Can I use travel insurance instead of health insurance?

A question that I get asked frequently because when people arrive into the US, they see just how obscenely expensive the medical and health insurance is here and they think that they might have worked out a magical loophole.

If you’re a super busy person who doesn’t have time to read all of this, the really short version of the answer is NO (… but).

Ok, now that we’ve got that out of the way, I need to explain why. Take this note from WorldNomad’s Expat Travel Insurance page:

This isn’t health insurance!

Expats must be aware this is travel insurance not health insurance.

This means it will not cover you for ongoing medical care. It also excludes many pre-existing conditions as well as any medical treatment that is not considered necessary by our medical specialists. If you’re not sure if you’ll be covered for something, call us and we can help.

In the simplest terms, travel insurance is for exactly that: Travel. If you’ve moved to another country (even “temporarily” because of your visa status), you will normally be considered a “resident” of the country you now live in (click here for more about residency). If you’re moving, then you don’t fit into the model that the insurance company has for how to pay out claims, so they really don’t want you taking advantage.

In many cases, travel insurance companies will let you take out a policy for up to 12 months, but you want to be very upfront with them about why you’re moving and what your plans are. While you might hold a policy, you might not have properly (or at all) read the disclosure statement that says something like this from CoverMore’s Premium Disclosure Statement:

It is a condition of the policy that:

  • You are a resident of Australia

Suddenly you get injured but the insurance won’t pay out. Disaster.

WorldNomads is often mentioned as fantastic for travel insurance, but know that what they specialize in is not health insurance. They specialize in travel insurance for those who live overseas (so, traveling to a 3rd country that is not your country of citizenship, not your country of residence, but a third). This is clearly laid on their page talking about residency:

You’re not eligible for cover if you:

  • intend to live overseas at a permanent residential address for more than two years;
  • will be 70 years old at the time you buy your policy or at the time you extend your trip and buy more cover;
  • intend to use this policy in place of private health insurance; or
  • don’t wish to return to Australia (for example, in the event of a medical repatriation from overseas).

Ok, so I’ve scared your pants off, now what?

Long story short again is that you need health insurance when you move to the US. 

For the first few days (or maybe even weeks, but again, talk to the insurance company), you are fine to be covered because you are genuinely not using this insurance as health insurance and you do plan to get back to Australia if something goes wrong. Get this in writing, have specific dates, be careful.

Head over to healthcare.gov and start answering questions! Your employer may provide health insurance too, so be sure to negotiate that when you’re negotiating your salary (it’s VERY expensive for properly good cover).

Please also note another article I wrote: Reciprocal Health Care for Australians abroad (and why it’s not free in Canada)


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