Navigating the global benefits marketplace for an increasingly international workforce

Today, some 2.8 million Canadians live in countries around the world. This represents nearly eight per cent of our population waking up and heading to work in lands and time zones not their own. Many other nations bid temporary farewell to many of their own citizens to take positions in foreign countries, including Canada. It may be a “small world after all” but it takes a global workforce to make it work.

This global workforce is constantly in flux with people accepting assignments of various terms, from six months to several years. Multinational employers recognize the need to help alleviate the stress their employees face in securing a level of health care equal to the services they would receive at home. Securing dependable health care in international markets for employees and their families is a key requirement to be sure these organizations can fill these foreign posts.

Read: 47% of multinationals developing global benefits strategies: survey

The global benefits marketplace provides health management services for employees who are described by a number of titles. From the Canadian point of view, these are defined as:

  • Expatriate (expat) – A Canadian citizen on assignment outside Canada for six months or more (i.e., a Canadian employee in Africa);
  • Inpatriate (inpat) – A foreign citizen on assignment in Canada for six months or more (i.e., a Brazilian employee taking an assignment in Canada);
  • Third country national (TCN) – A foreign citizen working for a Canadian company on assignment outside of their home country (i.e., a Brazilian working for a Canadian company in China);
  • Key local national (KLN) – A key manager/foreign citizen working in their home country for a Canadian company (i.e., a key executive in Africa working for a Canadian company); and
  • International business traveler – A person traveling on a business assignment for less than 180 days (i.e., a Canadian traveling often to Africa or China for days/weeks at a time).

Due to the demands of providing health-care service in countries with cultural and language challenges, quality of care discrepancies and geo-political risk is not something easily met by many carriers. North American companies of all sizes have come to rely on only a handful of sophisticated providers, including, Aetna, Cigna Corp. and MetLife Inc., as these are the firms with the size and global reach best capable of meeting employers’ needs.

Read: New legal guidance published for employers with expats

International plan members and their families will not only need reliable health care but ease of service. These providers all compete on providing the most extensive network of pay-direct provider solutions in drug, extended health care, dental and major medical services. A pay-direct service avoids the need for upfront payment and alleviates any delay in securing service for the member, as well as limiting any currency risk to the employer.

Multinational employers must choose their service provider based on the size of these networks in the countries where they are active. Questions to ask include:

  • What numbers can my employees call and where can they go for service?
  • How fast and reliable is this service and are there service guarantees?
  • Are there local service centres in the countries where we are active?
  • Can all members of the family secure health care in their own language or are there reliable translation and interpretation services available 24/7?
  • Are there special programs available with heightened health care and or cost advantages for serious and catastrophic disease states (i.e., cancer care)?
  • What emergency care services are available?
  • Our people are in harm’s way – how can we protect them?
  • What administration services are available to head office operations back in the company’s home country?
  • What does the provider offer to make the claims’ process easy for members? Is there a mobile app?


All this may seem overwhelming and available only to very large multinational organizations. But today, intellectual capital, connectivity and creativity helps equalize the playing field, making international markets more accessible for small employers as well as large ones. For this very reason, several global benefits carriers provide services for groups as small as two members and, of course, several times that number.

If your company is ready to take the next step into foreign markets, it’s your responsibility to help your employees and their families make the move with as much safety and confidence as possible. It may be a “small world after all” but they will still be a long way from home.

Bob Carter is regional vice-president, sales — specialty programs at Empire Life. These are the views of the author and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada or Empire Life.

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on


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