Differences Between International Health Insurance and Travel Medical Insurance

Top 7 Differences between international health insurance and travel medical plans

We get asked by global nomads and expatriates around the world why they should buy a International health insurance policy instead of a travel medical insurance plan. More often than not, international citizens want to know the differences between an international health insurance policy and travel insurance coverage.

We understand that these differences can be confusing and it’s very likely that you’ll need some guidance along the way as you make your decision on which insurance option to go with. The answers are both simple and complex, but we will do our best to answer this common question.

Although the major similarity is that both are intended for people who are spending time away from their home country, international health insurance and travel medical insurance also come with a lot of differences. Not understanding these differences may leave you with the wrong type of insurance, and that can be a veritably expensive mistake.

7 Key Differences Between International Health Insurance and Travel Medical Plans:

In this article, we will walk you through the major differences between trip insurance and health insurance. We’ll also point out some of the crucial points to consider before you buy your insurance plan.

What is Travel Medical Insurance?

Travel medical insurance is only meant to provide short-term emergency treatment for a limited time only. This means that if you end up needing to have a minor or non-emergency medical procedure, you’ll likely be left with paying a very expensive bill.

Travel medical insurance coverage will vary depending on which provider you choose to go with. Plans will typically provide cover for things such as:

  • Cancellation of flights
  • Travel delays
  • Loss luggage or travel documents
  • Emergency medical treatment
  • COVID-19

travel insurance

What is International Health Insurance?

International health insurance is different however, as this is meant for anyone who is living abroad, in another country to where they come from. Plans can be bought for longer periods of time, such as 12 months or even longer. You usually get a choice of how you’d like to pay for your plan. The options are usually monthly, quarterly or yearly payments.

Plans are also flexible so you can decide on which policy best suits you needs. You can purchase an individual plan or a plan for you and your family, depending on your situation.

What Does Expat Health Insurance Cover?

There will be a lot of things covered in your expat health insurance plan. You will be told in advance by your health insurer exactly what is covered for. You will usually be provided with a Table of Benefits (including terms and conditions) to show you exactly what is covered by your plan.

Just like travel medical insurance coverage, plans will vary depending on provider. International health insurance plans may include:

  • Access to a vast medical network of hospitals and facilities
  • Prescription benefits
  • 24 hour emergency support
  • The ability to select which medical facility or hospital that you visit

Health insurance companies will sometimes be able to offer you additional benefits, that you may choose to add to your plan. Examples of these added benefits include:

International Major Medical Insurance

What are the Main Differences Between Travel Insurance Plans and International Health Insurance Plans?


Travel medical insurance is designed more for a short period of time, usually up to a year. The coverage offered will be for things such as protection against theft of personal documents or missed flights. These things are not traditionally included in an international health insurance plan. The reason for this is because health insurance plans focus on just that, your long term health and wellbeing.

Medical Network

With international health insurance, you will be able to access hospitals and medical facilities that are in the network of your health insurer. Numerous major health insurers can give access to a large medical network. For example, Expat Financial offers health plans from leading expat health insurance providers, similar as Allianz and Cigna. Cigna can give access to over 1 million hospitals and healthcare professionals.


Another difference between the plans are the options for submitting claims. People will frequently use their health insurance policy and can sometimes make a number of claims during their period of cover. However, claims for travel medical insurance are a lot less common and they will typically only be made on things such as cancelled flights or lost or damaged luggage.

It should also be noted that most travel insurance plans expect you to return home in the event of a serious medical claim. If you have made the move abroad, it is much better to have a global health plan that won’t force you to return back to your home country for continued medical treatment.

Domestic Coverage Back Home is Not Required for Expat Plans

Many travel medical insurance plans, especially for Canadian expats, will require that you be covered by your domestic province. Canadian travel medical insurance plans rely on that domestic coverage and will want you to return home for medical treatment in an overcrowded medical system. Many global nomads who make the move abroad will lose their domestic coverage whereas expat health plans cover you globally including or excluding the USA and won’t require that you maintain coverage back home.

Length of Coverage

Travel medical insurance frequently has a time limit. For example, many travel insurance plans will allow you to be covered for up to one month abroad, no more than that. Whereas with international health insurance, you may choose to agree to a plan for one year or longer and most plans are guaranteed renewable as long as you are remaining an expatriate and spending more than 180 days abroad. 

Pre-existing Conditions

Cover for pre-existing conditions can vary depending on numerous factors, including what the condition is and which health insurer you go with. Another point to keep in mind is that with travel insurance, pre-existing medical conditions will generally not be included in your policy. Most travel insurance plans will exclude pre-existing medical conditions whereas some expat health plans can cover many, but not all previous medical conditions that an expat may have experienced or be receiving medical treatment for. The more serious the medical condition, the less likely it will be covered by the expat insurance provider

Area of Coverage

One of the main benefits of having an international health insurance plan is that the policy can be used in a number of different countries. People will often choose to use the coverage in the country they are living in as well as in their country.

So if a person pays a visit back to their home country and also travels to another country, they can use their cover in both places, so long as it’s within their region of cover. The details for your region of cover will be explained by your health insurer in your policy attestation and table of benefits.

Which Type of Insurance Should Expats & Global Nomads Go For?

Travel insurance should really only be bought if you’re spending a short time overseas and want to be defended against accidents and emergencies. With travel medical insurance, healthcare benefits are also limited, this can be limited financially or by time and leave you with little choice of when and where you can be treated.

Although international health insurance won’t repay you for any cancelled breakouts or lost luggage, it does give you with a lot more expansive healthcare cover than trip insurance does. Think about what is more financially disastrous, a lost bag or a $500,000 medical bill? Becoming an insured nomad can help protect you from large medical claims such as cancer, strokes, heart attacks, accidents and chronic conditions. We would strongly recommend that for anyone who is interested in moving abroad, the best policy to go for is an international health insurance plan.

You can choose between health plans from leading expat health insurance providers, such  Cigna.

Feel free to get in touch to discuss your global health insurance needs.

You can get a quote online today.