Who Shouldn't Buy Travel Medical Insurance?

While travel medical insurance is a recommended precaution for the majority of international travelers (see Who Should Buy Travel Medical Insurance), there are certainly those who may not benefit from the purchase of a travel medical policy.

The following types of travelers should re-evaluate their travel medical needs:

Medical Tourists

If you’re traveling outside of your home country for the purpose of seeking medical treatment, you’re practicing what’s typically referred to as “medical tourism”—and this is not covered by a travel medical insurance policy.

Whether you’re seeking treatment abroad in order to cut costs, see a provider with a culture similar to yours, or obtain treatment, therapy, or surgery not available back home, it’s important you understand this care is not covered.

It’s also worth noting that 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 medical care, be sure to follow this pre-travel advice.

Individuals Needing Pre-Existing Coverage

Medical expenses resulting from pre-existing conditions are excluded under most travel medical policies. Not sure what a pre-existing condition is, exactly?

“Pre-existing condition” means 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

Before you purchase a policy, consider whether you have any pre-existing conditions that will not be covered. If you’re not sure whether a condition qualifies as pre-existing, feel free to call the insurance company and ask.

You can also inquire about pre-existing condition coverage on a plan-by-plan or company basis, as it may vary. Some plans will offer coverage for acute onset of a pre-existing condition. Others may offer a pre-existing conditions waiver to travelers with chronic but stable medical conditions. Some may even allow you to purchase coverage for your pre-existing condition separately.

Travelers Requiring a Normal Health Insurance Replacement (Expats)

Long-term traveler? Expatriate? If you’ll be living and working abroad long term, you may be seeking more comprehensive coverage than a travel medical plan can provide.

While travel medical insurance offers emergency medical coverage and some supplemental travel benefits, it will not provide coverage for things like wellness and preventive care or prescription drugs for a pre-existing condition. Additionally, travel medical coverage is typically offered only up to 364 days (though you may be able to extend or renew your policy).

If you’re going to be living abroad long term, you may have different priorities than a short-term traveler. And, as a foreign national, you will likely not be entitled to free or subsidized healthcare.

In cases like this, an expatriate plan, or a travel major medical plan, may best align with your needs. These types of plans behave more like your standard, home country health insurance in that they typically provide the following coverages:

  • Medical coverage including preventive care, medical evacuation, and repatriation benefits
  • Worldwide prescription drug coverage
  • Dental coverage (regular examinations and treatment)
  • Vision coverage (regular eye exams and prescriptions)
  • Life, accidental death and dismemberment, or long-term disability coverage