With more than 35,000 foreign workers living in Hong Kong, expat insurance is big business. But with so many policies and so much small print to shift through, finding the right coverage for you and your family can become a headache. Take the stress out of signing up for these essential services with our ultimate Hong Kong expat insurance guide.
Hong Kong is second only to the US on the list of the most expensive places in the world to receive private medical care. Although there are some great public hospitals in Hong Kong, the hard fact is that many of the city’s leading specialists contract their services out to private facilities. If you require surgery or come down with a serious illness, it’s only right that you would want the best medical care available.
The majority of Hong Kong expat workers receive health insurance from their employers, but these policies are normally ‘sub-limited’ and coverage is capped on a per-day or per-condition basis. Unfortunately, these limits and caps are usually grossly inadequate for those wanting to use Hong Kong’s top medical facilities, sometimes meaning that it’s cheaper for expats to travel home for private healthcare.
Pacific Prime is a Hong Kong-headquartered insurance broker specialising in global medical cover. With offices in Shanghai, Singapore, and Dubai and more than 60 insurers on its books, the company is a one-stop-shop when it comes to expat medical insurance.
Matthew Woloszuk from Pacific Prime’s expat team said, “When moving to HK, many are aware of the soaring costs of housing and schooling, but for most new arrivals, and even seasoned expats, it’s a little-known fact that Hong Kong has some of the highest private medical treatment costs in the world. This, coupled with the fact that most companies provide their expat employees with a basic local medical insurance, means that a lot of expats give little if any thought to individual or family private medical insurance.”
Most insurance brokers offer at least two types of medical cover, broken up into Standard and Comprehensive policies. A standard policy will cover you for in-patient and emergency treatments, hospital stays, surgery, home nursing and cancer treatment, while comprehensive plans usually entitle you to all the same services with additional outpatient care, as well as maternity, childbirth, dental, and emergency repatriation cover. Many policies also come with add-on modules so packages can be tailored to your specific needs.
Sheung Wan-based brokers Cooper Claridge-Ware have decades of experience in the global insurance industry and pride themselves on offering new and more sophisticated risk management techniques. With a keen focus on transparency, integrity and innovation, CCW advises expats to bear in mind that the rising cost of healthcare in Hong Kong is pushing up premiums by as much as 12percent a year.
“Whatever you’re paying now, your premiums are likely to double in a few years, eventually getting to the point where they become unaffordable,” said company co-founder Christopher Claridge-Ware. “We advise all our clients to choose very carefully the type of medical insurance they buy so they are protected from rampant increases in premiums and with age increases. Very often with insurance you only get to find out how good the broker was by the time you make a claim, and by that point, it's too late,” Christopher continued. “We offer policies that are based on more than just price.”
It’s therefore worth considering purchasing a personal or family medical insurance policy that would cover the cost of private treatment and protect you from financial catastrophe in the event of a serious accident or illness. International health insurance policies can also cover you for the cost of emergency repatriation if required, meaning your family won’t be left to foot an enormous bill if the worse occurs.
North Point-based broker Abacare prides itself on taking a caring and sympathetic approach to finding the right insurance policies to match client needs. Chris Chan from Abacare said, “It is highly recommended that you purchase International Health Insurance to ensure that you and your loved ones or employees have access to the best possible medical care. In Hong Kong, and many other countries, local health facilities are limited and private medical facilities are expensive. International health insurance plans protect expats against the high cost of medical care, whilst simultaneously guaranteeing that they receive first-rate treatment whenever and wherever they need it.”
Maternity care is a particularly hot topic in Hong Kong due to the large number of mainlanders who come to give birth in the city’s hospitals, often pushing both locals and expats out of the picture. Many expat workers are unaware that very few employee insurance policies cover private maternity care, and that the cost of having a baby here can run to as much as HK$200,000. If you’re thinking of starting a family in Hong Kong, you should purchase a medical insurance policy that includes maternity care at least 10 months before a planned pregnancy.
“Maternity is crazy here at the moment,” said Cooper Claridge-Ware marketing director Michael Lamb. “There was a period last year when the Matilda was fully booked wall to wall, so you really can’t chance not getting cover.”
