Mov­ing for for­eign health care can be stress­ful

The Palm Beach Post - - YOUR MONEY - Liz We­ston Liz We­ston is a per­sonal fi­nance colum­nist for Nerdwal­let. Ques­tions may be sent to her at 3940 Lau­rel Canyon, No. 238, Stu­dio City, CA 91604, or by us­ing the “Con­tact” form at askl­izwe­ston.com.

Dear Liz: My hus­band is 55 and we are hop­ing to re­tire in five years. That gives us time to clean up our out­stand­ing debt (the house, car and credit card debt from med­i­cal bills). We have a lit­tle over $1 mil­lion saved. He was re­cently of­fered early re­tire­ment but didn’t take it be­cause of our debt and my health prob­lems. I have end-stage liver dis­ease and re­cov­ered from liver cancer. I have been col­lect­ing dis­abil­ity for a while.

I’m do­ing rel­a­tively well for my con­di­tion. How­ever, at any time my health can take a bad turn. So I was in­ter­ested in what you said about liv­ing in other coun­tries to get af­ford­able health care. If we were to do that, how long would we need to live there to qual­ify for health care? Should we talk to a tax pre­parer and fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sor?

Res­i­dency re­quire­ments to qual­ify for pub­lic health care vary by coun­try, said Kath­leen Ped­di­cord, founder of the in­ter­na­tional liv­ing site Live and In­vest Over­seas. “In some cases it’s in­stant, in oth­ers it could take years,” she says.

In most coun­tries, any­one who is em­ployed or self-em­ployed can in­stantly ac­cess the pub­lic sys­tem. Some coun­tries al­low non-work­ers to opt into this sys­tem by vol­un­teer­ing to pay into it, but there may be re­stric­tions for those with pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions. If you’re col­lect­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity dis­abil­ity, you prob­a­bly have Medi­care, but that cov­er­age typ­i­cally doesn’t ex­tend abroad.

Ex­pa­tri­ates in good health can use an in­ter­na­tional med­i­cal plan to bridge any gaps in cov­er­age, but those poli­cies also typ­i­cally ex­clude pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions. You might have to set­tle for a more lim­ited travel med­i­cal plan that would ex­pire af­ter six months and need to be re­newed, she said. Given your se­ri­ous health is­sues, that could be prob­lem­atic.

Then there’s the po­ten­tially enor­mous stress of mov­ing to a for­eign coun­try, adapt­ing to a dif­fer­ent cul­ture and pos­si­bly learn­ing a new lan­guage. Even in coun­tries with ex­cel­lent health care, find­ing spe­cial­ists who can help you man­age your con­di­tion and who can com­mu­ni­cate clearly with you, can be a has­sle.

If you can find ad­vi­sors fa­mil­iar with life in the coun­try of your choice, that could be help­ful, but you’ll prob­a­bly be do­ing a lot of re­search on your own. Be­fore you de­cide to move, you should make at least one and prefer­ably a few trips to the coun­try to get a bet­ter idea of the chal­lenges.

Dear Liz: You’ve writ­ten about So­cial Se­cu­rity sur­vivor ben­e­fits and how af­ter one spouse dies, the other gets only one check, which is sup­posed to be the larger of the two the cou­ple pre­vi­ously re­ceived. I know a woman who is still col­lect­ing both her own and her de­ceased hus­band’s check. How is that pos­si­ble?

That can hap­pen if the death wasn’t prop­erly re­ported to the So­cial Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion. Con­tin­u­ing to col­lect and cash the dead per­son’s checks is fraud. You can re­port it by calling So­cial Se­cu­rity’s fraud hot­line at (800) 269-0271 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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