No one anticipates needing emergency medical care while traveling, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared just in case. Suffering an unexpected illness or injury abroad can be stressful and expensive. Travel health insurance can be the difference between a trip ruined by an accident or sickness and a trip where you have access to quality healthcare and financial help if an emergency strikes.
Read on to learn more about why travel health insurance is often important for international travel and to determine whether you should invest in a policy for your next trip.
What Does Travel Health Insurance Cover?
Travel health insurance is a short-term supplemental medical insurance designed to cover unexpected medical expenses incurred abroad. Depending on the policy you purchase, it may cover expenses such as:
- the cost of a local ambulance (when hospitalized as inpatient)
- surgery, labs, and testing
- the bill for your hospital room and board
- emergency medical evacuation
- accidental death and dismemberment
Some policies also include travel benefits like Trip Interruption, Travel Delay, Lost Checked Luggage, and Lost or Stolen Passport/Travel Visa.
Already Have a Standard Healthcare Plan?
Some standard healthcare plans don’t cover any expenses incurred outside of your home county. Many others cover only emergency expenses incurred abroad. That’s why it’s so important to check your plan to determine what international coverage—if any—you have when you travel abroad.
Travel medical insurance covers eligible medical expenses incurred outside your home country. It also may provide travel assistance services and travel assistance benefits (trip interruption, travel delay, lost checked luggage, lost or stolen passport/travel visa, etc.) that you won’t find in your standard domestic plan.
When Might You Need Travel Medical Insurance?
Whether you’re traveling to a high-risk area or somewhere as seemingly innocuous as Europe, there is always the risk of an accident. To get a sense of the kinds of accidents travel health insurance covers, let’s take a look at some example scenarios.
- Illness – On a street food tour of Bangkok, you sample some seafood skewers that do not go down well. You end up being treated for food poisoning at a nearby hospital.
Many travel medical insurance policies cover hospital room and board expenses, physician charges, and medically-necessary drugs (as long as the illness is covered under the policy). Some providers, like Atlas Travel, also provide translation services 365 days a year to help prevent misunderstandings and confusion between you and your doctors.
- Injury – You decide to explore Amsterdam like the locals and hop on a bike, but when your wheel gets caught in a tram track, you fly off and break your leg.
You can’t walk, so you call an ambulance that rushes you off to the nearest emergency room. Ambulance fees can be expensive. So can surgery and casts. But when your injury is covered by a travel health insurance policy and you’re admitted to the hospital as inpatient, you may only be responsible for your deductible and any coinsurance.
- Trip Interruption – While lounging on the beach in the Philippines, you get a phone call from a sibling telling you that your parent has suffered a heart attack and died.
So that you can be with your family during this distressing time, a travel health insurance policy that covers trip interruption will make sure you get home as soon as possible. With Atlas Travel, policyholders are covered for the cost of an economy-class, one-way ticket to their home terminal following the death of a parent, spouse, sibling, child, or grandchild.
- Travel Delay – During an extended layover, a severe storm picks up, grounding all flights until the following day.
No one likes sleeping on airport terminal bench seats. Thankfully, many travel medical insurance plans cover trip delays. In the case of a covered 12+-hour delay, Atlas Travel provides up to $100 per day for up to two days for reasonable accommodation and meals.
- Lost or Stolen Travel Documents – Strolling through the streets of Barcelona, you stop to join a crowd that has gathered around a group of street dancers. Distracted, you hardly notice that someone has reached into your bag and stolen your passport.
Losing your passport can be a nerve-wracking experience for any international traveler, but having a travel health insurance policy that covers lost or stolen documents makes dealing with it a little less stressful. Atlas Travel provides foreign language assistance to help you obtain new travel documents and up to $100 to reimburse you for replacement fees.
Is Travel Health Insurance Worth It?
Without travel medical insurance, you may run the risk of being solely responsible for unexpected medical bills as you travel abroad. Even the most common injuries, such as those resulting from a fall, could incur significant expenses. That’s why both the CDC and U.S. Department of State recommend getting health insurance for traveling abroad.