If you own a property in Hong Kong, it’s a good idea to get fire insurance, which covers the rebuilding of the structure of your home in the event of a fire. You can also extend a policy to include “allied perils,” also covering you for damage suffered in floods and typhoons. Some home insurance suppliers will also offer add-ons to protect against loss of rental income and domestic helper liability.
Most expats in Hong Kong are renters, however, meaning that home contents insurance plans are the most they need. Also known as renters insurance, contents insurance is not a legal requirement in Hong Kong but is certainly a good idea. Most policies will cover you for “all risks,” meaning that unless anything is specifically excluded from the policy, all your household items and personal possessions will be covered for accidental loss or damage within the home.
If you travel a lot, it’s also a good idea to extend a policy and gain all risks coverage on a worldwide basis, ensuring particularly precious items, such as watches and laptops are safe wherever you go. However, contents insurance coverage is not normally afforded to single possessions such as engagement rings on a standalone basis, so be sure to specify coverage for particularly expensive items when agreeing on a policy.
If you own a motorised vehicle in Hong Kong, you must get car insurance by law. In order to receive a vehicle registration license from the HKSAR Government, you must present a valid certificate of insurance. The minimum requirement is third-party insurance, which gives you basic protection against injury or damage to the property of others. The coverage limits for third-party policies are HK$100 million for damage to persons and HK$2 million for property, subject to deductible excesses.
If you’re not one to take chances, it is well worth considering a more comprehensive package that will cover you for damage to your vehicle and repairs in a collision with a third party, even if you are at fault. You can also take it a step further and ensure you are covered if you crash without the involvement of any third parties or if your car is stolen or damaged by fire or natural perils.
Vehicles over 10 years old, convertibles and flash sports cars will incur higher premiums, as will those with previous claims and driving convictions, drivers under 25 and those with fewer than two years’ experience.
“Nobody wants to be involved in a claim, but the most important thing in Hong Kong is to involve the police if any claim is going to be made by the victim. It can be very difficult to pursue recovery if a third party is not involved,” said Ian Warren from health and motor insurance specialists Kwiksure. “Be aware however that claims can affect future premiums and no-claim discounts, so minor claims need to be carefully considered versus penalties in the premium at renewal.”
If you employ anyone in Hong Kong, under the Employees’ Compensation Ordinance, you must compensate a worker for any accident arising out of and in the course of the employment, regardless of whether the employee’s carelessness caused the accident. Little-known to many, this also applies to domestic helpers. So if you have a maid or a nanny in Hong Kong that is not covered under your home insurance, this is insurance you cannot do without.
Employees Compensation Insurance will cover you as an employer against Common Law liability of up to HK$100 million for any one event. You can also add on additional benefits such as medical care, permanent disablement benefit, loss of wages and repatriation in the event of an employee's death.
“Many expats in Hong Kong have the same domestic helper for a number of years,” said Michael from Cooper Claridge-Ware. “One of the things that is often overlooked is that if you have someone with you for that long, they’re going to get older and have more accidents and more expensive healthcare.
”As many domestic helpers are from abroad, they can get treated like second-class citizens in the public hospitals. You may, therefore, want to add private healthcare to an employee compensation plan. It will make a helper a lot happier to turn up for work every day knowing that they are valued by their employer. There are also policies that protect you if your aid leaves you suddenly.”
Life Insurance is not a legal requirement in Hong Kong, but many people with families here will rightly be concerned about what would happen to their loved ones in the event of their death. If you do opt for life insurance, the simplest option is term life insurance, which will provide a lump sum to your beneficiaries in the event of your death within a certain term, usually between five and 30 years.
As long as you die within the term, your family will receive financial support. However, if you die just one day after your policy expires, they will receive nothing. Term insurance also normally only provides a “death settlement” and cannot be extended to include additional benefits.
A perhaps safer life insurance option is whole life insurance, also known as cash-value life insurance, which will cover you against the risk of death for the rest of your life. As well as the standard lump-sum delivered to your beneficiaries in the event of your death, additional add-ons such as disability income, personal accident, and savings options with guaranteed returns can also be applied. Although a whole-of-life insurance plan will be more expensive than a term plan, you are offered a much higher level of protection and can use the saving scheme to put money aside for big investments.