Life as an expat can be full of challenges, from overcoming language barriers to adjusting to new customs and cultures. One of the most crucial concerns for workers living overseas is whether they can access comprehensive healthcare without having to navigate a complex new system. For employers, offering a robust package of health insurance will empower your workers to overcome these worries and take the next step in their careers.
A wide-ranging survey carried out by the Boston Consulting Group, which polled 366,000 people across 197 countries, found that 57% of people would like to work abroad 1. While working international is exciting, it can come with plenty of causes for worry.
Healthcare is perhaps one of the most daunting aspects of leaving familiar territory. Navigating an entirely new system, in a language that is not your first, to keep you and your family well can be difficult. It can be expensive too, particularly if you are stationed in a country or region without subsidised or universal healthcare.
At a time of global skills shortages, employers need to offer comprehensive benefits packages that make expat life simpler. Robust health insurance that accounts for the unique concerns of expat life, and can support your workers no matter where they are, is key to facilitating the self-determined lives of your workers.
Bridging international healthcare gaps
Some nations offer excellent universal healthcare to everyone living and working in their country. Others, such as the US and many developing countries, have poor or unaffordable state healthcare systems, making comprehensive health insurance a coveted employee benefit.
It is unsurprising, then, that healthcare is the most important benefit to workers. 88% of workers surveyed by the Harvard Business Review said that better health, dental and vision insurance would even convince them to take a lower-paying job2. Even if the destinations or role are desirable, employers will find it harder to fill vacancies without adequate healthcare provisions.
Even in regions with good healthcare, a package of healthcare-focused benefits will help employers stand out. For example, easily accessible wellbeing services, fertility services or access to private clinics that bypass state waiting lists will support your workers both in and out of work – helping them shape their lives on their terms.
Approaching healthcare holistically
Even if your international workers are physically well, the stress of living and working in an unfamiliar environment often takes its toll. In a 2021 survey, a worrying 28% of expats rated their stress levels as between an eight and 10 3 – the highest level. So-called “expat failure”, where international workers end up returning earlier than planned, can range from 10-50% 4 in some firms. It is often attributed to workers feeling unsettled or unsupported in their new environment.
Knowing where to turn in times of mental distress is especially important for those without a local network. International workers are more likely to self-diagnose mental health issues3 such as depression and anxiety, and are less likely to say their conditions are being managed well or very well (28% vs 45% of those receiving formal healthcare support).
It is not surprising many are struggling on alone, with just 35% of non-native workers3 believing the country they work in offers timely mental health support. More broadly, PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2022 found that just 29% of workers feel their employer offers adequate mental health support5. Consider how wellbeing and less formal ways to access mental health support, such as employee assistance programmes, can be included in your package of healthcare benefits.
Caring for accidental expats
Expats are not the only international workers who may have concerns over accessing healthcare in a new country. The so-called “accidental expat 6” – a term coined by Baker McKenzie – can crop up in many situations, particularly following the rise in digital nomads ushered in by the Covid-19 pandemic. Remote employees may split their time between homes in two countries and want to access private healthcare when they are abroad. A comprehensive healthcare policy will ensure they can access a level of cover, such as telehealth, even when your people are out of their base country.
It is also essential that temporary international workers are properly covered. Your staff may end up taking an extended business trip to oversee a project that lasts a significant amount of time. Additionally, employees who are considering international secondments will want to know valued benefits such as healthcare can be accessed during their time abroad.
Even if you have considered the legal and regulatory impact of an international workforce, inadequate healthcare policies can negatively affect global employees. If extended international working is fairly new to your business, your current benefits package may not cover employees while they are away from their home territory.
Offering continuity of care
Workers who live with disabilities or long-term health conditions, or have dependents who do, will want assurance that international healthcare can meet their medical needs. Those who rely on medication or specialist medical professionals will need reassurance that they’ll be able to access essential ongoing and emergency treatment in their new country.
Choosing a provider with a well-established network of healthcare providers gives firms the best chance of supporting every employee abroad – no matter how complex their or their dependents’ needs are. Demonstrating the breadth of coverage, and the services and specialisms your employees can access, will empower your people to seize opportunities, rather than reject them out of fear.
An internationally assured life
For employees who want to take the opportunity to live overseas, concerns around healthcare can hold them back. With robust healthcare provisions, however, they can embrace the expat life with the confidence and security that comes from knowing they won’t compromise their health and wellbeing – no matter where their career takes them.
Taking all these aspects into account, Swiss Life has developed an International Medical Solution offering comprehensive healthcare to your global, mobile workforce. With 129,000 providers spanning 181 countries, who speak more than 50 languages, your employees can access medical care, including optical, dental, outpatient and wellbeing services, wherever they are in the world.