The rise of digital nomads has transformed the way we think about work and travel.  Technologies such as Freelance creatives, business owners, and those embracing van life or full-time RV living have all redefined the concept of a workplace.

Health Plans for Digital Nomads What You Need to Know to Live Life on the Go

Health Options for Digital Nomads

There’s a lot of freedom in liberating yourself from a fixed residence or workplace. But there are a lot of challenges, too. And one of the foremost is securing access to affordable health care while you’re on the road – when and where you need it.

Fortunately, it’s an achievable goal.

But you might have to think “outside the box.” That is, you’ll probably need to consider solutions outside of Obamacare and other traditional insurance products.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore health insurance and health sharing plans tailored for digital nomads, covering key considerations for those staying in the United States as well as those traveling abroad extensively.

Healthcare Challenges for Digital Nomads

Digital nomads face distinct healthcare challenges, primarily due to their mobility.

If you live much of your life on the road, it’s important to be able to use your health plan benefits wherever your adventures take you.

The problem is this: Digital nomads are not well-served by traditional insurance products. And they are especially poorly-served by the managed care HMOs and PPOs that dominate the Obamacare insurance marketplaces.

These plans structurally rely on limiting patients to limited networks of authorized providers for non-emergency care.

If your health insurance network is specific to the greater Denver area, it doesn’t do you much good if you are running your business from Kenai, Alaska, Kaunakakai, Hawaii, or Bangkok, Thailand.

If you need to go to the ER or get follow-up care from a specialist, a traditional insurance plan may not fully cover your treatment outside of their network.

And with many plans, care received while overseas is not covered at all.

Compare Pricing on the Best Insurance Plans Available

The Health Sharing Alternative

If you and your family are in generally good health, with no significant pre-existing conditions, health sharing can be a great, affordable alternative to inadequate, overpriced traditional health insurance products – especially if you don’t qualify for an Obamacare subsidy.

There are several reasons for this, including cost-savings, flexibility, and the ability to choose your own doctors and providers, whether in the U.S. or abroad. Here’s a closer look at each of these factors, in turn:

Cost Savings

If you’re among those who do not qualify for a subsidy under the Affordable Care Act, health sharing plans offer significantly lower monthly costs compared to traditional insurance products.

Typically, health sharing plans are available for 30% to 50% less than the unsubsidized cost of a traditional health insurance product without a subsidy.

With the average unsubsidized cost of health insurance for a family of four nearing $23,000 per year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, switching to a health insurance plan can typically save thousands of dollars per year per household.

Learn More: How Much Money Can Health Sharing Save?

Nationwide Access to Care

Unlike traditional insurance networks, many health sharing plans provide the freedom to choose any doctor, clinic, or hospital – anywhere in the country.

This flexibility ensures that wherever your travels take you, you’ll still have access to affordable health care––where and when you need it most.

Learn More: How You Can Escape Narrow Health Insurance Networks and Choose Your Own Doctor

Organizations With Global Reach 

Many health sharing organizations are faith-based ministries.

These organizations often have extensive experience with members who serve as missionaries abroad. This expertise can be invaluable for digital nomads who spend significant time outside the U.S.

For Digital Nomads Within the United States

For digital nomads traveling predominantly within the U.S., the choice between health insurance and health sharing plans depends on individual needs and preferences.

Traditional Health Insurance Considerations

  • Traditional plans offer comprehensive coverage, including prescription drug insurance. But traditional insurance products also come with higher premiums and often with limited care networks. Some care networks are regional and sometimes focused on a specific metropolitan area – making them a poor match for frequent travelers.
  • Traditional insurance plans may qualify for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. However, if you don’t qualify for a subsidy, or if your subsidy is relatively small, traditional insurance can be prohibitively expensive compared to health sharing plans.
  • Traditional insurance plans may be worthwhile if you have pre-existing conditions. But check your plan’s network before buying a policy. If the network doesn’t cover where you’re going, it may be time to go back to the drawing board, and shop around.

