Medical expenses coverage
Usually, whatever standard health insurance you have will pay only claims for medical care in your country of residence. Also, even if your medical care is usually paid for by your government, this usually won’t extend to medical costs incurred in other countries. Some countries with universal healthcare (such as Canada, UK, Australia)might have reciprocal agreements with other countries with similar health care systems. However, even if a country extends its subsidized medical care to tourists, what’s provided may not be up to your standards or needs?
Unless you are covered by a reciprocal arrangement or your regular health insurance covers international medical expenses, you may have to pay all medical expenses incurred while traveling out of pocket or through help from your insurer; in many cases, quality medical care can be very expensive. Therefore, all international travelers should be certain that they have medical coverage via a travel insurance policy that covers medical expenses they unexpectedly incur on their trip. Unless you’ll not be far from home, you should also opt for medical evacuation coverage discussed below.
When considering a travel insurance policy's medical coverage:
- Check the precise details of medical care that you will be able to claim. If your destination has a tiered health system with, for example, public and private hospitals, are you able to use a private hospital?
- Does your insurer offer 24 hour contact with emergency advice? These hotlines allow an insurer to assess a situation and give some advice about medical care as quickly as possible. Your insurer may have local knowledge that you do not have.
- If you take part in any adventure sports or activities like alpine skiing or scuba diving, check your policy for medical coverage related to accidents that happen while you’re doing that activity and whether or not you need any formal training to be insured. If you can’t find a general travel insurance policy to cover your activity of choice, you may be able to take out a separate policy from an insurer specializing in that activity.
- Is there coverage for illnesses that become apparent after your return? International travel insurance policies usually exclude medical costs incurred in your country of residence even if the costs stem from an injury or illness that happened while you were travelling. Medical costs in your home country are assumed to be covered by your normal healthcare arrangements.
- Does the policy have adequate coverage for dental expenses? Some policies provide substantial amounts for general medical expenses, but only very small amounts (for example, only $500) for dental expenses.
- Coverage for medical care does not automatically include medical evacuation.
Some policies may cover you generally, but with pre-existing conditions excluded. This is obviously undesirable if your existing condition causes you significant problems or leaves you at risk. Some policies will cover pre-existing conditions if you buy coverage within a short time after booking your travel, perhaps 24–48 hours, others for up to two weeks. For many people, it’s worth some research to find such policies. Failing that, if even possible to have your pre-existing condition covered, you may need to undergo a medical assessment and pay an extra premium for medical insurance or an extra-cost option in the travel policy.
Pregnancy is considered a pre-existing condition. See tips for women travelers for more information.
Refusal of medical coverage
When medical cover is refused, typically the other provisions of the policy still apply (e.g., claiming the replacement cost of stolen items).
Medical evacuation coverage
It typically involves traveling with medical personnel looking after you throughout return home, along with any needed equipment, medications, etc. Although some people have worldwide medical coverage as part of their everyday health insurance, it almost never comes with international medical evacuation. Even if you are willing to forgo all other types of international travel-related insurance, no one should ignore medical evacuation coverage.
There are multiple reasons a traveler would need medical evacuation. In simple cases, after local treatment, you may just require medical monitoring, perhaps on a commercial flight…possibly in first class (to provide necessary room) for you and the nurse or other. In moderate cases (after hospitalization), you may be just well enough to travel with medical assistance while lying down, but not well enough to use a commercial airliner…especially if you have or had a communicable disease. Some less-developed countries or the hinterlands of most countries may have no capabilities to treat serious injuries or illnesses. You might there need to be immediately evacuated to a distant location for treatment, to later be evacuated to/near home.
Some supplemental insurance such as AFLAC in the USA covers medical evacuation but only for about US$3,000. This is woefully inadequate for international travel. Domestic “medi-evac” is only intended to partly cover airlift to the nearest hospital (such as a helicopter serving an auto accident), not evacuation to your home country while abroad. Make sure your policy covers at least US$300,000 or equivalent, and seriously consider opting for US$1,000,000 coverage.
Lump sum payments
There are always a raft of conditions about acceptable and unacceptable cancellations. Some examples of troublesome situations:
- You can purchase insurance covering a trip home because of the death of a family member, but a trip home due to the death of a friend almost certainly won’t be covered and even a de facto partner’s death might not be;
- Family medical emergencies other than a death often aren’t covered; for example the insurance might not cover a trip home to be with a family member who has been hospitalized or diagnosed with cancer –even if it’s your own child;
- Many policies cover cancellations or delays due to terrorist activities, but the August 2006 terrorist threat in London demonstrated that few cover cancellations or delays due to the mere threat of terrorist activity;
- If your transportation carrier shuts down, you may not get paid unless they declare bankruptcy;
- Most policies will not cover a strike if you book travel after union members vote to approve a strike (which could be weeks or months ahead of the actual strike). Also, be aware of de facto strikes such as a “sickout”–usually by just one segment of the airline (such as pilots). A few policies may not cover this or cover it only as a delay.
- Some policies cover cancellations if a destination has recently become unsafe due to either a declaration of war or a recommendation by your government to cancel travel to a particular area; others do not cover this.
Take care with cancellation waivers offered by tour packagers or operators and travel packagers/consolidators who’ve arranged your travel. If you or they must cancel, such waivers typically cover only what you’ve paid them, and no other related commitments you’ve made.
Resuming your journey
Loss, damage and theft
You may need to provide a list of items over a certain value and pay an extra premium to insure them.
In the cases of expensive and easily disposed of items like cameras and laptops, policies may cover only violent theft or forced entry, e.g., if if you leave your belongings in a room and they are stolen, coverage may be invalid if there was no forced entry. When considering claiming for damage, check the terms carefully: many expensive and fragile items are only covered if damaged while being carried by you. It is very common to exclude any damage done to your belongings if they travel as checked luggage: you must keep them on your person to be covered. Theft from unattended cars and other vehicles will have limited coverage, as will theft of, and particularly simple loss of, cash, money orders, traveler’s checks and credit cards.
Policies covering loss or theft of belongings are typically among more expensive policies, often aimed at business travelers.
Many policies require that you purchase them in your country of residence and that you start and finish your trip there that is, you can’t buy insurance halfway through your trip and it mustn’t lapse before your planned return although there are sometimes exceptions.
Many policies require that you purchase them in your country of residence and that you start and finish your trip there-—that is, you can’t buy insurance halfway through your trip and it mustn’t lapse before your planned return-—although there are sometimes exceptions.