The global market for international health insurance for expatriates, students and affluent residents was worth around $16.5bn (£12.6bn) in gross written premiums in 2018, a report shows.
Of this, around $4.8bn was due to new policies bought in 2018 itself.
The total breaks down to around $12.4bn (£9.4bn) from expatriates, $3.3bn (£2.5bn) from students and $812.2m (£618.3) from affluent residents.
David Bowles, consultant at Finaccord, which carried out the research, said the market’s value has now exceeded that of travel insurance, which it estimates at around $14.7bn in premiums for standalone cover in 2018.
Overall, there were around 97.4 million expatriates and students worldwide eligible for international health insurance in 2018 – defined as those temporarily resident in a country other than their country of origin for a period of between three months and 10 years.
These are composed of five main potential customer types, namely individual workers (most numerous at 83.3 million), corporate and other transferees (including diplomats and employees of charities and NGOs), retired individuals and students plus “others” (defined as non-employed spouses and children of customers in the other four categories).
“By region of origin, these eligible individuals are most commonly from countries in the Asia-Pacific region given that there was a total of around 47 million of them in 2018,” said Bowles. “Furthermore, as a destination region, countries in the Middle East attract the most such individuals albeit those going there are among the least likely to acquire international health insurance.”
Insurance take-up rates are highest among expatriates and students heading to destination countries in Africa, Latin America and North America, with the high cost of healthcare in the latter region, especially the US, a particularly important factor.
Overall, just over 10% of all individuals eligible to buy international health cover actually do so in practice.
Looking ahead to 2022, Finaccord’s research suggests that the compound annual growth rate in the value of the market is likely to pick up to 11.5%, which means that the market will be worth around $25.5bn by that year in terms of premiums.
However, this expansion will be due primarily to rising average policy prices and secondarily to growth in the number of expatriates and students eligible for international health insurance, rather than to an increase in the take-up for this type of cover.
“If underwriters and intermediaries of international health cover can find ways to improve the distribution of their products then even a rise in take-up rates that is only slightly higher than our prediction could bring about a substantial increase in the forecast market value by 2022,” Bowles added.