Expat Health Insurance: Everything to Know

By September 4, 2020 April 12th, 2023 uLink Blog
Expat couple sitting at a desk discussing expat health insurance

If you’re new to the United States, acquiring health insurance should be a top priority. 

While it can be an expensive investment, health insurance provides a strong defense for your physical and financial well-being. Without insurance, catastrophic accidents and even routine check-ups can quickly run up costs and lead to debt. 

In this brief post, we’ll show you how: 

  • To acquire health insurance
  • You can potentially save money in the process
  • To avoid making costly mistakes along the way. 

How to Get Health Insurance 

Unlike many other countries, there is no nationalized healthcare system in the United States. In order to get health insurance, you have to shop for it through private insurers and government exchanges (like Medicaid). 

For nearly a decade, the Affordable Care Act ( ACA, also known as Obamacare) effectively made having health insurance mandatory. While that part of the ACA is no longer upheld at the federal level, some states still require residents to have health insurance coverage to avoid tax penalties. Click here to see if your state still enforces this requirement. 

For many Americans, the easiest way to acquire health insurance is through an employer. Group plans provide great coverage at a fraction of the cost associated with private plans. 

If getting insured through work is not an available option, the next best solution is to apply for Medicaid. 

Enrolling in Medicaid 

As long as you are legally residing in the United States, you will be eligible for Medicaid coverage. If you have children up to the age of 19, they will also be eligible for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). 

However, according to federal law, most lawfully present expats must wait five years before enrolling in Medicaid (refugees and asylees are exempt from this rule). A word of warning: do not apply for Medicaid if you are ineligible, as you will be liable for significant fines

If you are eligible, click here to learn more and start the application process.

Many states recently extended Medicaid and CHIP coverage to children and pregnant women who are lawfully residing in the United States. These services will be rendered immediately and do not require a five-year waiting period. 

With regards to emergency care, Medicaid does cover emergency treatments regardless of eligible immigration status (provided all other income and state residency criteria are met). 

If Medicaid doesn’t seem like an immediate solution for you and your family, it’s best to turn to the Marketplace. 

Saving Money in the Marketplace

If you’re a lawfully-present immigrant, you can easily buy private health insurance. As a quick Google search will reveal, there are countless vendors in the Marketplace that can craft plans to fit your specific needs.

Better yet, depending on your income, you may even be eligible for reduced monthly premiums and lower out-of-pocket costs. 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, you can obtain these discounts if your annual income is 400% of the federal poverty level (about $45,960 for an individual) or if your annual household income is below 100% federal poverty level (approximately $94,200 for a family of 4). 

If your estimated household income is under 100% of the federal poverty level, that’s okay. You will still be eligible for tax credits and lower out-of-pocket costs for whichever private insurance plan you choose to buy. 

3 Common Mistakes to Avoid 

As you begin to shop around, it’s important to keep the following tips in mind:

1) Choose Cost over Quality

Quality doesn’t cost. It pays.” This is good advice to remember, especially with something as vital as health insurance. While it’s part of human nature to seek out great deals and bargains, remember that you’re buying insurance to protect yourself (and your family) against the unexpected. Be sure to get the very best coverage for your needs. 

2) Don’t Withhold Key Information

Providing completely accurate information to your insurance provider is extremely important. For example, if you have a pre-existing medical condition, you must disclose the details to your insurer. Failing to do so will allow your provider to invalidate your claims, terminate your policy, and leave you without any physical or financial protection. 

3) Never Rely on Your Domestic Insurance Policy

It’s easy to avoid buying a new insurance policy and instead rely on your coverage back home. This can be a costly mistake. Though your domestic insurance policy may deliver excellent service, it more than likely does not allow for treatment in the United States. Therefore, any accident or illness you experience in the U.S. will run up significant healthcare costs. Be sure to open a new insurance plan in the United States so you will be properly protected. 

If you travel frequently or plan to split time between your home country and the U.S., you may also consider opening a global health insurance policy. Top providers like Aetna and Cigna can help you develop these international plans. 

Getting Started

At uLink, we know how hard you work for your money. That’s why we provide great exchange rates and fees starting as low as $0—so you can pay for great insurance and still keep sending money home.

Plus, for a limited time, new customers will receive a $10 gift card to major retailers on their 1st, 2nd, and 5th transactions. 

That’s a total of three gift cards worth $30 after your first five transactions. 

Send money now!

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