Health Insurance Options for Expats in Latin America
It’s easy to find information about affordable, safe, reliable and state-of-the art healthcare available in Latin American countries. Heck, we’ve touted it ourselves! This is because its true… healthcare in Latin America is affordable, safe, reliable and state-of-the art. Most of the physicians have been educated and maintain training in North America or Europe, and the private hospitals and medical facilities are often compared to 4-star hotels for their private accommodations, excellent food and above-average care and service.
In fact, the phenomenon of medical tourism has become a booming business for certain countries in Latin America, especially Costa Rica. “Have a hip replacement and recover in paradise!” The internet is full of these sorts of declarations, and people are doing it… after all, it makes perfect sense, especially for Americans who have to pay substantial out-of-pocket fees for medical procedures and hospital stays.
Ok, so we know healthcare is really good in Latin America. But what if you don’t want to pay out of pocket? Or you have an ongoing medical condition and would just feel better if you were insured? Or, maybe you’d just be more comfortable going back to your native country to receive medical care… how are you covered? Can you even be covered?
Allow us to clear the air a bit…
Are There Health Insurance Options in Latin America?
The simple answer to this is yes. Most, if not all, countries have their own insurance companies (some government run) that you have the option to buy into. There are also several private insurance companies that will cover all of Latin America, as opposed to only the country you are living in. That being said, it’s important to remember that this coverage will not always extend into other countries such as Canada or the US.
If you are considering health insurance coverage for only the country you are living in, here are a couple of examples of costs:
Costa Rica: $60 - $130 per month for 80% coverage of hospital/doctor visits, medications and exams. Prices vary depending on your gender, age and other factors involved with your overall health. These prices are to be insured with INS, Costa Rica’s government-run health insurance company.
Ecuador: $45 - $85 per month for 70%-90% coverage of hospital/doctor visits, medications and exams. Again, prices vary depending on gender and age, but there is no age limit where you will no longer receive coverage. These prices are to be insured with the Latin American insurance company, Salud, S.A.
If you are, or wish to become, a resident of your new home country, you have the option (Ecuador) or are required (Costa Rica) to pay into that country’s version of Social Security. If that’s the case, the costs change a bit:
Costa Rica: $37 - $55 per month for access to very affordable or, in some cases, free healthcare, including areas that the INS will not cover, such as pre-existing medical conditions, dental and eye care.
Ecuador: $50 - $70 per month for full medical coverage, including dental and eye care. Although there have been many upgrades to the IESS-run medical facilities within the past couple of years, there are still certain locations that are much better then others. We recommend speaking with other expats in the area you’re settling in to get their opinion, as well as visiting the facilities directly before committing.
What About Global Health Insurance Coverage?
There are a plethora of global health insurance companies out there looking to cover you, no matter where in the world you live; and the majority (if not all) of them give you the option to either include or opt-out of extending this coverage into the US. Of course, if you’re American, you will likely want to include the US, especially if you make frequent trips back or if you only live in Latin America for half of the year.
The majority of global insurance plans offer a wide variety of choice when it comes to deductibles – what you pay before the insurance company kicks in. Other options include medications, dental and eye care. In many cases you have the option to pick and choose your coverage, as well as adding dependents (most of the time children, under 9 or 10, are free to add).
Just like any other health insurance plan, pre-existing medical conditions are not usually covered. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get coverage… it just means you’ll pay more or they will begin coverage after 2 years of not requiring treatment for your existing ailment. That being said, if you have a pre-existing medical condition, and are getting global health insurance, it’s probably a good idea to pay the extra to include coverage.
Is Travel Insurance a Viable Option?
If you plan to only live abroad for a year or two, or for only part of the year, then yes… travel insurance may be an option for you.
The major caveats with travel insurance though, are that it only covers emergency situations while abroad and will not cover you in your native country. So, if you wish to visit a doctor to simply have something checked or wish to travel home for a procedure, you will not be covered. It’s also important to note that in most cases, travel insurance is only good for a year… although most companies will renew for an additional year.
If you are looking to be fully covered for medical check-ups, dental, eye care and prescriptions, you are better off going with an expat health insurance plan. Either globally or within your new home country.
The bottom line? There are many options to ensure your health is protected during your time living abroad; it really comes down to your current health, your comfort level in the healthcare system of your new home and whether you are a full or part-time expat.
Of course, there’s also the option of just ‘winging it’. Doctor visits, hospital stays, dental work and vision care is all incredibly affordable in all of Latin America, even in the beautiful, state-of-the-art facilities we mentioned at the beginning of this article. Of course, you can rarely predict a health issue, but for many expats generally in good health with no pre-existing conditions, this is the option they end up choosing…
Talking about insurance is rarely something anyone wants to do… it has the potential to be confusing, misleading and can be pricey… doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? Well, let’s shift gears instead to our Discovery Weekends! Fun, informative and almost as much of a necessity if a move abroad is on your mind! After all, it’s important to experience the country you’re considering to be your new permanent or temporary home…
Discovery Weekends also give you an excellent opportunity to speak with other expats already living in the country. What better way then to get first-hand experiences from people living them day after day?