Healthcare Abroad: Understanding Your Options and Ensuring Your Wellness


Stories of international travel and relocation often capture exotic beauty, lifestyle, and culture. Until you travel or begin a new life abroad, it probably won’t hit you that healthcare should be at the top of your considerations.

While adventure and new experiences are wonderful, access to medical services wherever you are is crucial.

Now, if you’re moving abroad, vacationing, or studying, you will quickly realize that navigating the local healthcare system differs from home. This guide will take you through your options to ensure wellness.

How Healthcare Works Globally

Healthcare systems differ significantly depending on where you are around the world. Each country has a framework for providing healthcare to its population that suits its needs.

As a result, high-income nations generally have more affordable and comprehensive health systems than their low-income counterparts. Reasons for this difference range from the availability of resources to factors like universal coverage.

Health Coverage Internationally

As you consider your healthcare options abroad, you will want to know the state of health coverage in your host country. Since coverage is a big part of a health system, you will find that one of the below frameworks is in place.

Universal Coverage: Single-Payer

Countries with universal coverage have a national healthcare program funded by the government. If the government funds the entire healthcare system, it’s called “single-payer.”

The UK is a good example of a single-payer system since a single public authority is responsible for healthcare financing.

Universal Coverage: Multi-Payer

With universal multi-payer coverage, a national health insurance plan is in place, but there is a private insurance option for those who can afford it. Basically, it’s a system that is financed by multiple entities.

Japan, for instance, is one of the nations that have a publicly funded health system operating alongside a private option. Learn more about healthcare in Japan and the cost of living in general on this page.


In a multi-payer health system, there is a mix of insurance programs offered by private insurers as well as the national government. In this model, the private sector has more autonomy, which impacts the costs of medical care. This is the type of health system in the United States.

Out Of Pocket

In the out-of-pocket model common with developing countries, the government doesn’t provide any form of health coverage. Individuals generally pay out of pocket if they don’t have other options, such as an international plan or specialized support provided by aid organizations.

Navigating Healthcare Abroad

Here are tips to help you gain access to adequate medical services in a foreign country:

1. Understand the Local System

Research the local health system and try to understand how it works as much as possible. As we have seen, each country has its own framework, ranging from public to a combination of public and private. Understanding how things work where you are is a good place to start.

2. Secure Insurance Coverage

Before traveling or moving abroad, you may want to confirm whether your current coverage extends abroad. If that’s not the case, consider an international health plan or a travel plan that offers medical coverage. It would be wise to be thorough with the specifics of your insurance plan to avoid surprises later on.

3. Know Your Rights

It’s important that you understand your rights as a patient in the new country. Researching common practices will help you know what to expect and how to handle different situations.

4. Identify Local Providers

Identify and create a list of healthcare providers in your locale. This includes hospitals, private practices, and specialists. You also want to research the reputation of individual doctors and facilities you’re considering. If you’re not sure about the info you have, ask locals or other expats for guidance.

5. Research Emergency Services

Emergency services are a crucial part of preparedness. Familiarize yourself with the local EMS structure and learn how to access emergency services before the need arises. Just in case you want to keep emergency numbers on the speed dial.

The Bottom Line

Traveling or moving abroad can be an incredible life event. While pursuing these milestones, your health and wellness should remain a top priority. It would be wise to research the health system in your destination and familiarize yourself with your options long before you land.