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Types of International Insurance for Your Employees Working Abroad

Types of International Insurance for Your Employees Working Abroad

By CLEMENTS WORLDWIDE

Last updated May 11, 2021 10 minutes read

When thinking about international insurance, many employers think about companies with offices, factories, or warehouses in multiple countries.  But not all companies with international risks are the same, and some have significant international exposures without ever opening physical locations outside of their home country.

International employees protected with foreign liability insurance.

The Engineering News-Record Publication states that the Top 250 International Contractors reported $473.07 billion in contracting revenue in 2019 from projects outside their home countries, down 2.9%, from $487.29 billion in 2018. These contractors focus on large construction and infrastructure projects, but much smaller companies around the world are traveling outside of their home country to undertake work on a contract basis, often as subcontractors of a larger company. These could be electricians, security companies, equipment installers, skilled cabinet makers, or IT companies.

So, what types of specialized insurance should a company offer these employees?  That will certainly depend on what type of work these employees will be doing and where they are going.

Let’s look at two scenarios:

Fixitup LLC
Type of Work: Building renovation work outside the home country
Contract Length: 2 months

Keepyousafe Corp.
Type of Work: Security work at a foreign embassy in a country ravished by conflict
Contract Length: 12 months with probable extension of 12 months

Liability Insurance Abroad and at Home

Could your employees cause injuries or damage property while working? If so, you’ll need to make sure that they have international liability insurance policies in place that will cover incidents outside their home country. Would they be sued in the country where the incident happens, or would the suit be brought back to a court in their home country? It could be either and you’ll want the insurance to respond in either case, making sure that the policy would respond to claims brought in the courts of the country where the work is taking place, as well as in the courts in the home country.

Admitted vs. Non-Admitted Insurance in a Foreign Country

Many countries around the world have rules prohibiting non-admitted insurance, which is the sale of insurance to people or companies in their country by insurance companies that are not licensed by the country’s insurance regulator.

If a company in country A employs Fixitup for the 2-month contract, should Fixitup obtain local insurance from an insurance company in country A? In theory, maybe they should, depending on the way the laws are written, but in practice it may be difficult for the contractor to secure coverage in a country where they are not a registered company. Unless stipulated in the contract terms, it is unusual for a contractor to obtain locally admitted insurance policies for small, short-term contracts in another country.

For Keepyousafe Corp. working in another country for a year, the question of whether to buy locally admitted insurance is more complicated, especially if the country where they will be working lacks a strong insurance market. Here are some things to consider:

While most people would like the rules regarding admitted versus non-admitted insurance to be black and white, providing good advice to clients is sometimes not that easy and is more nuanced than at first glance.   

Employee Injuries and Sickness

If employees are covered by a domestic workers compensation policy, will this policy respond outside of the country? In the United States, most workers comp policies provide some coverage for medical expenses and lost wages while workers are temporarily working outside of the US, but they are not designed with international travel in mind, and they will not respond to employees on long-term assignments outside of the country.

Helath care workers providing emergency medial care.

It’s critical for companies whose employees travel overseas to carry insurance specifically designed to respond to medical emergencies occurring during travel. 

Even if domestic policies do offer some coverage, they will probably not cover things such as endemic disease or emergency evacuation expenses. If the employee is injured while sightseeing in the evening or weekend, would the workers comp policy respond? Probably not. Would the employer have a legal obligation or feel a moral obligation to assist the employee? Quite likely. For these reasons, many companies buy Business Travel Accident policies that do the following:

  1. Provide emergency medical expenses coverage
  2. Include helplines and apps to help travelers find medical care
  3. Cover emergency medical transportation costs if the employee is injured in a remote location
  4. Include coverage 24 hours a day so that the employee is covered for the duration of the trip, not just during work hours
  5. Pay monthly or lump sum benefits in the event of a work related injury or death

A Foreign Voluntary Workers Compensation (FVWC) policy will also cover work related injuries to US employees who are working outside of the United States, and it typically mimics the workers compensation benefits in the state of hire of the employee. In some cases, a FVWC policy may provide broader benefits than a Business Travel Accident policy, such as paying a permanently injured employee a percentage of pay for life. A Business Travel Accident policy can cover work related, and non-work related injuries, as well as having more flexibility such as the ability to add coverage for traveling spouses.

Personal Accident and Foreign Voluntary Workers Compensation Limitations to Review

Are medical expenses from illnesses covered, or only accidents?

Defense Base Act Insurance

If the contract is with the US government or a US embassy or base, then it is very likely that there will be a stipulation that the contractor must buy Defense Base Act (DBA) insurance. This is a type of workers compensation insurance that all US government contractors and subcontractors working on US military bases or government properties are required to buy. It doesn’t matter who owns the company or what nationality the employees are. If the contract states that Defense Base Act is a requirement, then nothing else will do.

Overseas construction employees on a job site.

A DBA policy is needed by most contractors working on US Government property outside of the US.

Court rulings over the years have established that DBA coverage can extend well beyond just covering working hours. To be sure that all employees have 24 hour coverage, it would be wise to buy additional Business Travel Accident insurance that will respond to non-work related injuries and provide emergency medical transportation costs and more.

International Health Insurance

From the example companies above, Fixitup is unlikely to buy insurance for routine doctor visits and non-emergency medical coverage for its employees who are away for a month. Most non-emergency visits can be delayed until they get back to the home country.

Doctor in a mask working in a clinic in China.

Do your employees have sufficient health coverage while living abroad for a work assignment?

Keepyousafe has a longer-term contract and may want to offer routine medical care such as annual check-ups, treatment for allergies, or maternity care in addition to emergency coverage.

If they have a domestic health/medical policy, does that provide sufficient coverage outside of the country? Are their direct pay arrangements with local doctors and providers, or do the employees have to pay upfront and then submit claims?

Is there ‘free’ socially provided healthcare and are foreigners temporarily working in the country covered by this?

An international health insurance policy designed to cover expats should be considered if emergency medical treatment is not enough, and the employer wants to offer benefits such as preventative healthcare, vision or dental, mental health treatment, maternity coverage, and more.

Kidnap 2020 global updates by region by Control Risks.
Part of the Control Risks infographic showing kidnap rates by region.

Kidnapping

If the contract is in Switzerland, this may not be a concern, but there are certainly parts of the world where abduction is a real threat. Even if a place may seem safe, there is always the threat of virtual kidnapping. Who do you turn to if you are out of the country and you receive a call saying that someone has abducted your children and will hurt them unless you send money to them immediately? Is it real or is it a scam? When a company buys a Kidnap & Ransom (K&R) policy, they are paying for professional advice and expertise as much as for financial protection.

In countries with kidnapping activity, the risk of kidnap increases as the contract duration increases because kidnapping gangs like to have time to research victims and understand their travel patterns so that they can snatch them at the least risky time and place for the gang.

Summary

International insurance is traditionally taught in terms of manufacturers with factories in multiple countries, but companies that cross national borders to work on short- or long-term contracts have their own risks to consider. Improperly reviewing these risks could lead to unexpected surprises, and when it comes to insurance, no one likes surprises. It’s best to plan ahead and adequately prepare for all the types of risks a company may need when sending its workers abroad.

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