What Is Emergency Medical Evacuation Coverage and Why Do I Need It?

Brianna Weidman
emergency medical evacuation helicopter flying in the sky

If you become seriously sick or injured while traveling abroad, you’ll likely be taken to the nearest hospital or health facility for treatment. But what will you do if the local facility doesn’t have the adequate doctors, medicine, equipment, or supplies required to treat you?

What happens when your life is on the line and regular transportation to a superior hospital would be too slow? Or you’re too sick or injured to travel without the proper equipment and medical professionals by your side?

Situations like this are where medical evacuation coverage (often referred to as “medevac coverage” or “emergency medical evacuation coverage”) comes into play.

What Is Emergency Medical Evacuation Coverage?

You’ll find emergency medical evacuation coverage in many travel health insurance policies—often in the form of a benefit called Emergency Medical Evacuation.

In situations where your life or limb(s) depend on your ability to get sufficient medical care quickly, this Emergency Medical Evacuation benefit can cover the cost of transporting you by air to the nearest adequate health facility.

In some cases, it may even cover your transport back to your home country. (Your treating physician and your insurer’s medical consultant may need to agree that evacuation to your home country is a better option than transferring you to the nearest qualified facility.)

It’s important to know when this benefit applies and when it doesn’t. Your medical evacuation may only be covered if:

  • Your insurance policy covers the injury or illness causing the need for evacuation
  • The local facility cannot provide the treatment you need, and your physician certifies that your evacuation is medically necessary*
  • Transportation by any other method would result in you losing your limb(s), eye(s)/eyesight, or life
  • You agree to the evacuation (a relative may agree on your behalf if you are unable to do so)
  • You, your relative, your physician, or other hospital staff contacts your travel health insurance provider to approve and coordinate travel arrangements prior to your evacuation

“Medically necessary” typically means a service or supply which is necessary and appropriate for the diagnosis or treatment of an illness or injury based on generally accepted current medical practice as determined by your travel medical insurance provider. A service or supply will not be considered medically necessary if it is: 

  • Provided only as a convenience to you or the provider, and/or

  • Is not appropriate for your diagnosis or symptoms, and/or

  • Exceeds in scope, duration, or intensity that level of care which is needed to provide safe, adequate and appropriate diagnosis or treatment of an illness or injury

Am I Covered for the Cost of the Ambulance from the Location Where I'm Injured to the Initial Treating Facility? 

Whether or not air ambulance or ground transportation costs are covered depends on your travel health insurance policy. Some travel health policies, like Atlas Travel, include a Local Ambulance benefit for situations like these. This benefit covers you for customary charges as long as your covered injury or illness results in your hospitalization as inpatient. 

How Does Emergency Medical Evacuation Work?

The purpose of emergency medical evacuation is to transport you from a medical facility that’s not equipped to treat your life-or-limb-threatening illness or ailment to a hospital that is. The end goal is to save your life, arm, or leg by making sure you receive the specialized care you need.

Let’s break down how this benefit works with an example. Imagine you’re backpacking in South America when you stumble and fall from a great height. Your travel companion calls a local ambulance to transport you to the nearest health clinic, where you’re treated for severe leg injuries and a concussion.

Doctors at the clinic determine that you need immediate surgery to save your leg. Unfortunately, this facility does not have the operating rooms or surgical staff necessary to perform the operation.

Luckily, you have an Atlas Travel insurance policy that includes an Emergency Medical Evacuation benefit. Your medical evacuation process might look something like this:

  1. Your treating physician declares that you need to be transported to a hospital that’s equipped to perform limb-saving surgery. She certifies that your evacuation is medically necessary and that transportation by any other means would result in the loss of your leg.
  2. Your physician contacts WorldTrips, your travel medical insurance provider. Together they decide that the best course of action is to transfer you to the nearest qualified hospital.
  3. WorldTrips' travel assistance services works to gather all documentation necessary for your transfer. They coordinate your travel arrangements and WorldTrips approves these arrangements prior to your evacuation.
  4. WorldTrips' travel assistance services arranges for an in-flight medical team (nurses, paramedics, etc.) to accompany you on your flight. The team monitors your vital signs and manages your pain.
  5. WorldTrips' travel assistance services shares your medical status and estimated arrival time with the receiving hospital and any family members you’ve authorized to receive medical status updates.
  6. You are admitted to the hospital and undergo immediate surgery. Thankfully, the surgery is a success and the surgeons are able to save your leg.
  7. Once you are stabilized, your attending physician verifies that you need continued treatment, recuperation, and recovery time.
  8. Your physician and WorldTrips determine whether you should be returned to your home country or to the area from which you were evacuated in order to receive additional treatment.
  9. WorldTrips' travel assistance services makes the travel arrangements and you are transported to the predetermined destination.
  10. Your medical providers submit your medical claims directly to WorldTrips.
  11. WorldTrips claims examiner sends you a letter notifying you that the company has received your claim. They may also request a Claimant’s Statement and Authorization form from you.
  12. You send a completed Claimant’s Statement and Authorization form, along with any other requested documents, to WorldTrips within the required time frame.
  13. A WorldTrips claims examiner receives your form and requests medical records from billing providers and/or medical providers.
  14. The claims examiner receives and reviews all requested documents. They then determine whether the expenses resulting from your emergency evacuation are covered under your plan.
  15. You are covered for eligible expenses up to the maximum amount listed in your policy documents. You have an Atlas Travel plan, so you are covered up to $1,000,000 for eligible Emergency Medical Evacuation expenses.

