You know the saying: Shit happens. Well, when it happens while you’re traveling abroad, you’re extremely glad you were savvy enough to have bought a travel medical insurance plan before you took off.
You did buy one … right?
I’ve lived this. I was in Guangzhou, China several years ago at a celebratory feast. Maybe a dozen of us were sitting around a large, circular table, in the middle of which was a lazy Susan packed with food. I lifted the ladle from a large tureen of scalding egg-drop soup and titled it to pour into my small soup bowl. Just as I did, another celebrant decided to spin the lazy Susan in her direction.
The tureen hit the ladle, which shifted its position, dumping the scalding contents onto my hand.
Moments later, I was in a Chinese hospital, a doctor coating my hand in a salve and wrapping it in gauze.
Now, the price of care wasn’t very expensive – about $100, as I recall. Nevertheless, that’s $100 I didn’t have to pay because I had an insurance plan, purchased for much less than the bill, that covered my medical needs.
Today, as a Roamad who ventures across continents regularly, I never leave home without travel medical insurance. It’s a peace-of-mind thing, because you just never know. You could catch a virus; maybe you step off a curb wrong on the Champs-Élysées while ogling the Eiffel Tower and snap an ankle; you might severely burn hour hand ladling egg drop soup into a bowl.
Whatever it is, a travel medical insurance policy is there to cover those unexpected doctor and hospital bills.
You Might Already Have Travel Medical Insurance
First and foremost: Check what benefits you have with your credit card or with a virtual bank, if you use one of those. Certain credit cards – and it’s a very limited number – offer travel medical coverage. So, too, do some virtual banks, such as N26.
If your credit card or virtual bank does offer coverage, read up on what those policies cover, and whether it’s primary or secondary coverage. Understand when the policy kicks in and when it doesn’t, meaning do you need to purchase your travel arrangements – tickets, hotel, etc. – with the card for the benefits to activate? If so, then you need to be aware of that when paying for your travel.
Pay attention as well to what is and is not covered. What isn’t covered, of the circumstances under which a medical issue is not covered, might necessitate a separate travel medical insurance policy.
And gauge your comfort level with the amount of coverage offered. Some coverages top out at, say, $20,000. Others top out at $1 million. Just know what you’re covered for, and whether you feel it’s adequate.
I will tell you that, if you’re an American, healthcare costs outside the U.S. are substantially less expensive than what we’re accustomed to in the States. Thus, what might seem like a small amount of coverage is, in fact, fairly generous for many corners of the world. Here in the Czech Republic, for instance, a root canal is less than $80, while a doctor’s visit for a bronchial infection might cost you $50. In much of Central and South America, setting a broken bone is often $50 or less. Even if you pay the Gringo Tax, you’re still under $100.
You Might Already Have Travel Medical Insurance, Part 2
Some globally roaming Roamads are based in their home country and have medical insurance through an employer or through private coverage they’ve purchased. If you’re one of those Roamads, check your policy, since some will provide short-term coverage when you’re traveling abroad. Others explicitly will not.
Either read all that fine print in your policy or, easier, call your health insurance provider and ask about coverage away from home. As part of your queries, make sure your destination and/or activities are not explicitly excluded from coverage. Certain areas of the world, such as the Middle East, might have no coverage or limited coverage. Likewise, non-Americans traveling in the U.S. might find their policy specifically excludes America, where healthcare costs have slipped the bounds of reality
Moreover, activities such as heli-skiing or scuba diving might negate your coverage, as well.
Make sure you know what is covered and where it’s covered before you go venturing abroad.
Travel Medical Insurance Must Haves
If you’ve determined that you do need to buy a travel medical policy, there here’s what goes into one that’s well-built:
- Comprehensive coverage, meaning emergency medical (including some level of dental), medical evacuation and repatriation, and 24/7 global assistance.
- Coverage of at least $50,000. Though healthcare is generally less expensive overseas, you still want enough to cover you, just in case. Moreover, some visas require proof of at least $50,000 in medical coverage, so that you do not become a financial burden to the local healthcare system.
- At least $100,000 in medical evacuation coverage. Evac flights, at minimum, cost about $50,000. So you definitely want solid coverage here, in the event you have to be evacuated from some random place on the planet.
