travel or in a region where prescription medicines may be challenging to obtain.  This can help you avoid running out of medication while abroad and reduces the immediate need to purchase costly medications in a foreign country. Note that you should only have medications in a clearly labelled bottle and if possible, a copy of the prescription from your MD. This is because some countries may require this for certain pain medications.

3. Check out Generic Alternatives

Many experts and pharmacists will ask you to inquire about the availability of generic versions of your prescribed medications. Such generic drugs are often more affordable than brand-name counterparts and can help you save significantly on medication expenses, especially if you have a medication limit on your expat health plan. Generic brands are known for their trimmed-down packaging and plain labels.

4. Buy Medications Abroad

If you need a medication, ask your MD if the medication can be purchased abroad with the help of a local doctor. Medication costs in the USA are often significantly higher than the same medications purchased in Canada, Europe and many other countries. Of course, make sure you are getting medications from a reputable source and pharmacy.

5. Do Your Research on Destination Country Health System

Insurance Plan when Retiring Abroad

It make sense for international citizens moving abroad to understand the local healthcare system as much as possible. You should check out the availability of pharmacies, costs of medications and prescription rules. If you can, check out the healthcare and hospital pages on our website, as we have a lot of useful information for current and future insured nomads.

6. Carry Your Medication List

Have your pharmacy provide you with a detailed list of all the medications you are taking, including their generic names, dosages, and intended uses. Such a medication list can help future healthcare providers, such as doctors and hospitals in your destination country in understanding your medical needs. They might even provide some suitable alternatives if necessary.

7. Consider an Emergency Medical Fund

Setting aside an emergency fund specifically for future medical expenses makes some sense but is NOT a substitute for having local or global health insurance coverage. Still, having a financial cushion can alleviate stress in case you unexpectedly need to purchase medications or seek medical attention abroad. This can also help if you have bought an expat health policy with a large deductible to reduce your health premiums.

8. Use Global Pharmacy Services

Some online pharmacies specialize in shipping medications internationally but make sure you are not running afoul of the local medication regulations in your expat destination county. You can often research reputable options that offer competitive prices and genuine medications. Some expat health plans can assist, and keep in mind that shipping times may vary, so plan ahead to ensure you receive your medications on time.

7. Check Out Local Medication Programs

We also suggest that expats research if the local government has sponsored health programs or discounts for expats. Some countries provide access to affordable healthcare services and medications for expats. For example, in BC, Canada, Fair Pharmacare will cover expensive medications for those covered by the local health program, but this might take a few years for expats after arriving in most Canadian provinces.

8. Negotiate Your Medication Prices

There are a few countries where medication prices are negotiable, especially for non-life-threatening conditions. Ask the pharmacist if the price is negotiable or if there is a discount to potentially lower the cost of your medications.

9. Shop Around for Meds

Mozambique InsuranceYou will be surprised how medication prices can vary not only from country to country but from one pharmacy to another. Some big box stores, such as Costco in the USA, for example, provide some great discounted medications compared to many pharmacies.

10.  Medication Assistance Programs

Some pharmaceutical companies offer medication assistance programs that provide discounted or free medications to eligible individuals, including those moving abroad. Research if such programs are available for your prescribed drugs. This is often the case for certain experimental medications or cancer drugs.

11. Ask for Assistance from Embassies or Consulates

If you encounter challenges in accessing affordable medications, contact your home country’s embassy or consulate in the destination country. They may provide guidance or resources to help you navigate the local healthcare system.

12. Ask Your Expat Health Insurer for Assistance

If you are covered by a global health plan, you can talk to their customer service team to get second opinions on the medications you are taking and the treatment you are receiving. It is a valuable resource that you should think about using. They might even have a way to obtain a discount on medications.

Moving abroad involves careful planning, especially when it comes to managing medication expenses. We hope that the above tips and information will help you be more proactive and healthy abroad.   Remember to research, plan ahead, and prioritize your health to make the most of your travels without unnecessary financial worries. Finally, also buy expat health insurance with medication coverage inside and outside the hospital setting.

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