Turkey has long been a favourite destination among British expats on the look-out for warmth, culture and value-for-money. With comparatively cheap property freely available and a year-round outdoor climate it’s no surprise that Brits have been flocking there for years. Official statistics put the number of Brits owning a home in Turkey at a staggering 32,000 at present and over two million Brits visit Turkey each year for business or pleasure. No wonder then that it has become so popular among expats; particularly as a cost-effective way to retire to the sunshine.
And yet, all is not well in paradise. In April of this year the General Directorate for Migration Management (GDMM) announced sweeping changes to the rules surrounding expat healthcare. Nationals from outside Turkey were required to invest in expensive local health insurance policies in order to be granted residency. Expats were given either the option to purchase healthcare directly from the government through the so-called SGK program or to invest in private Turkish-based insurance policies often costing considerably more.
Having paid into the NHS all their lives, many expats were dismayed at the increased costs of living in Turkey. Furthermore there has been tension between the Turkish government and expats who felt it unfair that in essence they had to pay for their medical costs twice over; once in Britain and a second time in Turkey.
Others, however, were more understanding and seem to be perfectly happy to pay for expat health insurance; to not only help to limit their costs in the case of illness but also to ensure they could expect superior levels of treatment in such circumstances. The real issue was the lack of choice when it came to the ‘authorized’ policies on offer and the often less-than-competitive pricing of these policies.
Whatever your opinion on the situation, it seems that the Turkish government has now had a change of heart and is no longer requiring retired expats to pay for Turkish health insurance before being granted residency. The reasoning for the U-turn seems to focus on the complexity of the rules which many expats were struggling to understand, as well as complaints from expats on a financial basis.
Now, rather than feeling forced into buying foreign health insurance policies, expats in Turkey are free to choose between Turkish health insurance or policies from their country of origin. Giving this option not only opens up the market to competitors which could lead to more competitive rates being offered but also makes it easier for expats to choose a suitable policy in their native language. Ensuring that you have the level of cover desired has now been made considerably easier as a result.
Interestingly the rules only seem to apply to those over the standard retirement age. Expats of a working age – whether they are actually working in the country or not – are still covered by the old rules that obliges them to pay into a Turkish health insurance policy. There seems little reasoning for this decision and many younger expats living in Turkey hope the new rules will be rolled out shortly to cover expats of all ages.