Moving overseas can be a daunting process. There are the immigration and employment regulations to navigate. Then there are the logistics of moving your family, pets and possessions to another country and finding a place to live.

One of the last things that might occur to you is whether the new healthcare system will meet your needs, or if you will be taken care of in a medical emergency.

“The quality and accessibility of the healthcare system in the new country is as important a consideration as the immigration regulations and the logistics,” says Andrew Taylor, Group Vice Chairman of Henley & Partners South Africa.

The specialist firm has assisted hundreds of wealthy individuals, families and their advisors take up residence or citizenship in other countries.

“The last thing anyone should do is to check all the other boxes and ignore healthcare,” he says. “To do so would be at your own peril given that your health has a direct bearing on your ability to work, and your quality of life.”

Taylor advises international health insurance for anyone thinking of moving abroad, a “highly relevant” aspect that many people fail to consider and which is rarely mentioned by advisors.

“The risks of sickness and accident must be covered comprehensively in an international context in order to avoid unpleasant surprises. Anyone who lives or works abroad, runs a company or retires there should arrange cover that is extensive and applicable around the world,” he adds.

But above all, Taylor says: “You don’t want to end up receiving healthcare from a system worse than the one you are leaving behind.”

South Africa’s private sector has consistently provided healthcare comparable to some of the best in the world, but which countries overall have the best healthcare systems?

“It’s difficult to gauge,” says Taylor. “No organisation has presented a complete ranking of global healthcare systems since the World Health Organisation (WHO) released its controversial findings in the year 2000.”

He says the WHO’s follow-up report contained a wealth of qualitative data but did not rank the countries.

“From the limited comparative data available, the United Kingdom ranks consistently as having the best overall healthcare system,” Taylor adds, citing a 2014 report by the Commonwealth Fund.

“The report included only eleven countries,” he says, “and the rankings can also be misleading if not read in the context of each person’s healthcare needs and expectations.”

Countries such as Australia and the United States rank low on factors such as equity and access, but score highly on the quality of care provided.

“Therefore it is important to do detailed research or seek out the advice of professionals who possess the expertise to assess whether your healthcare needs, expectations and budget match that of the country you would like to move to,” Taylor says.

He adds that another important factor to consider is the relative position of each healthcare system.

“Even though the Commonwealth Fund ranks the UK at or near the top across almost all measures, its health outcomes – life expectancy, infant mortality and mortality amenable to healthcare – are the second worst,” says Taylor, adding that there are a number of possible reasons for this including the lifestyle of the people in the country or the fact that they might be reluctant to seek medical care when ill.

“National healthcare systems also require special attention. Some countries limit access to these systems to citizens and permanent residents, meaning that everyone else has to rely on employer-based or private medical schemes – or go without.”

Taylor emphasises that the move could have unexpected cost implications if the planning has been inadequate.

Finally, he also adds that it’s important to consider that many countries have existing health regulations for those crossing their borders, whether you plan to stay in the country you’re travelling to or if you’ll soon be returning home.

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