Here are a few real-life examples of Atlas Travel policyholders:
- An American missionary who fell 20 feet from a cliff during a hike had expenses of $32,805 for multiple broken bones, a concussion, and emergency medical evacuation to a hospital qualified to provide medically necessary care.
- A traveler in Bangkok who contracted multilobar pneumonia and tonsillitis from a bug bite had a medical bill of $12,149.37. With Atlas Travel, he was covered for 95% of his medical expenses. Ultimately, he paid for his $68.78 premium and his $500 deductible.
- When a Nigerian fellow in a U.S.-based leadership program learned of the sudden passing of his father, Atlas Travel covered his flight back to Nigeria. The total cost was $3,312.
It’s important to note that travel health insurance may not cover pre-existing conditions, and that it may not be the right choice for every traveler. See “Should I Get Travel Health Insurance?” and “Who May Not Benefit from Travel Health Insurance” below to learn more.
Should I Get Travel Health Insurance?
When traveling internationally, it may be a good idea to make sure you have global insurance coverage, especially if you are a:
- Adventure traveler
- Business traveler
- Study abroad student
You never know when a travel mishap, accident, or illness might strike. So, regardless of your destination or the activities you plan, it can be helpful to be equipped with travel medical coverage in case of an emergency.
Most, but not everybody, should consider a policy. Not sure where you stand? Here is a guide to help you determine whether you need to purchase a travel health insurance policy.
Are You Covered by Your Domestic Insurance?
It’s worth reiterating that many standard domestic health insurance policies either don’t cover international incidents or offer limited international coverage.
Standard health care plans that do offer global protection may cover “usual, customary, and reasonable” hospital expenses incurred abroad. The Department of Health and Human Services defines this as “the amount paid for a medical service in a geographic area based on what providers in the area usually charge for the same or similar medical service.”
Still, domestic providers do not offer travel assistance services or supplemental travel benefits that are often important for travelers heading abroad.
Review your existing health plan or call your provider to see what your current benefits are abroad. You may require a supplemental travel health insurance policy.
Are You Covered by Your Credit Card?
Though some credit cards offer travel insurance, they do not always offer medical benefits or medical evacuation coverage. And credit cards that do offer medical benefits may only do so in certain emergency situations.
Consult your credit card contract or provider to verify how much you are covered or if you have any coverage at all.
Do You Require Travel Health Insurance for Your Visa?
To obtain a visa, some countries require travel medical insurance or proof that the traveler will be able to pay for any medical expenses incurred during their trip. Turkey, Cuba, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates are among the countries that require health insurance for entry.
Travel health insurance is also a requirement for the popular Schengen visa, which allows travelers to move freely between the 26 European countries that make up the Schengen Area. This visa requires that travelers be insured for a minimum of 30,000€ (about $33,460) in the case of unexpected medical emergencies or accidental death.
Schengen travelers can choose Atlas Travel insurance, which covers:
- Up to 2 million dollars for unexpected injuries (depending on the plan selected)
- Up to 1 million for emergency medical evacuation
- 100% coverage of eligible expenses after the deductible, up to the overall maximum limit
Are You Traveling to an Isolated Region?
People planning to visit an isolated region should make sure they have a policy that covers emergency medical evacuation. Because remote areas do not always have adequate medical services, an injury or illness may require emergency transport to a health facility that’s equipped to provide medically necessary care to prevent the loss of your life or limb.
According to the CDC, the cost of an emergency evacuation can exceed $100,000. And the U.S. Department of State website notes that very few domestic providers pay for your medical evacuation back to the United States.
A travel health insurance plan that includes an Emergency Medical Evacuation benefit can cover the cost of transporting you to the nearest adequate health facility. In some cases, it may even pay to transport you back to your home country.
(Note that your treating physician and your insurance provider may need to agree that evacuation to your home country is a better option than transferring you to the nearest qualified facility.)
Learn more about the Emergency Medical Evacuation benefit and discover how it works in a life-or-limb-threatening situation abroad.
DID YOU KNOW?
