Who Should Buy Travel Medical Insurance?
So, who needs travel medical insurance, anyway? If you’re traveling within your home country, you should remain covered under your current health insurance plan. If you’re traveling internationally, however, the U.S. Department of State encourages you to check with your regular health insurance provider before you go abroad to learn whether certain (or any) medical expenses will be covered.
Even if your domestic policy will pay “customary and reasonable” hospital costs incurred abroad—and many will not—only a limited few will cover a necessary medical evacuation from an inadequate facility to a hospital better suited to care for you. And this cost, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), can exceed $100,000.
What kinds of travelers should purchase travel medical insurance?
While there are certainly travelers who may be best suited to another type of policy (see Who Shouldn’t Buy Travel Medical Insurance), here are some of the travel personas who should consider travel medical insurance:
Regardless of whether you’re traveling to a third-world country or an all-inclusive resort, you never know what kinds of challenges you’ll face as you travel abroad. A travel medical policy can provide coverage for everything from political evacuation to a sprained ankle on the beach.
Business travelers are typically frequent travelers, and the more often you travel, the more likely you may be to experience a travel mishap. A travel medical policy can provide supplemental travel benefits (Trip Interruption, Lost Checked Luggage, Travel Delay, etc.) in addition to medical benefits.
Missionaries often serve in underdeveloped countries where illness and infection may be more likely to occur. A travel medical policy can provide you with access to quality care and financial help if you become unexpectedly ill or injured.
Backpackers, Adventure Travelers, and Eco-Tourists
These types of travelers often find themselves exploring remote, isolated regions where medical facilities are few and far between. A Medical Evacuation benefit can provide peace-of-mind by providing coverage in emergency situations.
Whether or not international health insurance is a requirement for your study abroad trip, purchasing a travel medical policy is a solid idea for travel abroad—especially for those unfamiliar with their host country and its healthcare system. International student health insurance is designed specifically for study abroad students.
Before you purchase a travel medical insurance policy, ask yourself the following questions:
Am I traveling outside of my home country?
If the answer is yes, contact your current health insurance provider to inquire about your international benefits. If coverage does not apply outside of your home country, or if benefits are limited, you may need travel medical insurance.
Am I traveling to an isolated region?
If the answer is yes, consider Emergency Medical Evacuation coverage. In remote destinations, medical facilities are rare and equipment is often insufficient. Medical evacuation may be necessary to transport you to a facility better suited to properly care for you.
Does my destination/reason for travel require me to have travel medical coverage?
Some study abroad programs, for example, require students to purchase international health insurance for their time abroad. There are also some countries that require health insurance for entry. Be sure to thoroughly research your destination and/or program to make sure you’ve taken care of any and all requirements.
Is my destination under a travel advisory?
A travel advisory issued for your destination country can affect your travel medical coverage. Some benefits may be triggered by an advisory as long as certain criteria are met. On the other hand, if you choose to continue traveling a destination that’s currently under a travel advisory, certain benefits may become void; check your plan’s description of coverage for details.
To keep yourself safe, be sure to stay updated on travel warnings and alerts for your destination country. You can do this by visiting the U.S. Department of State’s "Alerts and Warnings" page and enrolling in the U.S. Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
Will my credit card provide any coverage?
If it does, find out whether this coverage adequately meets your needs. Oftentimes, coverage provided by a credit card company is restricted to certain types of emergency situations—it likely does not include medical benefits.
Am I looking for coverage for pre-existing conditions, routine medical examinations, routine pregnancy care, or extreme sports?
Most travel medical policies explicitly exclude coverage for these types of medical expenses. Be sure to read the description of coverage for your policy before you purchase.
What are my biggest travel fears?
If you’re worried about things like terrorism, natural disasters, and kidnappings, find a travel medical policy with applicable safety benefits.
If your biggest fear is the airline losing your luggage, make sure your policy offers supplemental travel coverage, such as a “Lost Checked Luggage” benefit.
If you’re most concerned about injury and illness, make sure your plan offers adequate medical benefits and coverage limits. Make sure you know whether or not your policy provides coverage for pre-existing medical conditions, as these are often not covered, or offer limited coverage.