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.
Let's look at how travel medical coverage differs from domestic healthcare coverage, what types of travel medical benefits are typically included, and what is often excluded from travel medical plans.
See "Why Buy Travel Medical Insurance?"
How Does Travel Medical Coverage Differ From Domestic Healthcare Coverage?
Domestic 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 section) 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 typically 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.
Many travel medical insurance plans are now including coverage for medical expenses resulting from COVID-19. All travel medical insurance plans are different so be sure to read the policy documents thoroughly to fully understand how COVID-19 affects your coverage.
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 24/7 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 6 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, childbirth, 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 policy documents 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.
*A pre-existing condition is any injury, illness, sickness, disease, or other physical, medical, mental, or nervous disorder, condition, or ailment that, with reasonable medical certainty, existed at the time of application or at any time during the 2 years prior to the effective date of this insurance, whether or not previously manifested, symptomatic or known, diagnosed, treated, or disclosed to us prior to the effective date, and including any and all subsequent, chronic or recurring complications or consequences related thereto or resulting or arising therefrom.
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.
Note: A single-trip plan may be offered in different levels of coverage to fit your unique budget. For example, WorldTrips offers its popular Atlas Travel insurance in two additional coverage levels: Atlas EssentialTM (for budget travelers) and Atlas PremiumTM (for elite travelers).
2. Multi-trip plan – This plan covers multiple international trips throughout a one-year (or other specified) period.
3. Group plan – This plan allows you to insure a group of people (typically 5 or more) under one policy, often at a discounted rate.
4. 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.
5. 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 to ensure you find the coverage you may need at a price you can afford. For example, WorldTrips offers its StudentSecure® plan in 4 levels:
What’s the Difference Between Travel Medical Insurance and Trip Cancellation Insurance?
It’s important to understand these terms when considering your travel medical insurance options. While one type of insurance may include certain features of another, each has a different core purpose.
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 is a type of travel insurance that features the primary benefit of Trip Cancellation coverage. It applies when your trip is cancelled due to a specific, unforeseen, and covered reason. Your pre-paid and non-refundable trip expenses may be covered for reasons such as:
- 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, or
- A legal obligation, such as jury duty, requires you to remain in your home country.
In addition to Trip Cancellation coverage, trip cancellation plans often include other travel related benefits like:
- Travel Delay
- Missed Connection
- Change Fee Cancellation
- Loyalty/Frequent Flyer Miles
Some – not all – trip cancellation plans feature a limited amount of coverage for emergency medical expenses, though typically not as much as a travel medical insurance plan.
More Travel Medical Insurance 101 Content
- Travel Medical Insurance 101 Home
- What is Travel Medical Insurance?
- How Does Travel Medical Insurance Work?
- Why Buy Travel Medical Insurance?
- Who Should Buy Travel Medical Insurance?
- Who Shouldn't Buy Travel Medical Insurance?
- Understanding Insurance Reviews Online
- How to Choose the Best Travel Medical Insurance
- What to Do Before You Buy a Policy
- How Much Does Travel Medical Insurance Cost?
- How to Buy Travel Medical Insurance
- What to Do After You Buy a Policy
- How Does the Claims Process Work?
is designed for global travelers seeking:
- Coverage for unexpected medical expenses, including COVID-19-related expenses
- Emergency Medical Evacuation benefit
- Supplemental travel benefits including Trip Interruption, Travel Delay, and Lost Checked Luggage
WorldTrips’ Atlas Travel Series and StudentSecure international travel medical insurance products are underwritten by Lloyd's. WorldTrips has authority to enter into contracts of insurance on behalf of the Lloyd's underwriting members of Lloyd's Syndicate 4141, which is managed by HCC Underwriting Agency, Ltd.
WorldTrips' Atlas Journey, Atlas Cruiser, and Atlas On-The-Go trip protection insurance products are underwritten by Tokio Marine HCC's U.S. Specialty Insurance Company (USSIC). USSIC is a Texas-domiciled insurance company operating on an admitted basis throughout the United States. Coverage is available to U.S. residents of the U.S. states and District of Columbia only. This plan provides insurance coverage that only applies during the covered trip. You may have coverage from other sources that provides you with similar benefits but may be subject to different restrictions depending upon your other coverages. You may wish to compare the terms of this policy with your existing life, health, home, and automobile insurance policies. Coverage may not be available in all states.
In the State of California, operating as WorldTrips Insurance Services. California Non-Resident Producer License Number: 0G39705