What is Travel Medical Insurance?
Travel medical insurance is a type of international insurance designed to cover emergency health care costs incurred while traveling or vacationing abroad.
Say you’re eating your way through Europe and you come down with a dire case of food poisoning. Depending on the plan you choose, you may be covered for:
- the cost of a local ambulance to transport you to the hospital,
- your emergency room co-payment,
- the bill for your hospital room and board,
- and all other eligible medical expenses.
Already have domestic health insurance?
Your domestic health plan may not cover you beyond the borders of your home country. If this is the case—or if very few benefits extend to cover you abroad—then you should consider arming yourself with a travel medical policy.
But don’t just take our word for it—the U.S. Department of State, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and even your favorite travel bloggers advocate travel medical insurance for global travel. After all, an uninsured injury or illness abroad can result in catastrophic medical bills and a heavy financial burden—both of which can be significantly reduced by the right coverage.
How does travel medical coverage differ from domestic major medical health coverage?
Domestic major medical health insurance typically offers pre-existing condition coverage as well as coverage for:
- preventive and wellness care (i.e. annual checkups),
- emergency care,
- pregnancy and pediatric care,
- prescription drugs,
- mental health services,
- and more.
It covers costs incurred and treated within your home country (and possibly beyond).
Travel medical insurance provides certain travel benefits (see next Q&A) as well as coverage for emergency medical treatment due to unexpected injury or illness incurred outside of your home country. Your standard travel medical policy does not cover things like wellness exams, regular prescriptions, or pre-existing conditions.
Before you go abroad, check to see whether your domestic plan provides any coverage once you’ve left your home country (many offer limited or no coverage). Even if it does cover you for some things abroad, it’s unlikely to offer many of the important benefits of a travel medical plan, such as Emergency Medical Evacuation coverage.
What types of travel medical benefits are typically included?
Medical Evacuation Coverage
One of the biggest draws of travel medical insurance is the coverage it can provide for an emergency medical evacuation. Say you’re hiking in a remote region of South America and you fall and become seriously injured. You’re taken to the nearest hospital, but it lacks sufficient equipment or the medical specialists required to properly treat you. An Emergency Medical Evacuation benefit can cover the cost of transporting you from the emergency facility to a hospital better suited to care for you.
Coverages in Case of Death
In cases resulting in death, a Repatriation of Remains benefit can cover the cost of transporting your body back to your home country. Similarly, a Local Burial or Cremation benefit can cover the cost of your burial or cremation in a nearby vicinity.
Many travel medical policies also include an Accidental Death and Dismemberment benefit (commonly referred to as AD&D) which, in the event of your death or dismemberment, pays a predetermined amount to you or your beneficiary, regardless of any applicable domestic coverage.
Coverages Due to Unforeseen Circumstances
Depending on the plan you choose, you may receive benefits for expenses resulting from terrorism, political evacuation, or natural disaster. In the event of your kidnapping, a Crisis Response benefit can provide coverage for ransom, personal belongings surrendered, and an experienced crisis response team to negotiate your release.
A Personal Liability benefit can also be beneficial for a trip abroad, as it offers coverage for certain costs for which you are legally liable.
Transportation Coverages Due to Medical Emergency
Your travel medical policy may cover the cost of transporting a family member to your side if you are hospitalized due to medical emergency (Bedside Visit benefit) or medical evacuation (Emergency Reunion benefit).
If you are hospitalized for more than a predetermined number of days, your policy may provide coverage for the safe return home of your children (Return of Minor Children benefit) or your pet (Pet Return benefit).
Travel Assistance Services
Your plan may also come with travel assistance services, such as customer service, access to travel alerts and warnings, tracking for lost luggage, lost passport and travel documents assistance, and emergency cash transfers, among others.
Supplemental Travel Benefits
Finally, note that some travel medical policies even include benefits for Trip Interruption, Lost Checked Luggage, and Travel Delay.
What is excluded from coverage?
Certain types of medical expenses are excluded from most travel medical policies. Here are some of the most frequent exclusions to keep in mind:
- Pre-existing conditions*
- Routine medical examinations and care (i.e. wellness exams, ongoing prescriptions, etc.)
- Routine pre-natal, pregnancy, child birth, and post-natal care
- Medical expenses for injury or illness resulting from participation in some extreme sports
- Medical expenses related to any form of cancer or neoplasm
- Mental health disorders
- Injury due in whole or in part to the effects of intoxication or drugs (this does not refer to drugs taken in accordance with treatment prescribed by a physician)
Be sure to read the description of coverage for any plan you’re considering before you make the purchase. While reading the entire document front to back can be tedious, it’s better to know what’s excluded before you attempt to make a claim.
NOTE: A pre-existing condition is any condition:
- for which medical advice, diagnosis, care, or treatment was recommended or received within a defined period of time prior to your effective date of coverage (this specified period of time varies from plan to plan and typically ranges from 60 days to 2 years)
- which would cause a reasonably prudent person to seek medical advice, diagnosis, care, or treatment within the defined period of time prior to your effective date of coverage
- that existed (with reasonable medical certainty) prior to your effective date of coverage, whether or not it was known to you
Are there different types of policies?
Certainly! After all, a business professional that travels to Europe ten times a year requires a different type of policy than a group of missionaries taking a six-month trip to South America.
In order to accommodate your individual needs, travel medical policies are typically structured in one of five ways:
- Single-Trip Plan: This is a standard plan that provides coverage for the duration and destination(s) you specify for a single trip abroad.
- Multi-Trip Plan: This plan covers multiple international trips throughout a one-year (or other specified) period.
- Group Plan: This plan allows you to insure a group of people (typically 5 or more) under one policy, often at a discounted rate.
- Long-Term Plan: Long-term travelers and expatriates can purchase a travel medical plan or a travel major medical plan, depending on their priorities and length of travel.
- Student Plan: Students can purchase international student health insurance to cover them as they study abroad.
NOTE: Student plans are frequently offered in a variety of plan levels. For example, Tokio Marine HCC – MIS Group offers its StudentSecure plan in 4 levels:
What’s the difference between travel insurance, travel medical insurance, and trip cancellation?
It’s important to understand that these terms are not interchangeable. While one type of insurance may include certain features of another, each has a different core purpose.
Travel insurance “protects the financial investment in a trip,” notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A travel insurance policy may include coverage for:
- lost baggage
- trip cancellation
- flight accident
- other losses incurred while traveling
If you purchase a travel insurance policy only, the CDC recommends that you “carefully research the coverage offered to determine if additional travel health and medical evacuation is needed.”
Travel Medical Insurance
Travel medical insurance may include supplemental travel benefits (i.e. Trip Interruption, Lost Checked Luggage, or Travel Delay), but its primary function is to protect you in cases of unexpected illness or injury that might occur abroad.
Travel medical insurance accomplishes this by providing an array of medical benefits and access to quality emergency care.
Trip Cancellation Insurance
Trip cancellation insurance applies when your trip is cancelled due to an unforeseen and covered reason. You may be covered if:
- a licensed physician deems you unfit to travel due to an unexpected illness or injury
- a non-traveling family member is hospitalized or passes away
- common carrier issues or weather result in a cancelled flight
- natural disasters occur unexpectedly at home or at your destination
- a legal obligation, such as jury duty, requires you to remain in your home country
Trip cancellation coverage is typically based on the price of the trip, and may cost anywhere from 4-10% of the insured trip cost. It typically reimburses you 100% of the cost of your prepaid and non-refundable trip.
Trip cancellation insurance may be purchased independently, in conjunction with medical evacuation coverage, or as part of a travel insurance policy, depending on the company you buy from and the plan you choose.