Doctor and patient

Organizing Health Insurance as an Expat in London

When you’re healthy, the last thing that might cross your mind is worrying about health insurance. But if the worst happens, then knowing that you can afford the best care for yourself and your loved ones is paramount.

The UK is famous for its National Health Service: Indeed, it is the envy of many countries, even with all the bad press it might have recently received.

Anyone who is legally resident in the UK is entitled to the universal healthcare offered by the NHS. It provides every aspect of healthcare, including access to a General Practitioner (GP), emergency treatment, operations, mental health and pre and post-natal care. In addition, the UK has reciprocal arrangements with many countries, including members of the EU, New Zealand and Australia.

However, whilst the NHS is a fine institution, it’s not without issues. These include lengthy waiting lists for appointments with specialist consultants, non-life threatening operations and lack of provision for dental care (or full payment of dental care). Because of this, many people choose to take out health insurance to allow them to access the many private hospitals and clinics that abound in the UK.

Private health insurance

Having private health insurance means that should you need treatment you can access this quickly – something that provides real peace of mind for you and your family.

For expats, the most important thing is to gain a variety of quotes, and then choose which plan best suits you. For instance, you might only need cover for a short period of time, or you might choose to take out cover for a specific range of treatments. Perhaps you might like cover that means you gain access to an expert consultation and initial tests, but would pay for any further treatment necessary.

MediBroker is a web search engine that provides you with a variety of plans from the world’s top 30 insurers, with over 100 different international health insurance plans. The service is free of charge and, once you decide on a plan, you deal directly with the broker or insurance company.

Why have private health insurance

There are many reasons why you might choose to have private health insurance. These include:

  • Instant access to medical experts, such as cardiologists, oncologists, obstetricians, paediatricians etc.

  • Bypassing (sometimes long) NHS waiting lists for treatment

What does private health insurance cover?

You can choose from different types of health insurance cover, but in general they boil down to two different types:

  • Basic private health insurance cover – that will cover the cost of most in-patient treatments, such as initial consultations, tests to determine what is needed, day surgery and in-patient surgery

  • More in-depth policies might cover out-patient treatments. conditions such as cancers, and could even pay you a fixed amount should you choose to have treatment via the NHS.

What private health insurance doesn’t cover?

In general, the following won’t be covered by a private policy:

  • Cosmetic surgery

  • Any pre-existing medical conditions

  • Normal pregnancy and childcare costs

  • Injuries from dangerous sports or activities

  • Chronic illnesses – i.e. diabetes, hypertension, HIV, epilepsy etc.

Pros and cons of private health insurance


  • Reducing the waiting times for seeing a consultant and/or receiving treatment.

  • Choosing where and when you have your treatment, and which expert provides your care.

  • Having a private room in hospital, rather than being on a ward.

  • There might be different, specialist drugs and treatments on offer for those with private health insurance. This could be because of the cost, or because thy might not yet have been approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

  • ‘Alternative’ treatments, such as physiotherapy, chiropractors and osteopathy may well be covered and something that you’ll get quicker access to.


  • The cost! There’s no doubting that private health insurance is expensive, and the price goes up on a yearly basis.

  • The NHS might well provide better (or definitely comparable) care – such as if you have a heart attack or stroke.

  • Many private health covers have an approved list of experts who you can select from. And these might not be in an area local to you, meaning that you have to travel to see your consultant.

  • In general, chronic illnesses and pre-existing conditions aren’t usually covered.

Choosing the right health insurance policy

One good source that provides impartial advice on various health insurance policies is Which. Some questions you should ask before you take out a policy include the following:

  • What does the policy cover and what are the exclusions?

  • How much will it cost and how much are the costs likely to go up over my lifetime (or however long you wish to have the policy for)?

  • Is there an excess – either voluntary or compulsory?

  • Do I build up a no-claims discount?

Ways to cut the cost of your health insurance policy

There are many ways to lower the cost of your policy. Some of the following might bring down the annual (or monthly) cost that you have to pay:

  • Delayed treatment: This option allows you to choose to have NHS treatment, and only to use your health insurance policy if they can’t see you quickly enough. For instance, some insurance offer a ‘six-week wait’ option. As the name suggests, if a consultation or treatment can’t be offered within this time frame then your insurer will pay for you to be seen privately.

  • No-claims discount: If you don’t make a claim, then you begin to build up a discount. Additionally, some insurers also offer a similar scheme if any treatment you do have adds up to less than the cost of your premiums.

  • Shared responsibility schemes: This allows you to agree to pay a percentage of any treatment you receive. The higher a percentage you choose to pay, the lower your premium.

  • Health insurance excess: In a similar manner that you have on car insurance, you agree to pay an excess (usually below £1,000), and your insurer will cover any amount your treatment costs above this.

And a last word on dental cover…

The NHS does not cover full dental costs. In fact, if you see an NHS dentist then you’ll pay around 75% of the total cost, with the NHS covering the rest. You should check whether any private health insurance you take out covers dental costs. If it doesn’t you might want to consider taking out private dental cover in addition to your private health insurance.