Top tips for the best expat insurance

I’ve lost one of my favourite rings. The stone is quite large so I take it off to sleep and it usually rests undisturbed on my bed side table until the following morning. My toddler has a habit of ‘tidying’ my keys, phone and anything which I value into the bin and I can only guess that my ring has met a similar fate.

I’m trying to stay philosophical about it all. It’s only a ring. Noone has died or suffered, although I am experiencing considerable emotional pain right now.

Bet she didn’t have a toddler tidying away her jewels

I’ve contacted my insurance company, but it’s useless. It was a unique piece which I never thought to get valued by a professional and even if I did, the sentimental value would surely be higher.

Over the years I’ve learned a lot about insurance as an expat. Here are my top tips:

Check the small print. Ask your relocation company to send you a summary of the most important clauses if the contract is not in your native language. As I’ve also learned the hard way, you will need to show recent proof of value, so that may mean a professional valuation on an annual basis.

Store your papers. I’m not suggesting you bulk up folders with useless print outs, but be sure to save a digital copy of your policy plan. Also keep records of your valuations and receipts for the higher ticket items you cherish. It’s a good idea to photograph these receipts and store them in a safe digital place.

A friend was burgled and the thieves not only took her jewelry and collection of Swiss watches, but also the individual authentication papers. Without any proof she was unable to claim. She’s been remarkably upbeat (perhaps because she’s begun collecting again from scratch), and now keeps the records as safe as the jewels themselves.

Don’t duplicate. When we moved to Switzerland we were inundated by bills. Health insurance, home insurance, home contents insurance, car insurance… I ended up paying two home insurance companies. It was a foolish mistake as I speak French and should have known better. I understood the invoice as a legal obligation to pay, but actually this was two insurance companies introducing their services.

It was not only expensive as we were paying for two sets of insurance, but when we needed to make a claim everything got much more complicated as both companies urged us to claim with the other.

Is it necessary? When living in Belgium we were bombarded with invoices from a local health insurance firm. I was confused as we were already paying a great deal to a Swiss company for an international health plan. Having made the duplication mistake before in Switzerland, I didn’t want to make an expensive repeat.

The letters from the Belgian insurance office became stronger and stronger worded and even our local relocation office recommended we paid. On the other hand, our Swiss insurance providers assured us that our plan was enough on its own.

In truth our relocation agency was covering their back as they weren’t sure. We pressed them for a clearer answer and they soon confirmed that we were indeed under no legal obligation. Finally the Belgian company backed off.

Free insurance? Check with your bank or credit card company as some will offer decent travel insurance free of charge.

You may need to opt in however, be it signing a form or making a call. Be careful what and whom it includes.

When my husband’s baggage went missing on our honeymoon we understood we were entitled to compensation through American Express. Unfortunately as my husband’s name wasn’t listed on a recent utility bill at our registered address (he was working in China at the time), we were unable to claim.

Negotiate where relevant. We’ve only ever made one insurance claim and that was for some sticky tack which had torn away some paintwork in an expat home in Switzerland. The home rental agency initially tried to charge an exorbitant amount for the repair work, but when we underlined that our insurance company had valued the damage at a much lower rate, our landlords relented considerably.

Put simply, I think our landlords were looking to make an easy buck, reckoning that our insurance firm would treat them to an extra juicy amount or that we would fund the difference.

Just in case funds. Our global health insurance provider in Switzerland were very good at compensating for any medical checks and procedures but the process was slow. We needed to pay for all treatment up front and then reclaim our expenses.

This was always met with surprise by Belgian medical staff and I always need to pay cash upfront before seeing a doctor. I learned through experience – the first time I took my sick child to the hospital the medical reception told me that they wouldn’t accept my British Visa, Mastercard or Amex and that the ATM was out of order. I had to beg to see a doctor and even ended up offering my necklace as collateral! (In the end they accepted two forms of ID).

Not all insurance firms work the same and our situation was unique, but in my experience cash (local and US dollars) always comes in handy for emergencies.

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