Emergency medical evacuation coverage may also be a visa requirement. For example, the Schengen visa requires “coverage for expenses which might arise in connection with repatriation for medical reasons.”
Is Your Destination Under Travel Advisory?
Before planning your trip, check to see if your destination is under travel advisory by the U.S. Department of State. Anyone heading to a country with a travel advisory should take precautions to ensure safe travel.
Note that some travel health insurance benefits, such as political evacuation, may be triggered by a level 3 “reconsider travel” or higher travel advisory if the advisory occurs after you’ve landed in your destination.
If you travel to a destination that’s already under a level 3 or higher travel advisory—or there has been a level 3 or higher in the past 60 days—some benefits may become void.
Review your plan’s Description of Coverage to make sure you know how your benefits apply under various travel advisories.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) from the U.S. Department of State allows U.S. travelers to enroll their trip with the local U.S. embassy or consulate at their destination. Enrollees receive important information about local safety conditions so you can make smart travel decisions.
Who May Not Benefit from Travel Health Insurance?
Most international travelers are advised to invest in a travel medical insurance policy. However, there are some cases in which the coverage provided by a travel medical plan may not be beneficial.
- Medical tourists – People who travel abroad to undergo a medical procedure, often called “medical tourists,” are not typically covered by travel health insurance. Travel health policies cover unexpected expenses—not ones you plan on incurring.
- People seeking coverage specifically for pre-existing conditions – Treatment for pre-existing conditions is excluded from many travel health plans, including Atlas Travel. A condition may count as pre-existing if it existed, with reasonable medical certainty, in the predetermined period of time before your policy went into effect–even if you were unaware of the condition at the time.
Note that you’re still able to purchase travel health insurance if you have a pre-existing condition. You’ll still be covered for eligible expenses for injuries, illnesses, medical evacuation, and travel mishaps that are not related to a pre-existing condition or anything in the policy exclusions.
- Expats living abroad – Anyone living and working abroad for a substantial amount of time may want to consider a standard health care plan that covers pre-existing conditions, preventative care, regular prescription drug coverage, dental care, and vision care. As foreign nationals, these people may or may not be eligible for subsidized or national health care and may want to consider an expatriate plan instead.
How Much Does Travel Health Insurance Cost?
Some policies start at less than a dollar a day and vary depending on age, deductible, coverage level, destination, and trip length.
WorldTrips' customizable Atlas Travel plans start at $0.50* per day and peak at $21.26** per day. That means plans can fall anywhere between $3.50 and $148.82 per week.
Here’s how certain variables affect that daily rate:
- Age – Your age determines which age group you fall into. As your age group increases, so does your daily rate.
- Deductible – This is the predetermined amount policyholders must pay before eligible expenses are paid by the provider. The higher your deductible, the lower your daily rate.
- Maximum coverage selected – This is the maximum amount your insurance policy will pay for benefits. As you increase your maximum coverage, your daily rate increases.
- Travel destination – Your daily rate will increase if any part of your international travel includes the U.S.
In other words:
- Lower age group + higher deductible + lower coverage maximum + travel outside the U.S. = lower daily rate
- Higher age group + lower deductible + higher max coverage + travel that includes the U.S. = higher daily rate
You can get a free Atlas Travel insurance quote for your trip here. Choose your coverage area and input your coverage start and end dates and birth date to see your plan options. Then play with the deductible and overall maximum coverage options to watch your price change.
*$0.50 per day based on the 2023 Atlas Travel daily rate for a traveler in the youngest age group (14 days – 29 years) who is traveling outside the U.S. with the highest deductible ($5,000) and the lowest overall maximum coverage limit available to this age group ($50,000).
**$21.26 per day based on the 2023 Atlas Travel daily rate for a traveler in the oldest age group (80+) who is traveling to the U.S. with the lowest deductible ($0) and the only overall maximum coverage limit available to this age group ($10,000).
Interested in Purchasing a Policy?
Visit the Atlas Travel insurance page to learn more about benefits, limits, and exclusions. Then enter your trip details to see the price of your policy.