I'm emigrating. What should I do about health insurance?
I’m emigrating to Canada for work next month. I am keeping an open mind about how long I will stay, but it will be at least for a year or two. I have been paying private health insurance with VHI through a company scheme with my existing job, but I will be leaving that job before moving to Canada. Can you advise on my health insurance options? Would I be better off applying for insurance in Canada, or on an international policy from an Irish insurer? I am 33 and conscious of the community rating rules kicking in if I decide to return to live in Ireland in a few years. Thanks.
A: Dermot Goode, health insurance consultant with totalhealthcover.ie
Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer to this question. Yes, you can take out cover in Canada but this will not be recognised when you return to Ireland, which means you will be treated as a brand new member and subject to the normal joining waiting periods.
I recommend you contact VHI International as they have a number of options for those working abroad for an extended period of time. The advantage with VHI International is that you can transfer seamlessly from your domestic cover to the international plan and then back to the domestic policy on your return to Ireland with no break in cover.
Unfortunately, this type of international cover is currently not available from Laya Healthcare or Irish Life Health. There are other insurers in the market providing this type of international cover such as Allianz Worldwide Care and BUPA International, but there is no guarantee the health insurers in Ireland will recognise this cover for the purpose of waiving waiting periods on your return to Ireland.
For many people, the international cover option might be too expensive especially for those travelling to the US. For those who might only be abroad for a year or two, it might be possible to take out a backpacker policy which will cover the full duration of the trip; these tend to be less expensive than full international cover. However, health insurers in Ireland will not recognise the time spent on one of these policies, and many people leave their domestic insurance in place so they don’t have to re-serve waiting periods on their return.
The other point to note is that while you’re out of the country, age loadings may still apply on your return to Ireland if you cancel your domestic cover while you’re away. For example, if you leave the country when you are 34 and return at age 44, a 10-year age loading will apply which is equivalent to 20 per cent extra on the cost of your health insurance. Under the current rules, even if you have good international cover while you’re away, this doesn’t exempt you from the charge. However, you get full credit for time already insured with VHI and the other insurers in Ireland which will reduce or potentially eliminate any age loading.
In summary, if you’re going on a short trip, make sure you have standard travel insurance. If it’s an extended trip of 12-14 months, a backpacker policy might be sufficient but you may also need to leave your private health insurance in place to protect your waiting periods. If it’s an extended trip, then full international cover through the likes of VHI International would be recommended.
If emigrating long-term, it may be better taking out full cover in whatever country you’re moving to and making interim arrangements to ensure you’re covered until such time this is in place.
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