Expatriates who relocate to Singapore are often concerned about the high medical costs in Singapore. Some are lucky enough to be provided with comprehensive medical coverage by their employers. For those who are not, they will have to find a suitable international health insurance plan for themselves and their family. If you belong to the second category of people, this article serves as a guide to help you navigate the medical insurance landscape here.

International or Local Health Insurance?

The first factor to consider is whether you want an international health insurance plan or a local plan that is offered by a Singapore insurance company.

For the international plans, they are offered by Singapore insurers as well as specialised medical insurance providers like Bupa, Aetna and Cigna.

For the local plans, the more popular ones are the integrated shield plans (IP) - a term used to identify medical insurance plans that are an enhancement of Singapore’s national medical insurance scheme, Medishield. These plans are currently offered by six companies: AIA, Aviva, AXA, Great Eastern Life, Prudential and NTUC.

Even though the IPs are linked to Medishield, some of the companies mentioned above have a foreigner version of the plan that you can take up. For these plans, you do not really need to know about the Medishield component as it is only applicable to you when you become a citizen or permanent resident of Singapore.

There are also other local plans that are non-integrated with Medishield. These plans have a smaller pool of policyholders as they are generally not bought by citizens or permanent residents in Singapore. Thus, we will not be covering them in much details in this article.


Pros and Cons of International Health Insurance and Local Plans

The next question that comes to mind would be the pros and cons of international health insurance plans versus local health insurance plans. While there might be some differences depending on which company’s plan you are looking at, the table below shows some benefits of the international plans offered by the specialized medical insurance providers compared to the local IPs. 


International Plan

Local IP

Region of Cover

Worldwide or Worldwide excluding USA

Mostly in Singapore. Coverage outside Singapore is limited to emergency hospitalisation and pegged to Singapore hospital rates.

Annual Limits

US$1-3+ million

Around S$600,000

Outpatient Cover

Besides the pre and post hospitalisation coverage, outpatient GP and specialist coverage are available (as an optional add-on)

Usually restricted to 90 days pre and post hospitalisation outpatient treatment.

Letter of guarantee

Direct hospital settlement is generally available

Up to S$10k. Claims are on a reimbursement basis.


Wide range of pregnancy complications are covered. Optional add-on available to cover routine maternity charges.

Only covers very limited pregnancy complications.

Newborn cover

Newborn can be added to the plan without underwriting if certain conditions are met.

Newborn has to be medically underwritten before they are covered.


(Health Screening)

Optional add-on available.



Optional add-on available.

Only for accidental inpatient treatment.


Optional add-on available.



In most cases, you can carry on the plan if you relocate to another country as an expatriate.

Has to be terminated once you are no longer a resident of Singapore (ie no longer holding a work permit here).

One key drawback of local plans is that claims are mostly on a reimbursement basis. This could be a problem if the medical bill ends up to be a huge one.

In terms of coverage, the international health insurance plans are clearly superior to the local plans. If you want an international plan that can give you comprehensive coverage like inpatient, outpatient, dental, optical and wellness benefits, you will be able to find such a plan as long as you have the money to pay for the premiums.

One thing to highlight is that some of the local non-integrated plans might be able to offer some kind of coverage for outpatient treatment and dental. The scope of coverage would be lesser than the international plans.

How Much Do They Cost?

Which brings us to the next point. All these extra benefits come with a cost.

Let us compare the annual premiums for a 33-year-old male foreigner living in Singapore.

Local IP X

  • Inpatient cover with $3500 deductible and 10% co-payment - S$559
  • Inpatient cover with $0 deductible and no co-payment - S$1013

International Plan Y

  • Inpatient cover with US$3000 deductible - US$1394
  • Inpatient cover with no deductible - US$2497
  • Optional outpatient with no deductible - US$1894
  • Optional wellness - US$208
  • Optional dental and optical care - US$663

Total cost if all optional components are taken with inpatient cover (no deductible) - US$5262

Another thing about the premiums is that the international plans adjust (usually an increase) their rates once or twice a year (depending on company) compared to the local plans which do it once every few years. This is on top of the premium increase that happens when you get older and cross over to the next age band!

When you eventually sit down to choose your health insurance plan, you might want to spend more time during the decision making process to make sure that you are able to afford the premiums on a medium to long term basis.

You can also make use of GoBear’s health insurance tool to compare the premiums charged by the different providers to find something that suits your budget.