Travel medical insurance is a health care policy that covers you if you’re traveling abroad and you unexpectedly need to go to the hospital because of a medical condition, injury or sickness.
Money expert Clark Howard, who once owned a successful travel agency, says that if you’re going on a whirlwind vacation to another country, travel medical insurance is a must-have.
In this article, we’re going to cover what you need to know about travel medical insurance, including when you should buy it and what it will likely cost.
Travel medical insurance: 3 things you need to know
“The thing with international travel — which almost nobody knows until it’s a big problem — is that your health insurance usually doesn’t cover you outside the United States,” says Clark.
If your insurance does cover travel abroad, it likely comes with a sky-high deductible that makes the expenses pretty much untenable.
That means that even though you may have great domestic health coverage here in the States, you’ll need to pay extra to buy travel medical insurance so that you’ll have peace of mind if something happens internationally.
Medicare generally doesn’t cover you outside the United States, either. But there are rare instances where Medicare would cover you, according to Medicare.gov:
- When you live in the United States and it’s closer to go to a foreign hospital, in Canada for example, than it is to get to a domestic one
- When you need “medically necessary” health care while at sea in territorial waters around the United States
So that we have a clear understanding, let’s get into what’s involved with travel medical insurance:
1. What travel medical insurance generally covers
In most cases, travel medical insurance will cover:
- Emergency evacuation to a medical facility abroad
- Other expenses related to immediate medical care
So to be clear, travel medical insurance covers a host of things related to emergency care. What a travel medical policy won’t generally cover are things involving routine care. For example:
- Wellness exams
- Vision and dental services.
Not all travel medical insurance policies cover trip cancellations and interruption, although many of them do.
Let’s go in depth a bit about the two things mentioned above that generally are covered by all travel medical policies:
Emergency evacuation to a hospital
The thing with international travel is that while you may enjoy the scenery, you can’t always count on the infrastructure that a particular place you’re vising provides. In other words, the health care there may be substandard.
That’s why your policy should include what’s called emergency medical evacuation, or medevac.
“If you’re going to a Third World country,” Clark says, “you can use a medevac, where they’ll get you to a First World hospital.” No matter the transportation method, whether it’s via helicopter, ambulance or another EMS vehicle, it’s all covered by your travel medical insurance.
Other medical expenses
Your travel medical insurance may cover other medical expenses as well. Say you’ve broken your ankle while hiking a mountain in the Andes. Once you’ve been taken to a hospital, some policies cover the cost of flying a loved one there to be by your side.
Many policies will also cover lost baggage and other personal effects, but this will generally be limited.
In the case of accidental death, many policies also provide assistance for the repatriation of mortal remains. Some plans also have options for rental car and flight insurance coverage as well.
2. How much does travel medical insurance cost?
How much travel medical insurance costs for you will depend on a number of factors, including length of trip, your age, and the amount of coverage you want. According to WorldTrips, a week of coverage can cost anywhere from less than $5 to more than $100.
I looked into a seven-day trip to Ireland from the United States in the fall. The average cost I found for travel medical insurance for that trip was $65.
3. Where can you buy travel medical insurance?
There are a number of companies that provide travel medical insurance. Some popular insurers are Allianz, AIG and Travel Guard. Clark recommends that travelers go to InsureMyTrip.com to compare prices and plans. The policies even come with reviews.
“The reason why I like InsureMytrip is because it’s like an aggregation service or comparison site and you can see all the different choices available,” he says.
Travel medical insurance is typically sold in the following four packages:
- Single trip: Covers one trip abroad
- Multi-Trip: For multiple trips throughout the year, typically ranging from seven-day to 30-day trips
- Major Medical: For people who will be abroad for at least six months
- Travel Visa: These plans cover you for up to 365 days and are designed to meet foreign embassy requirements
Final thought: Know this before you buy travel medical insurance
Before you purchase travel medical insurance coverage, familiarize yourself with any exclusions in your policy. Those could include:
- War (invasion or civil war as well as any hostile acts between nations)
- Natural disasters
- Adventure sports outings
- Being under the influence of illicit narcotics
Clark says that if there are exclusions, you’ll need to determine if pre-authorizations will be required for medical treatment in another country.
Now that you’re up to speed on travel medical insurance, here are five things to know about buying general travel insurance.