🐧 Expat health insurance in Singapore 101 | Nicole Ng

Spotlight: From Malaysia Banker to Singapore Fintech Leader navigating insurance
June 4, 2023

Recently, several readers (especially startup founders & employees) complained about the complexities of Singapore health insurance.

In this spotlight, we’re getting the inside scoop from Malaysian expat, Nicole Ng, on navigating this mystifying world as an expat. 🌀

Today in 10 minutes or less, you’ll learn:

  • 🇲🇾 Nicole’s journey from Malaysia to Singapore
  • 💚 How private health insurance works in Singapore
  • 🤝 Insurance brokers vs financial advisors
  • 😨 Nicole’s mistakes and advice 


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💚 Spotlight Abroad: Expat Health Insurance in Singapore 101

Nicole Ng leads commercial and partnerships at The Simple Sum, a financial literacy platform, and provides sales and partnerships consulting services for businesses.

In her free time, she writes about her personal finance journey at I’m Funemployed.

🇲🇾 Tell us about your career journey going from Malaysia to Singapore.

My career began in a fairly typical way. I entered the banking industry after university, where I was responsible for managing clients' equity investments.

After four years, I took a break and embarked on a solo adventure for a few months. During my travels, I met interesting people from various backgrounds and professions. I also got a taste of what it’s like to live in another country.

My travels reaffirmed a hunch I long held – the desire to live abroad and work in a dynamic industry like tech.

Eventually, I secured a position as a Meta account manager in Singapore before transitioning into the exciting world of fintech startups.

🏥 Researching Singapore health insurance for expats can feel intimidating and confusing. How did you choose your insurance policy after moving to Singapore?

When I first moved to Singapore, I put off getting health insurance for nearly a year.

At the time, I wasn’t overly concerned because my employer (Meta) provided me with General Practitioner (GP) and specialist coverage. It was only when I moved to my next role at a fintech startup — where the insurance benefits were limited — that I started looking into getting private medical insurance.

A colleague recommended a financial advisor to me and I decided to work with them to address the gaps in my coverage.

At first, I was wary of meeting a financial advisor as they were notorious for pushing products to their clients. But I kept an open mind and used the opportunity to ask a ton of questions about the types of insurance, the policies and the insurance landscape in Singapore.

Armed with that initial information from the advisor, I researched the insurance policies available in Singapore before committing to a policy.

My top 3 criteria when selecting a policy:

  1. Type of coverage. I wanted medical, personal accident, and critical illness coverage. In Singapore, these 3 tend to be separate policies.
  2. Cost-effective. I want to stretch my dollar as much as possible. That means finding the most cost-effective option ie lower premiums for the same coverage.
  3. Comprehensiveness. Checking what’s included/excluded from the policy, whether it is a single payout or multi-payout policy and so on.

🧑‍💻 I noticed that a lot of insurance online resources are written by financial advisors who receive commissions for selling you products. Who should use a financial advisor and why? How do you know when their interests are aligned with yours?

You can find independent resources online if you look hard enough. (Here’s a great primer that I like to give my friends who’ve just relocated to Singapore.)

However, I would say that some information is “gatekeeped” by insurers and financial advisors. For example, not every insurer shares their premium costs and coverage details online. You’ll need to contact their advisors to get that information. By that point, even if you were just shopping around, you’re in a situation where an advisor may be trying to convince you to sign up for a policy.

That’s not to say there are no merits in working with a financial advisor. It shortens the time you spend researching policies, especially since there are so many products in the market.

If you’re intending to work with a financial advisor, consider working with an insurance broker or a fee-based advisor:

Insurance brokers - They are independent intermediaries that aren’t associated with a specific insurer. They can recommend policies from a range of insurers.

  • Pro: You could get a better deal on a policy you need because your advisor isn’t limited to just recommending products from just one insurer
  • Con: They could still be getting a commission from the insurer and so they may recommend products that have the highest commission but may not suit your needs.

Fee-based advisors - They don’t earn a commission on selling products but charge a flat fee for a consultation.

  • Pro: They’re more likely to provide you with independent advice that actually suits your financial needs because they’re not compensated for selling products to you.
  • Con: The fee could be steep. For example, Providend charges and upwards of $2,000 upfront for their advisory services. There are cheaper options like MoneyOwl that have commission + fee-based structure.

😨 What mistakes have you seen see others (and yourself) make in selecting health insurance in Singapore? What would you have done differently?

Here are the mistakes I’ve seen:

  • Waiting too long before getting insurance as the premiums get higher as you get older
  • Not getting a second opinion before buying a policy. There is no harm in checking with a different advisor, friends, or online before making a decision.
  • Not reviewing your policies after buying them. Your life circumstances may change and you may be underinsured or overinsured, or the insurer may update their policies. So, make sure to review your policies every 1-2 years.

I wouldn’t have done anything differently. There is no insurance policy that will 100% tick all the boxes for you at an affordable premium. It’s more about finding the closest fit to what you need at that point in your life. Then, you can review and add/change your policies as you go along later on.

🫶 What advice would you give to someone looking to buy health insurance? Any tips for saving money?

Buying insurance is less about saving money and more about your risk tolerance. If you have a higher risk tolerance, you can start with the bare minimum coverage you need and build up your coverage as you go along.

There are online insurers now that provide modular coverage, which can help you save money. Examples:

Pro-tip for expats: If insurance is cheaper (a lower premium for the same coverage) in your home country compared to your residence country, consider geo-arbitraging your insurance. This is provided, of course, that you can claim or get a payout for overseas medical treatment or diagnosis.

Dexter’s bonus tip: Compare coverage between different providers and exclude less-frequented countries.

I chose FWD’s International Health Insurance for its SEA coverage plan due to my work travels. However, I also saw other providers that let you exclude higher-cost countries like US or Singapore, resulting in more affordable premiums.

🏠️ Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can find me on LinkedIn

🌐 Beyond your borders

🐯 Tiger21 expands into Asia. Plus, founder shares the secret of Warren Buffet’s 60-year career: All the “outperformance” occurred in the first 40 years. In the last 20 years, the S&P and Berkshire have been tied (Tiger21)

🇮🇩 Bali governor warns tourists: “Don’t pay with crypto” or else risk penalties like deportation (DC)

🇭🇰 Hong Kong ($1.15M median) overtaken by Singapore ($1.2M median) as most expensive APAC the most expensive city for private homes (CNBC)

🌏️ Surprisingly, international stocks have a higher win % than US stocks over 5 and 10-year periods since 1970 (AWCS)

📆 How I can help

That’s all for today!

Whenever you’re ready, here’s how I can help you:

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3. US expat tax service - Get personalized help on your tax returns from a US expat tax professional.

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Dexter Zhuang

Dexter is the founder of Money Abroad, an online education platform helping high-performers design their independent money path. He has 10+ years of experience building products and teams at public companies (Dropbox) and scaling startups (Xendit) across the US, Asia, and Latin America. His work has been featured in global outlets like Business Insider, CBS, US News & World Report, and Tech in Asia. He graduated from Dartmouth College.

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