Freelancing Abroad Pt. III: Overseas Benefits Packages Just for You

By Liz Alton, Contributor, on October 19, 2017

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Health care: the least sexy part of envisioning yourself basking in the sun, working on your next creation from a hammock overlooking the sparkling waters of the Caribbean, the hustle and bustle of Rome or the exotic landscapes of Thailand as a digital nomad. And yet, as someone who has experienced everything from getting food poisoning in Asia to a rare local variant of the flu in Central America, overseas benefits aren’t something you ever want to leave to chance.

Going global as an indy requires more benefits than great views and flexible schedules. Here’s a closer look at how to strategically build a benefits package when you live overseas.

Health Insurance

The first thing I think of when discussing overseas benefits is health insurance. There are a few questions an indy should consider here:

  • Does your current plan let you to seek treatment in another country, especially when you’re living there long-term? Do they cover expenses directly, or will they reimburse you?
  • What’s the state of health care where you’re headed? Is there local coverage you can access? Is seeking quality health care there affordable?

Digital nomads often tend to default to one of three plans:

  1. A U.S.-based plan with flexible out-of-network options. Keep enough cash on hand to fund an emergency, knowing that you’ll have to submit receipts for all treatment to be reimbursed within a period of 30 to 90 days.
  2. Specific international plans geared toward expats and long-term travelers that cover the health care systems in the region you’re headed.
  3. Purchasing in-country insurance if you move.

Medical Evacuation Insurance

If you’re moving to a remote location, or if you have a history of complicated health issues, medical evacuation insurance can be a great supplement. As someone with a complex autoimmune disorder and potentially life-threatening, sudden flare-ups, it’s important that I’m immediately able to get to a hospital that offers world-class care. Having faced health crises in remote places in Africa and the Arctic, I know there’s nothing scarier.

Medical evacuation insurance varies depending on your location, but you can typically purchase it per trip or carry it as a year-round benefit based on your lifestyle needs. If you become very ill or have an accident, they’ll send a medical flight — coordinated by experts in the U.S. — and bring you to the nearest “U.S.-standard comparable” treatment center to help guarantee the best treatment in your region.

Pharmacy Coverage

If you regularly take medication or you’re prescribed a short run of antibiotics for treatment, prescriptions don’t always work the same outside of the U.S. Some prescription drugs are even sold over-the-counter in other countries. One of my favorite, timely discoveries when living in Jamaica was finding out that my allergy medicine was available over-the-counter and for a fraction of what I paid in Boston. But depending on the medicine you need, it may be called something else.

Plan for the worst-case scenario, too: The medicine you need may not even available in certain countries. Make a list of every medicine you’ll need while traveling and discuss it with your doctor. Do some research to find out what’s available. Determine if you’ll need to get medicine in advance, find local pharmaceutical coverage or pay out-of-pocket.

Retirement and Your Overseas Benefits

As you’re sitting on a deck overlooking the gorgeous beaches of Thailand or the vineyards of France, you may already feel like you’re retired — even if you’re just blending work and travel. For freelancers who are digital nomads or residing overseas, financial retirement strategies can get complicated. If you’re outside the U.S. for large portion of the year, you may qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion: The first $102,100 (in FY 2017) of income you earn may be excluded from your tax return, lowering your tax obligations.

Tax breaks aside, this can impact your ability to save for retirement when the rules for investing into an IRA or other program depend on whether or not you’re taking advantage of the foreign earned income exclusion. It’s smart to talk to a tax advisor or an accountant who understands expat finances and can take your long-term goals into account to make recommendations that are right for you.

Working and traveling provide numerous benefits in terms of work-life balance and the ability to experience the world on your own schedule. Just consider that, as a mobile freelancer or an indy living overseas, your needs in select benefits categories may be different than they were when you worked full-time or ran a freelance business stateside. Define the different categories of benefits you’ll want to access during your travels, and evaluate the options that’ll help you craft an overseas benefits package that meets the needs of your unique lifestyle.

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