For many travelers, having an accident or getting sick during an overseas trip can result in a rude awakening: Your treatment may not be covered by your U.S.-based health insurance, or it could trigger a high deductible for the use of out-of-network facilities.
What's more, if you break a leg in a remote area and require immediate surgery or risk losing the limb, costs to evacuate you to the nearest hospital for treatment could run as high as $100,000.
"A lot of travelers mistakenly believe their health insurance plan will provide assistance in the event of a medical emergency, or [that] the U.S. government will help," says Carol Walsh, executive director of the U.S. Travel Insurance Association. "That can be a really expensive mistake."
Travel medical insurance offers "peace of mind" in foreign health emergencies, but should be weighed carefully to make sure it's the right option for you. "Like any insurance, you look at what's at risk, what's the investment and what can you afford to lose," Walsh says.
What's Covered by Travel Insurance?
Travel insurance policies vary depending on the insurer, but some common benefits can include:
- Travel protection (reimbursements for canceled, interrupted or delayed trips, due to sickness or weather conditions, and for lost or delayed luggage)
- Medical insurance and medical evacuation coverage (possibly including dental coverage and some life benefits for accidental death and dismemberment)
- 24-hour emergency assistance (round-the-clock help finding doctors, contacting family members, obtaining translators and other services)
Premium is Determined by Length and Cost of Trip, Health Factors
Factors impacting insurance cost include the traveler's age and health, the length of the trip, and the coverage amount sought. According to the USTIA, policies can be written to cover a single trip; or multiple trips, with different trip durations and billing options, depending on the insurance provider. For example, WorldTrips offers Atlas MultiTrip, a plan that covers multiple international trips of up to 30 or 45 days throughout the year, with a convenient one-time payment.
For international travelers visiting the U.S., if your travel insurance serves as your primary coverage abroad, you will typically not have to pay emergency hospital costs out of pocket; the hospital will likely bill the insurer directly. However, in non-emergency situations, you are more apt to have to pay costs upfront and then file for reimbursement when you get home.
How to Obtain Coverage
Start the process to obtain coverage by determining whether or not your current insurance plan will cover you throughout your trip abroad. If you need travel insurance, you can purchase it from online brokers, insurance companies and travel agents. Remember to check whether preexisting conditions will be covered and whether the policy will act as your primary coverage on a trip or as a supplement to your regular health insurance.
"What we recommend is for individuals to compare plans,...look at the benefits, look at the pricing and look at what's covered and what isn't," Walsh says.