When you buy travel health insurance for a trip abroad, you might assume you have coverage for all injuries, illnesses, or travel mishaps you might face overseas—and you’re not alone.
However, travel health insurance does not cover everything. You can save yourself stress down the line by reading through the benefits and exclusions of any policy you’re considering to get the full picture.
In the meantime, be sure to review this list of 9 times your travel health insurance may not cover you:
1. Your Expenses Stem from a Pre-Existing Condition
Many people assume travel health insurance covers the same types of expenses as their regular health insurance while they are outside their home country. However, the exclusion of pre-existing conditions is a key characteristic that sets many travel health policies apart from your standard health insurance.
What Is a Pre-Existing Condition?
The general definition is an injury, illness, disorder, disease, or other physical or mental condition that exists in a defined period (usually 180 days - 5 years) before your policy goes into effect.
You don’t want to travel abroad and seek treatment for an ongoing issue only to discover that your plan excludes pre-existing conditions—and that the entire cost of treatment is your sole financial responsibility. That’s why it’s important to carefully review the benefits and exclusions of any plan you’re considering before you buy.
Read through the Description of Coverage (this is the document that describes your benefits and explains what is and is not covered by the insurance) to determine:
- Whether the plan includes any pre-existing condition coverage
- How pre-existing conditions are defined
- The stipulations for any pre-existing condition coverage
Acute Onset of a Pre-Existing Condition
Some travel health policies—like Atlas Travel—include a benefit for the Acute Onset of a Pre-Existing Condition. This benefit may be available to both U.S. and international citizens, but it is typically limited by age.
What Is Acute Onset of a Pre-Existing Condition?
The general definition is a sudden and unexpected occurrence of a pre-existing condition that occurs without warning and rapidly progresses.
You must obtain treatment within the defined period required by the policy
The condition must not be chronic or congenital
2. You Need a Routine Medical Exam or Preventive Care
Travel health insurance is typically designed to cover eligible expenses resulting from unexpected injury or illness and unanticipated trip-related mishaps as you travel outside of your home country.
Unlike regular health insurance, travel health insurance may not cover wellness exams, preventive care, and regular prescriptions for pre-existing conditions.
Examples of Situations Where Travel Health Insurance May Cover You
- You come down with an unexpected illness and you’re admitted to a hospital.
Medical emergencies are scary enough when you’re in your home country, let alone a foreign country.
A good travel health insurance policy will cover eligible costs resulting from ambulance transportation (if admitted as an inpatient), hospital room and board, the intensive care unit, doctors and nurses, imaging and labs, and surgery required to treat your covered injury or illness.
- You’re hiking through a remote region of Europe when you fall and become seriously injured.
If the local emergency medical facility does not have the staff or equipment required to provide the necessary life or limb-saving treatment, you may be transported by helicopter to the nearest hospital that does.
A travel health plan that includes an Emergency Medical Evacuation benefit will cover eligible costs resulting from a covered evacuation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency evacuations can exceed $100,000.
3. You Decide to Cancel Your Trip Prior to Departure
Travel health insurance often includes benefits like Trip Interruption or Travel Delay in addition to coverage for eligible medical expenses.
However, it does not typically include a Trip Cancellation benefit that reimburses you for the cost of your trip if you must cancel unexpectedly prior to departure.
What Are Trip Interruptions, Travel Delay, and Trip Cancellation?
Trip Interruption (often included in travel health insurance)
This benefit covers the cost of your transportation if you need to return to your home country due to a covered reason. Depending on your policy, a covered reason could be the death of an intimate family member, destruction of your house in a fire, etc.
Travel Delay (often included in travel health insurance)
This benefit reimburses you for reasonable meals and accommodations if a covered delay results in an unplanned overnight stay at a hotel or other lodging. Depending on your policy, a covered delay could be a flight delay, traffic accident, etc.
Trip Cancellation (typically excluded from travel health insurance)
This benefit reimburses you for non-refundable travel investments like airfare, hotel costs, and tour expenses if your trip is unexpectedly cancelled due to a covered reason. Depending on your policy, a covered reason could be a family member passing away, your flight being cancelled due to storms, etc.
If you’re looking for a Trip Cancellation benefit to protect your travel investment in case of unexpected cancellation, consider travel insurance or trip cancellation insurance.
For example, the Atlas trip cancellation plans from WorldTrips and Nationwide include:
- Trip Interruption coverage
- Trip Delay coverage
- Trip Cancellation coverage
- Emergency Medical Expense coverage
- Emergency Medical Evacuation coverage
See how much it would cost to protect your travel investment with an Atlas trip cancellation policy. Or learn more about the differences between travel insurance, travel health insurance, and trip cancellation insurance.
