Going on expat assignment has never been an easy task, neither for employer nor for employee. It has traditionally been linked to new opportunities, potential promotion on the career ladder, excitement, something new and fun, but at the same time has been always mixed with stress, compromise, tough decisions and stress again, and stress one more time. New location, new culture, pressing expectations from the work environment, and family adaptation to the new life naturally cannot be managed easily and with no effort. Having said that, the healthcare aspect for the expats and their families on assignment becomes of paramount importance.
Getting health insurance for one’s healthcare needs has been listed among the top-five challenges every expat faces when taking a new job overseas. There are many great insurance companies and wonderful products offered tailor-made for the expats and members of their families, providing comprehensive, high value, coverage for any type of medical need.
But the role of a health insurance company is not limited only to paying medical bills within the coverage and according to the terms and conditions. To these vulnerable expat families, the need goes far beyond monetary value and expenses being reimbursed. They need support navigating local healthcare systems in foreign countries, often in a different language; they need help understanding their options for planned and emergency medical care, and with selecting an appropriate medical provider for their children and themselves. They need an action plan for any sort of potential emergency situation; and they simply need the feeling of security and comfort when residing in a foreign country. This is exactly where assistance companies and third-party administrators (TPAs) come in as irreplaceable partners for insurance companies to provide that local knowledge and support, to build those customised ‘any type of emergency’ plans and give a level of comfort to the whole family. Being on the ground, having local knowledge, providing advice on local circumstances, hand-holding during any time of medical need – this is what is expected by the expat family to achieve that level of comfort and security.
Emerging trends among expatriates
When speaking about the changing face of assistance for expatriates, it’s worth considering how the face of expats has changed in recent years. One trend is that expat assignments are getting shorter: they used to be anywhere between three and six years long, but lately many of those assignments have been reduced to a year or even just six months. This essentially means that the employee has much less time to adapt to local culture and local life, and needs to accomplish a lot of targets in a much shorter time, which ends up being very stressful and a pressing environment to work and live in. As an assistance company, we try to provide any new expat family with comprehensive and useful information to meet any kind of health need – medical providers for emergency, chronic condition management if required, mental health support providers. We deliver this information through the app and our member portal, which allows expats to have it handy whenever it’s needed.
Many women are reporting that they are ready to serve as an expat in order to advance in their career
Another trend is the rising number of women among expats. Women used to be ‘passive’ expatriates, moving to other countries with their partners, putting their children into international schools and often more or less limited to taking care of the family. This has changed entirely now, with many women reporting that they are ready to serve as an expat in order to advance in their career. In 2016, among expats on assignment serviced by AP Companies, 19 per cent were women; in a similar sampling from 2022, women accounted for 49 per cent. This means that a more customised network delivery for meeting women’s health needs is expected from assistance providers as local representatives for their insurance companies.
Expats are also younger these days. In 2016, the proportion of expats serviced by AP who were 40 years old and younger was 35 per cent; in 2022 we saw over 60 per cent of expats being younger than 40.
Expats try to get a good grasp of the local healthcare system so they can follow their ‘action plan’ in case of major or minor medical emergencies
These expats are generally healthy with an active lifestyle, tight schedules, digitised in all aspects of their lives. When it comes to accessing medical care, their expectations are simplicity, time efficiency, and proximity of the medical facility to their residence or workplace. They like using online portals, apps, online access to set up medical appointments, and easy cancellations in case their work schedule changes unexpectedly. They are not happy to spend their valuable time on the phone by calling to request a guarantee of payment and would prefer to use an online system to request it or even business accounts on WhatsApp or similar. Some of them are relocating with family, including children, and while they still prefer to travel back to their home countries for ‘bigger’ procedures such as planned surgeries, expats try to get a good grasp of the local healthcare system so they can follow their ‘action plan’ in case of major or minor medical emergencies and understand their options for routing care for their family members.
Support and advice for new expats
At AP Companies we hold regular online seminars in different countries across the globe, which are aimed at newly arrived expat families, and where we tell them about the healthcare system in the countries where AP services them, and provide them with handy information on how to access medical care and how to select the right medical provider.
A special chapter during these seminars is mental health and how to manage it in foreign countries and cultures, and how to seek local professional support in case of need. During the same information session we supply information about all the available tools that can be useful to expat families during their journey of assignment – local resources, provider portals, online appointment systems, apps, etc.
The new ‘face’ of assistance companies for expatriates is truly international
According to Bloomberg, new rapidly growing destinations for expats are Kuala Lumpur, Lisbon, Dubai, Bengaluru (Bangalore), Mexico City, and Rio de Janeiro. As one can notice, the geography is spread all over the world – anywhere from the Far East all the way to Latin America. As a result, the new ‘face’ of assistance companies for expatriates is truly international. The challenge is to be able to provide an adequate level of local knowledge for the effective support of expats in all of these locations, and to be truly helpful in delivering that level of comfort and security they need to achieve their best results on assignment. There are many debates going on as to how to achieve the most efficient structure to deliver these global solutions and be ‘local’ enough for the needs of expats. But this subject probably requires another article to discuss all the pros and cons and viable solutions…