Many expats who leave the UK to work abroad assume they will qualify for emergency NHS treatment which is not the case, Medicare International has warned.
The insurer's research found 50% of those who leave the UK to live and work abroad do not take out international private medical insurance, thinking instead that they will automatically qualify for free NHS treatment should an emergency arise.
Even if they are able to get on a plane after an accident or having fallen ill, returning to the UK is no guarantee of free NHS access, the insurer added.
Expats who have not lived in the UK for more than 12 months, will be interviewed by the hospital to calculate whether they have to pay for treatment.
They may be asked to give proof of residence in the UK. Medical opinion may also be needed, for example, to prove that the illness began or got worse during your visit to the UK.
Increasingly, people, including UK nationals, are being told they will have to pay, if they do not qualify for free treatment.
Debbie Purser, managing director of Medicare International highlighted two recent examples of on-going claims the insurer had settled on behalf of policyholders.
In the first, a 53 year old British male living and working aboard a luxury yacht went to a doctor in the USA complaining of chest pains. Extensive testing revealed a blocked artery which required an emergency stent to be fitted.
The client continues to make a steady recovery, but obviously requires costly regular monitoring, with the result that medical bills of nearly £20,000 have been paid out over the last six months.
In a second case, a 34 year old British male suffered a broken wrist following a fall whilst in Turkey. Although a full recovery is forecast, to date the costs of medical treatment and rehabilitation are nearly £13,000.
Medicare International concluded such cases highlighted that taking out insurance could be the "smartest investment" an expat could make.