Do I Need Emergency Medical Evacuation Coverage?

Everyone from leisure travelers and tourists to backpackers and missionaries could benefit from emergency medical evacuation coverage in destinations with fewer hospitals or a lower standard of care.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency medical evacuation can cost more than $100,000.

Even a far less costly evacuation could be a significant unplanned expense.

Below, you’ll see three real-life stories of international travelers who had to use their Emergency Medical Evacuation benefit included in their Atlas Travel policy.

How Much Does an Emergency Medical Evacuation Cost?

Real-Life Examples of Atlas Travel’s Emergency Medical Evacuation Benefit in Use


Emergency Medical Evacuation from Kyrgyzstan à Istanbul

Evacuation Cost: $41,218

A Canadian traveling in Kyrgyzstan developed a severe eye infection. Local medical facilities were unable to provide adequate treatment and the traveler was at risk of permanently losing his vision. Commercial travel to another nearby hospital would be too slow.

WorldTrips arranged for the traveler to be evacuated to an American hospital in Istanbul via air ambulance. We also arranged for a family member to join the traveler in Istanbul.

The traveler’s Emergency Medical Evacuation benefit covered the cost of his air evacuation and his Emergency Reunion benefit covered the cost of his family member’s airfare, accommodations, and food expenses.

Emergency Medical Evacuation from Mt. Everest Region à Kathmandu

Evacuation Cost: $7,515

A healthy American trekking in Nepal suffered acute mountain sickness (AMS), a negative health effect caused by the high altitude. This resulted in a high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), a life-threatening accumulation of fluid in the lungs.

The hiker was helilifted to an international hospital in Katmandu. The hospital provided the urgent care she needed, and she eventually made a full recovery.

How Much Does Travel Health Insurance (That Includes Evacuation Coverage) Cost?

Emergency medical evacuations can cost more than $100,000, but many budget-friendly travel health insurance plans include an Emergency Medical Evacuation benefit. The cost of your travel health plan will depend on factors such as:

  • Age
  • Destination
  • Trip length
  • Maximum coverage limit you choose
  • Deductible you choose

Our Atlas Travel policy starts as low as 50 cents per day* for people traveling outside the U.S. That’s just $3.50 for a full week of coverage.

Plus, Atlas Travel includes other medical and travel benefits for individuals traveling abroad. This means you can purchase just one policy and get benefits for eligible expenses like:

  • Hospital Room & Board
  • Intensive Care Unit
  • Accidental Death & Dismemberment (AD&D)
  • Repatriation of Remains
  • Terrorism
  • Natural Disaster
  • Lost Checked Luggage
  • Travel Delay

Why are these types of benefits so important? Two reasons:

  1. Your domestic health plan may not cover you abroad or may provide limited coverage. Travel health insurance can cover you as soon as you are outside your home country.
  2. There’s always a chance you could encounter a travel mishap, illness, or ailment while traveling internationally. Especially since you’ll be exposed to a new environment, unfamiliar foods, and foreign bacteria.

*$0.50 per day based on the Atlas Travel daily rate in 2023 for a traveler in the youngest age group (14 days - 17 years) who is traveling outside the U.S. with the highest deductible ($5,000) and the lowest overall maximum coverage limit ($50,000).

Important Questions to Ask Before Purchasing Insurance That Includes Emergency Medical Evacuation Coverage

Make sure you know the answers to the following questions before you purchase travel health insurance that includes emergency medical evacuation coverage. You can find the answers in the policy documents for any plan you’re considering.

  • How much coverage does the plan provide for a covered emergency medical evacuation?
  • Who determines whether or not you will be evacuated? How do they make this decision?
  • Who coordinates travel arrangements?
  • Under what circumstances are you not covered for a medically-necessary evacuation?
  • Does the plan evacuate you to the nearest qualified hospital, a hospital in your home country, or the hospital of your choosing?
  • Are there restrictions or exclusions, such as for pre-existing conditions or extreme sports?

PRO TIP: Don't hesitate to contact the insurance provider if you have any additional questions about the policy.

Get Coverage for Emergency Medical Evacuation, Repatriation of Remains, and Emergency Health Expenses – All in One Policy

Atlas Travel insurance can cover eligible medical expenses and other travel-related losses nearly anywhere you travel outside your home country.

Atlas Travel includes an Emergency Medical Evacuation benefit of up to $1,000,000. This is well over the recommended minimum benefit limit of $100,000.

You can also be covered for related benefits, including:

  • Emergency Reunion – This benefit pays to transport one relative of your choosing to your bedside following a covered emergency medical evacuation. It also covers the relative’s lodging and meals for up to 15 days.

  • Accidental Death and Dismemberment (AD&D) – This benefit pays the amount stated in your policy documents to your beneficiary if a covered accident or injury results in your unexpected death. It pays the specified amount to you if a covered accident causes you to lose your limb(s) or eyesight.

  • Repatriation of Remains – This benefit covers the cost of returning your body or ashes to your home country if you die from a covered accident or illness while traveling abroad.

See a full list of Atlas Travel benefits here.

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WorldTrips international travel medical insurance products are underwritten by Lloyd's. WorldTrips is a service company and a member of the Tokio Marine HCC group of companies. WorldTrips has authority to enter into contracts of insurance on behalf of the Lloyd's underwriting members of Lloyd's Syndicate 4141, which is managed by HCC Underwriting Agency, Ltd.