Health Sharing Considerations

  • Affordability. Health sharing plans have much lower monthly costs compared to unsubsidized traditional insurance plans.
  • Choose your doctor. Most let you use your health sharing benefits with any doctor or provider––not just those in a limited provider network. This is a terrific feature for those living the digital nomad lifestyle. 
  • Telehealth benefits. Most health sharing plans offer free access to board-certified MDs via telehealth. These doctors can help diagnose minor ailments, help provide treatment plans, and update prescriptions no matter where you are on the planet. All you need is phone/Internet access.
  • Pre-existing conditions. Health sharing plans typically limit cost sharing related to pre-existing conditions for a set number of months or years. Health sharing may not be a great match if you have pre-existing conditions.

Planning some traveling? Make sure your health plan can keep up with you! Contact a Personal Benefits Advisor for a free consultation and quote

For International Digital Nomads

Are you a globetrotter? 

Or do you just like to spend a lot of time running your business from Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, or other common digital nomad destinations? 

Either way, those who spend a significant amount of time outside the United States have some unique and specific considerations when it comes to choosing a health plan.

Again, health sharing offers considerable advantages compared to traditional insurance products available over the ACA Marketplaces.

The benefits of open networks and the freedom to choose your own doctors and providers even overseas, as well as the cost savings advantages of health sharing compared to traditional health insurance products, take on even more importance when you’re outside of the United States. 

Health Sharing vs. Travel Insurance

Some digital nomads use short-term “travel insurance” plans to help protect them against unexpected medical costs while abroad.

Some countries actually require travelers to provide proof of travel insurance or other coverage or other proof of financial responsibility before they will issue a visa.

Travel insurance has its place. But it’s no substitute for a long-term traditional health insurance or health sharing plan.

It’s crucial to distinguish health sharing and traditional health insurance from travel insurance.

Medical Travel Insurance, Health Sharing, and Traditional Medical Insurance

Medical Travel InsuranceHealth SharingTraditional Medical Insurance
Helps pay for emergency care abroadHelps pay for emergency care abroad (most plans)May have limited or no benefits outside of the U.S.
Coverage stops when you return to the U.S.Remains in effect when you return to the U.S.Remains in effect when you return to the U.S.
Limited benefits. Does not cover routine and preventative careMay help cover routine and preventative careMay help cover routine and preventative care
Does not cover childbirth/pregnancy costsShares costs IAW plan guidelines.Typically pays, though out-of-network charges may apply
Generally lets you choose your own doctorGenerally lets you choose your own doctorMost plans have limited authorized care networks.
Emergency evacuation coverageMay not include evacuation costsMay not cover evacuation costs
Designed for short-term staysDesigned to stay in force for years - to age 65Designed to stay in force for years - to age 65
You must come back to the U.S. for long-term care and support. Travel ins. Will not pay once you return.Check plan documents for specifics on overseas benefitsMay need an international policy for longer stays.
Does not cover pre-existing conditionsWaiting periods apply before costs related to pre-existing conditions become shareable.U.S.-based, ACA-qualified plans cover pre-existing conditions. International health insurance policies typically will exclude pre-existing conditions.

While travel insurance covers emergencies during short trips and lapses once you return to the U.S., health sharing and insurance plans are designed to last a year or longer.

They also stay in effect no matter how often you go back and forth between the U.S. and your host country.

While medical travel insurance may make sense for very short trips, health sharing plans and traditional health insurance may be a better fit for full-time nomads, missionaries, and U.S. expats living abroad.

Travel Insurance vs. International Health Insurance

Travel insurance and international medical insurance are two popular types of coverage among digital nomads who spend a significant amount of their time living and working abroad. 

While both types of insurance provide essential protections, they cater to different aspects of a traveler’s needs, and come with distinct features and limitations.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance primarily focuses on the logistics of international travel.

Some countries, including the 27 “Schengen Area” countries of Europe, require Americans to carry travel insurance to get a visa.

These plans aren’t limited to helping pay for medical care. Instead, travel insurance generally comes in broader packages offering insurance protection for a wide range of unforeseen events that can occur while you are away from home.

For example, in addition to providing limited benefits in the event you need emergency care during your trip, travel insurance packages may also include coverage for trip cancellations, lost luggage, flight delays, and sometimes, emergency medical expenses. 