- Primary coverage rather than secondary. You want this policy to be the one that kicks in first. That way, you file directly to the insurance carrier and not have to go through two insurers, who will often end up bickering about who will or won’t cover what. Plus, if your coverage is secondary, you might have to pay two deductibles.
- Finally: An insurance is only as good as it’s financial strength. Never buy coverage from a fly-by-night insurer just because it’s cheap. It’s cheap for a reason, and you might find your coverage means nothing in an emergency. Stick to insurers highly rated by A.M. Best, Moody’s or Standard & Poor’s. You want to see a rating of at least “A” or higher.
Do I Buy a One-Off Policy, Or An Annual Policy?
I’ve purchased both. And, frankly, the answer depends on your travel frequency.
If you’re taking one or two trips per year, then buying individual, one-off policies for each trip likely makes more sense. The overall cost will be cheaper.
If, however, you travel abroad frequently – and particularly if you’re a Roamad living abroad and moving around frequently – then an annual policy makes the most sense.
What Does a Travel Medical Insurance Cost?
There’s no one-size answer here.
As with all insurance, lots of variables come to play.
- Age: Older, more expensive; younger, cheaper.
- Destination: Some destinations have a higher risk profile.
- Activities: Some activities have a higher risk profile.
- Coverages: Depends on what you want your policy to cover.
- Coverage amounts: Depends on who much money you want access to in an emergency.
- Deductibles: The more you’re willing to pay out-of-pocket in an emergency, the cheaper the policy.
- Length of trip: Shorter, less expensive; longer, more expensive.
I’ll to give you a few personal examples so that you have an idea of costs:
- Four months of coverage. (Oct 2018 – Jan 2019)
- $500,000 maximum medical
- Primary coverage
- Medical evac: $1 million
- No USA coverage
- No hazardous activities
- Deductible = $500
- Cost: $276.51
Economy Policy (Multi-Trip)
- Multiple short-term trips within Europe (2.5 months, Aug – Oct 2019)
- $10,000 emergency medical
- Primary coverage
- Medical evac: $100,000
- Lost baggage: $500
- Baggage delay: $100
- Trip cancellation: Value of trip, up to $20,000
- Trip delay: $250
- Trip interruption: 100% of the value of the trip (listed trip cost: $1,001 – $1,500)
- Deductible: $0
- Cost: $44
Annual Policy, Basic Plan per trip (2020)
- $20,000 emergency medical/dental (secondary coverage)
- Medical evac: $100,000
- Rental car damage and theft: $45,000
- Travel delay: $600
- Baggage loss: $1,000
- Baggage delay: $200
- Deductible: $0
- Cost: $130
Economy Policy (SIngle Trip)
- 5-day trip to the U.S. (Oct. 2019)
- $100,000 emergency medical
- No additional benefits
- Deductible: $0
- Cost: $29.88
To be clear about the annual policy: Its medical coverage is below what I recommend. But I have broader insurance coverage in the Czech Republic, where I live. And based on my expected travel schedule for 2020, I wanted a basic policy to cover brief trips around Europe. In a pinch, I can receive emergency treatment wherever I am, then get myself back to Prague for more substantial treatment, if necessary. For longer trips overseas, I still buy a separate, one-off policy.
Moreover, you’ll notice that several of these include trip, baggage, and auto coverages you might already have with some credit cards and virtual banks. Such is life. Many travel medical insurance policies automatically include those benefits as part of the plan you sign up for. You can’t change that. So, you’ll be covered twice. That just means if you need to make a claim, you can choose whichever coverage offers the greatest payout.
Insurers That I Recommend
Look, a number of travel medical insurance companies exist. But as I noted in the list of Must Haves, an insurer’s financial stability is paramount. For me, there are three companies I fundamentally believe in (and if you are interested in what coverage might cost, click that link and it will take to the page for free quotes):
- Allianz Global Assistance
- World Nomads (underwritten by French multinational insurance giant Axa)
Obviously, none of us ever wants to be in a situation where we need tmedical coverage when traveling. But life happens along the way and, well, sometimes you end up in a doctor’s office or a hospital.
As a Roamad, I want the comfort of knowing that, just in case, I’m covered for whatever medical matters the travel gods throw at me. Maybe the cost is low enough that I don’t mind paying out-of-pocket for the care I receive. But in the event that my care racks up larger costs, having that travel medical insurance in place gives me peace-of-mind when I am away from home.