Why British Expats Need Travel Insurance When You Visit Home

Tuesday, 10 May, 2022

Don't Assume the NHS
will be there for you

Like Many Expats I was wrong

My phone started ringing it was my wife.
“I’m really sorry I have to take this” I said to the person I was interviewing
“Oh, yes that’s fine” they responded
I answered the call “Hi! what’s happening?”
“They’re taking him into hospital”
“OK, do you know how long for? We’re flying to Majorca in 2 days”
“I don’t know that they haven’t told me.
They’ve only said that he needs admitting and do we have insurance.
I told them that we do but I don’t have the details. They’ve said that they can wait but they’ll need the information”
“You took him to Pinderfields?” I asked
“But that’s an NHS hospital” I didn’t understand
“So, why are they asking for insurance details?”
This was the conversation I had with my wife when we were visiting the UK on our summer trip
I’ll come back to that later and how this situation ended

What's the point of travel insurance when there's the NHS?

First let me set the scene and then ask you a question
So, May is here already!
And that means there’s only 6 to 8 weeks left in this school year…
For most international schools anyway
With summer holidays just around the corner you’re probably starting to plan for them
And for many of you this will mean an extended trip back to your native country
A chance to catch up with family and friends sort out bits and pieces that may have been accumulating back home
Because of the things that we still have there, property, investments etc.
So, whilst visiting your home country what would happen if you needed hospitalising?
Would you have access to free healthcare or would you need insurance?
If you need insurance does what you have now, provide you with cover in your home country?
What if you think that you’ve got access to free healthcare when you go back home
And it turns out that you haven’t?
So this is my question and in particular it’s for all of you British Expats
If you’re visiting the UK and you needed to go into hospital would you qualify for treatment under the NHS?

I've paid my taxes!!

Now I know many British expats who go back to the UK and use the NHS
Though that’s not the question here…
It’s do you qualify for NHS treatment if you’re a british expat?
And the answer to that question is no you don’t
Now there’s going to be some people shocked and outraged at this
The thing is if you’re not contributing to the system then you don’t qualify
It doesn’t matter that you paid taxes for 25 years
If you’re non UK resident for tax purposes or non ordinarily resident
You should be paying for your healthcare when you visit the UK
Now if you have international health insurance
Either through your employer or privately
Then this really isn’t an issue for you because you’ll have cover
(Though if you’re from the US and you’re heading home then it could be. Not all international policies provide cover as standard in the US so it’s worth checking)
Now if you have local health insurance then it is an issue

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Back to the story

Let’s go back to my story so that we can illustrate why
Our eldest son was about 2 possibly 3 and he was here, there and everywhere
My parents had a stone step going into the front of their house
And he’d been balancing on it and he’d slipped
As a result he’d got a nasty graze on his shin
Grandad had cleaned it up for him and put a dressing on it with sticking plaster
We kept checking on it and it didn’t seem to be getting any better if anything it looked worse
A few days passed and we were starting to get a bit concerned
Now visiting a doctor in the UK isn’t easy if you don’t live there…
You need to be registered with a GP to visit them and we weren’t
About 2 miles away there was an NHS drop in clinic which you could turn up to
So we decided to take him there
It was a hot Sunday and when we got there the clinic full of barbecue victims
Which meant we had to wait for several hours before we were seen
It turned out that he’d had an allergic reaction to the plaster and everything had got infected
They prescribed these horrible liquid antibiotics

And told us that if it wasn’t any better in three days we should visit a doctor again

As many of you’ll already know it’s not always easy giving medicine to a toddler
And our’s didn’t like this medicine at all and he’d spit it out
So we had no way of knowing whether he was getting the right dose
Needless to say it wasn’t getting any better after the three days had passed
So we decided to take him to the local A&E
I had arranged to conduct some interviews whilst I was in the UK so I couldn’t take him
So my wife and my dad said that they’d do it
And that’s when I received the call from my wife
I finished up the interviews and headed straight over to the hospital
And went and found my wife and son
I’d been there for about 5 minutes when a sister found me and asked if I had our insurance details
I said “I’m a British national, my son has a UK passport and this is an NHS hospital, so why do you need my health insurance?”
She responded. “I’m sorry Mr Macdonald, when we were admitting your son, your father said that you lived in Malaysia. So because you don’t currently live here you’ll need to pay for your son’s treatment. So can I have your insurance details please”
We had international health insurance that covered us there. So, I gave her the information

Thank goodness for insurance!

My son was in hospital for 3 days on a ward no special treatment. And he was given intravenous antibiotics.
He was fine, the infection cleared up and was running around again
We had to cancel our trip to Majorca
Our insurance company got a bill for £1,700 from an NHS hospital that has NO private rooms
And this was 12 or 13 years ago so imagine what that would be today?
Rest assured that this situation hasn’t got any easier
In fact post COVID things are even worse as resources are stretched the NHS will look to recoup costs

reinforcing the need for travel insurance

And here’s another example to help reinforce this
I recently had to visit hospital for a check up
While I was there I was chatting with the nurse
We were talking about social media stories on foreign visitors with relatives in the UK. How they come over and use their relatives address to get free operations on the NHS.
Having been through the spousal visa process with my wife. Which includes an NHS levy payment on top of the visa costs.
(Any relative would have to go through a similar procedure to stay here long term)
Considering the expense and time involved,
It would mean that they could go elsewhere and get the operation done cheaper in another country.
Not only that, the waiting lists for simple things are long. For example an MRI could be six months with another 6 weeks for results
And you have to be registered with a GP in the first place! Which isn’t easy in itself if you don’t have the proper paperwork
I questioned the validity of these stories and she agreed
What she went on to say was that there’d been a study done recently. If focused on which groups were the biggest debtors to the NHS.
It wasn’t British non nationals that were exploiting the system and sucking out the funds.
By far the largest group were British expats who got treatment when they came back to visit
Something that they’re not entitled to because they aren’t paying into the system
Isn’t that a turn up for the books!
And they were looking at the way’s in which they could recover such costs in the future
Now this may be stirring some emotions up in you
Some of you may find it annoying that you don’t qualify for healthcare in your country of birth.
Though isn’t this simply entitlement? Expecting to get something from a system you no longer contribute to and may not have for years?
Or you could be getting concerned because you hadn’t realised the situation.
I promise you this if we hadn’t have had health insurance and I’d have had to fork out for the hospital bill. That would have been a holiday wrecker.
And not only that the treatment that my son needed wasn’t complicated. If it was then we could have been looking at costs in the tens of thousands.

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So, what's your best options?

So what’s the solution?
You’ve got two choices…
One is to get your family covered by an international health insurance policy
The other is to make sure that you’ve got a travel insurance policy
And it’s got adequate cover for any significant medical bills
Plus it should cover all your family if you’re insured and your kids aren’t
That would have been a nightmare for me
That’s easy! Right?
It’s might not be quite as easy as you think
Making sure that you have the right policy for your situation is important
Otherwise you can experience complications and issues that your not going to appreciate
Don’t worry we’ve created something that’s going to help you!
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