For digital nomads, travel insurance is particularly valuable as it mitigates the financial risks associated with the unpredictable nature of travel, such as last-minute changes in plans or the loss of personal belongings.

However, the medical coverage provided by travel insurance is typically limited. It’s designed for short-term emergencies. It typically does not cover pre-existing conditions, maternity costs, or comprehensive health services.

Each country has its own requirements. But if you’re planning to travel to any of the 27 countries in the Schengen Agreement, you should be prepared to show proof of the following coverage: 

  • 30,000 in Medical Emergency/Hospitalization Coverage
  • $300,000 of Medical Evacuation and Repatriation Coverage
  • $0 Deductible
  • Proof that your insurance has offices in Europe

Note: If you have pre-existing conditions, you should not rely on a travel insurance policy to cover them.

Learn more: Countries That Require Travel Insurance (as of 2023)

Need travel insurance now? Click here for a free quote and to enroll!

International Medical Insurance

On the other hand, international medical insurance offers more comprehensive health coverage, akin to a traditional health insurance plan but on a global scale.

These plans are designed to provide long-term health care for individuals living or working outside of their home country for extended periods.

Compared to travel insurance plans, international medical insurance policies cover a much wider range of medical services, from routine check-ups and vaccinations to emergency surgeries and hospital stays. 

Travel insurance is ideal for short-term travel inconveniences and emergencies, making it suitable for trips and brief stays.

In contrast, international medical insurance provides comprehensive health coverage, essential for digital nomads who spend extended periods abroad and require consistent, reliable healthcare.

While travel insurance can be purchased with terms as short as a few days, international medical insurance policies are typically purchased for a minimum of one year, and are better suited for longer-term stays. 

In many cases, a combination of multiple solutions may offer the most complete protection for the unique challenges faced by those living a nomadic lifestyle.

Need international medical insurance? Click here to apply now!

Health Sharing for International Digital Nomads

Many health sharing plans provide an excellent, affordable long-term solution for digital nomads who spend significant time abroad. They can be very competitively priced compared to an international health insurance policy on a monthly basis.

For example, faith-based health sharing plans with experience serving missionaries can be an excellent option for digital nomads staying or living abroad. These organizations are used to dealing with foreign providers on behalf of U.S. expats and travelers.

They often understand the complexities of international healthcare and can provide appropriate support and guidance.

However, you may need to get medical documents, bills, and invoices translated into English before they can be processed for sharing. 

Faith-based health sharing plans with experience serving missionaries can be an excellent option for nomads abroad. They often understand the complexities of international healthcare and can provide appropriate support and guidance.

Billing Considerations

One advantage of travel and international medical insurance is that they may have established a direct billing relationship with hospitals and other providers near you.

This vastly streamlines the process. Without a direct billing relationship, you may need to pay significant costs out-of-pocket in the event you need care – and then apply for reimbursement after the fact.

This may be more of an issue with health sharing plans than it is for established travel or international medical insurance plans – especially if they maintain offices in the region.

Compare Pricing on the Best HealthShare Plans Available

Choosing a Health Plan for the Digital Nomad Lifestyle

Choosing the right healthcare option as a digital nomad requires careful consideration of your lifestyle, travel plans, and medical needs.

Both traditional health insurance and health sharing plans have their merits, and the best choice depends on individual circumstances.

For those constantly on the move, health sharing plans offer a flexible and cost-effective solution. However, it’s essential to thoroughly research and understand the terms of any plan you consider.

Remember, your health is as vital as your freedom to explore and work anywhere. Making an informed decision about your healthcare ensures you can enjoy your nomadic lifestyle to the fullest.

Need guidance on the best healthcare options for your lifestyle? Contact a Personal Benefits Manager at HSA for America today for personalized advice tailored to your unique needs. Let us help you navigate the world of health insurance and health sharing plans, ensuring you’re covered wherever your adventures take you.

For Further Reading: Low-Cost International Travel Insurance | All You Need to Know About Health Share Plans | Should I Switch from Traditional Health Insurance to Health Sharing? | Health Benefits for Construction Workers