If you’re like most people, you plan your perfect trip overseas and go, never thinking about what would happen if you suffered serious injuries far from home. Many naively think their U.S. health insurance policy will cover them anywhere. In reality, only some U.S. policies cover serious injuries abroad and many cover no overseas medical treatment regardless of the nature of the injuries. So unless you have comprehensive travel insurance, you could be stuck with thousands of dollars in overseas medical bills. Even worse you could be trapped in a foreign country, unable to return home unless you can pay tens of thousands of dollars for your evacuation.
Sadly, some members of the Nomadness Travel Tribe suffered this very fate two weeks ago during a trip to Panama. Two travelers were killed and at least 15 others suffered serious injuries in a bus accident in Asturias, Panama. Because some of the travelers did not have travel insurance, fellow travelers and friends had to scramble to raise funds to cover medical evacuations, medical expenses and repatriation of remains for the injured and deceased travelers. (Repatriation of the deceased bodies alone was $10,000 each). Thankfully, they were able to raise in excess of $30,000 to help the families. But it was a stressful and draining experience, particularly since they were in a country where they did not share the same native language. If anything good came from this awful tragedy, it’s that more people now recognize the importance of having travel insurance.
What to Look Out For
My best advice is to thoroughly investigate the alternatives and find a policy that meets your needs (which may not always be the cheapest policy). You should pay special attention to the policy language; many contain limitations or exclusions which may not suit you, such pre-existing conditions, cruises, team sports, extreme or adventure sports (i.e., scuba diving or bungee jumping), and danger zones (disease or civil unrest). Likewise, some travel insurance policies only cover evacuation to the nearest hospital that can provide adequate care. If you’re traveling in a region with poor medical facilities and hospitals, that may be of concern since their definition of “adequate care” may differ from your own. Seek out a plan that covers medical repatriation (i.e., evacuation to a hospital of your choice in your home country). If you’re a frequent traveler, consider a multi-trip or annual plan rather than a single-trip plan; typically, there isn’t much cost difference. Finally, pay attention to the coverage levels. It defeats the purpose of having travel insurance if the coverage isn’t sufficient for a serious injury. Aim for a minimum of $250,000 for combined medical treatment and evacuation.
Comprehensive travel insurance covers a variety of travel-related expenses, including medical treatment and medical evacuation, as well as trip interruption or cancellation, baggage delay or loss, and accidental death or dismemberment. Some companies offer single-trip plans, like CSA, Travel Guard, Travelex, Roam Right, and Allianz. Others like World First, Columbia Direct, iNext and GeoBlue offer annual multi-trip plans suitable for frequent travelers; these plans cover each trip you take during the year, up to a specified number of days (typically 30 days, but up to 70 days for GeoBlue). iNext caters to young, overseas travelers and offers a variety of supplemental and comprehensive travel insurance plans, including coverage for recreational, club or intramural sports which are excluded by some travel policies.
Medical transport companies offer annual individual and family membership plans. They provide coverage for domestic and global air medical transport and mortal remains transport, and some also cover security extractions for safety threats. But they don’t cover medical treatment, so if you’re abroad, you will likely need a supplemental travel policy to cover overseas medical expenses. Some prefer these medical transport plans because they will evacuate you to a home hospital of your choice, unlike many travel insurance plans. Popular companies include Medjet Assist, Airmed, On Call International, and Global Rescue.
Lastly, Adventure Sports Insurance plans provide extreme sports and adventure travel insurance for those who like to live on the edge. Divers Alert Network, Adventure Sports Insurance and Sports Cover Direct offer coverage for various adventure and high risk sports. Since these activities are especially subject to policy exclusions and limitations, be sure to read your policy and know what coverage you have beforehand. No one likes to think of the worst, but it is best to be prepared for any situation.
As an aside, once you’ve secured your travel insurance, please complete these 3 equally important tasks: (1). Completely fill out the page in your passport concerning next of kin/contact; (2). Encourage your family members and loved ones to get passports on the off chance that they have to come overseas to get you in case of an emergency; and (3). If you’re a U.S. citizen or resident, sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (aka S.T.E.P.). This will help the U.S. embassy, as well as family and friends, get in touch with you in an emergency.
Now travel on and enjoy the world!