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What you should know about your Swiss health insurance before you go abroad

Are you planning to spend your holidays abroad this year, but are not sure whether your Switzerland-based health insurance covers you in foreign countries?

What you should know about your Swiss health insurance before you go abroad
Getting sick abroad can soil even the greatest of holidays. Photo by AFP

Will you be going abroad this summer? If so, it would be very wise to review your Swiss health insurance before you leave, so that you know what it will and will not cover in case you or a family member get sick abroad.

Just as a reminder — though no doubt you already know this — health insurance is mandatory in Switzerland. So if you are a legal resident here, you have at least the basic required coverage, the LaMal. 

Your Swiss insurance will pay for medical emergencies abroad 

If you become ill while vacationing out of the country, have an accident or need urgent surgery, the Swiss insurance will pay for the immediate emergency treatment you require.

READ MORE: UPDATED: Where can you travel to from Switzerland – and when? 

Once your condition is stabilised by local doctors and it is safe for you to travel, you will be transferred back to Switzerland to a hospital nearest to your place of residence.

Keep in mind, however, that when it comes to insurance coverage, not all countries are created equal.

If you get sick in one of the EU or EFTA (Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein) nations, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) — that is, your regular Swiss insurance card — entitles you to receive the same paid services as someone who is insured in that country. So always keep the card with you when travelling in the EU or an EFTA state.

The card also has a telephone number you can call from abroad. It starts with +41, while the local contact number usually begins with 08.

When you return to Switzerland, you’ll have to send the documents you received from a foreign medical centre to your insurance for a refund.

The insurance will reimburse up to a maximum of twice what the same treatment would have cost in Switzerland.

Beware, things get more complicated (and much more expensive) if you travel to the United States.

The cost of medical care in the USA is notoriously high and even the simplest treatment will cost more than twice what it would in Switzerland. That’s why, if you only have basic (LaMal) coverage, your Swiss health insurance policy will not suffice to cover whatever costs you incur.

If, however, you have a supplemental private insurance, you carrier will cover more costs.

You will have to pay the treatment with a credit card, the copy of which you’ll have to send to your insurance here.

And don’t forget to ask the doctor or hospital to give you a detailed copy of all the charges, as well as treatment notes, because otherwise the insurance will not give you a refund.

A word of advice before you go to high-cost countries like the USA:

Take out additional health insurance to cover the cost of treatment abroad.

Most major insurers in Switzerland, like TCS, Allianz and AXA, offer supplemental global health coverage that would pay for most (if not all) of the costs which are unrefunded by your main insurance.

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HEALTH

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I’m abroad?

Given how expensive health insurance premiums are in Switzerland, you may be tempted to suspend your policy while you are abroad. Is this possible?

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I'm abroad?

Unlike the obligatory car insurance, which you can suspend temporarily by depositing your registration plates at the local motor vehicles office, rules pertaining to health insurance are much stricter.

As the Federal Office of Public Health explains it, “If you leave the country for a certain period to travel or study but do not take up residence abroad, you are still required to have [health] insurance in Switzerland”.

In other words, as long as you are a registered resident of Switzerland, regardless of your nationality or passport, you must keep your compulsory Swiss health insurance and pay your premiums. While you do this, you also remain covered against most medical emergencies while you travel.

However, rules are less stringent for supplemental health plans which can, in some cases, be put on hold, depending on the insurance provider, according to Switzerland’s Moneyland consumer website.

The only exception allowed for suspending the health insurance coverage is during a military or civil protection service which lasts more than 60 consecutive days.

“During these periods, the risks of illness and accident are covered by military insurance. Your health insurance provider will refund your premiums”, according to FOPH.

Under what circumstances can you cancel your Swiss health insurance?

Swiss law says you can cancel your insurance if you are moving abroad, either permanently for for a period exceeding three months.

If you do so, only claims for treatments given while you still lived in Switzerland will be paid by your insurance; any medical bills for treatment incurred after you officially leave will be denied.

These are the procedures for cancelling your compulsory health insurance if you leave the country under conditions mentioned above

To announce your departure abroad, you must send your insurance carrier a letter including your name, customer number or AVS/AHV number.

You must also include a certificate from your place of residence in Switzerland confirming that you have de-registered from your current address, as well as the date of your departure.

Note, however, that if your new destination is another Swiss community / canton, rather than a foreign country, your insurance can only be cancelled from the following calendar year and only if you present proof of having taken up a new policy with another company.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to register your address in Switzerland

You can find out more information about this process here

If you suspend your health insurance for less than six years, you can reactivate it at a later date with the same company when you return to Switzerland.

READ MORE : What you should know about your Swiss health insurance before you go abroad
 

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