4. You Need Pregnancy Care
Your travel health insurance may not cover you for pregnancy or childbirth while traveling abroad. If this is the case, then you likely won’t be covered for expenses related to:
- Routine prenatal care
- Postnatal care
- Medical expenses incurred by a baby less than 14 days old
- Termination of pregnancy
However, some plans (like our Atlas Travel plan) do cover certain expenses that fall under a “Complications of Pregnancy” clause or another similar clause.
Complications of Pregnancy
The phrase “complications of pregnancy” generally refers to illnesses that are distinct from the pregnancy and either:
- Adversely affected by the pregnancy OR
- Caused by the pregnancy and not associated with normal pregnancy
Read the Description of Coverage for your plan to determine whether it offers a “Complications of Pregnancy” clause or any other pregnancy and childbirth coverage. Pay attention to the restrictions and exclusions of any pregnancy clauses or benefits as well.
5. You Need Mental Health Coverage
Travel health insurance may not cover expenses resulting from mental health disorders such as:
- Bipolar disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Other disorders
For example, say you’re planning to travel Europe for a month this summer. You’ve suffered from anxiety for the past few years and take your anxiety medication every day.
Anxiety is a mental health disorder, so it would not be covered under a travel health plan that excludes mental health disorders. (Since your anxiety is ongoing and this isn’t the first time you’ve experienced it, your anxiety is also a pre-existing condition.)
If your travel health plan excludes mental health disorders and/or pre-existing conditions, then you will not be covered for:
- Refills of your anxiety medication
- Any psychiatric appointments that occur during your travels
- Any other medical expenses you incur as a result of your anxiety
6. You Plan to Participate in Some Extreme Sports
Adventure travelers and risk-takers beware: many travel health insurance policies may exclude coverage for certain extreme sports and risky activities, such as bungee jumping or whitewater rafting.
If you’re planning to participate in any sports or recreational activities during your time abroad—from the mundane to the extreme—it’s important to know whether they’ll be covered by your plan.
Review the section of your Description of Coverage that tackles sports and activities and pay special attention to the exclusions.
Note the Specific Circumstances Required for Sport and Activity Coverage
Travel health insurance does not generally cover organized athletics, activities performed professionally, or activities that provide any wage, reward, or profit.
Many travel health policies require you to be adequately supervised and wear the appropriate safety equipment (protective helmet, life jacket, etc.) to be eligible for coverage.
Additionally, some policies will cover a sport only under specific circumstances.
7. Your Drug or Alcohol Use Results in Injury or Illness
Many policies will not cover you for injury or illness due in whole or in part to the effects of intoxication or drugs. Note that this does not typically refer to drugs taken in accordance with treatment prescribed by your physician.
8. You Travel Abroad for Medical Treatment
Many travel health policies will not cover you if you’re traveling abroad for the purpose of seeking medical treatment in your destination country.
It doesn’t matter if you’re heading overseas with the intention of cutting costs, receiving a higher standard of care, finding a provider that speaks your native language, or obtaining some type of treatment, surgery, or therapy not available in your home country.
If the purpose of any part of your trip is to obtain medical care abroad, then it will not be covered under the typical travel health insurance plan.
DID YOU KNOW?
Medical tourism "has been associated with complications, including infections caused by antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria," shares the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you're traveling abroad for one of the reasons listed above, be sure to follow the CDC'S pre-travel advice.
9. You Choose to Travel Against Government Advice
Travel health insurance plans may not cover expenses incurred in your destination country if you traveled there against government advice.
Each plan has its own rules and regulations regarding what constitutes government advice.
It’s important that you’re familiar with the specific details of your plan before you travel. Consult the Description of Coverage and make sure you understand the specific stipulations and exclusions for each benefit.
You can read more about U.S. Department of State travel advisories or see the travel advisory level for your planned destination here. Be sure to check travel health notices from the CDC as well.
What to Do Before You Buy a Travel Health Policy
Now that you know what travel health insurance may not cover, it’s time to start getting quotes and comparing plans.
As you do so, read through the Description of Coverage (DOC) for each plan you’re considering. Reviewing the DOC is the single most important step you should take before you purchase a travel health policy.
Avoid Frustrations – Don’t Assume
Make sure you clearly understand the policy’s benefits and exclusions and pay special attention to the section on pre-existing conditions.
Do not make assumptions when it comes to your coverage. This is the best way to avoid potential frustrations down the line.
If you find that you’re confused about any part of the policy, contact the insurance provider directly. They can help clarify your coverage and help you understand your benefits.
After you purchase your policy, read through your fulfillment documents carefully. Use this 5-step checklist from WorldTrips.com to ensure you're prepared if you need to use your coverage abroad.