Travel insurance is much more than just medical protection. It covers you when your camera breaks, your flight is canceled, a family member dies and you have to come home, lose a bag, or something is stolen. It’s all-purpose emergency coverage and is the single most important thing you should get but hope to never have to use.
Travel insurance is one of the most complex and confusing aspects of trip planning. With the myriad of plans and companies out there, people can easily get confused about what they should get and why.
There are a lot of options out there. This is a billion-dollar business, and everyone wants their hand in the cookie jar, thus you face a mind-numbing number of choices that can be confusing and overwhelming. And, often, in the fine print, you’ll find that plans aren’t as good as you thought.
When looking for a plan, first make sure they have a high coverage limit on your medical expenses. A good company will provide up to $100,000 in coverage care, though more expensive policies will cover you for higher amounts. The maximum coverage limit you can find is around $1,000,000 USD, though I’m not sure why you would ever need a limit that large. High coverage limits are important because if you get sick, injured, or need serious attention and have to seek professional care, you want to make sure your high hospital bills are covered. The worst thing you can do is go cheap and get a policy with a $20,000 coverage limit, break a leg, and reach that limit before they are done taking care of you. Don’t be cheap with your health. Get minimum coverage of $100,000.
Second, you want to make sure your policy also covers emergency evacuation and care that is separate from your medical coverage. If you are hiking in the woods and you break your leg, your policy should cover your evacuation to the hospital. If a natural disaster occurs and you need to be evacuated to somewhere else, your plan should cover that as well. This protection should cover an expense of up to $300,000 USD.
Additionally, evacuation also should mean from the hospital to your home country. Standard emergency evacuation usually includes this provision, but it’s important you double-check a company will cover the cost of your flight back home if you need.
A great policy will always include the following provisions:
Don’t get a policy that doesn’t cover these bullet points!
A quick note on electronics: most companies only have a small limit, usually up to $500 USD, as part of their basic coverage. You can often buy supplemental insurance to get a higher amount of coverage. For instance, Clements Insurance offers special coverage for your electronics. Prices vary depending on the country you visit ($145-195 per plan) but they don’t have worldwide coverage; you have to get coverage for your specific country. Moreover, many regular and home insurance companies such as State Farm offer plans that can help you cover your electronics.
Know what is also not covered by your plan. Most policies do not cover accidents sustained while participating in extreme adventure activities such as hang gliding, paragliding, or bungee jumping unless you pay extra. The majority of companies won’t cover you if you injure someone on the road (called third-party liability). Policies do not normally cover alcohol- or drug-related incidents, or carelessness in handling your possessions and baggage. You won’t get reimbursed if the problem happened because you were reckless, and how “reckless” is defined is a matter up to each company. Simply put, if a reasonable person wouldn’t partake in what caused your accident, you won’t be covered.
Moreover, you won’t be covered for pre-existing conditions or general check-ups. For example, if you have diabetes and need to buy more insulin, you won’t be covered. If you want to go see a doctor for a general check-up, you aren’t covered either.
The medical portion of travel insurance is more about emergency care than being a replacement for your normal health-care. A lot of people purchase insurance thinking it is, then get disappointed when they find out they can’t go get an annual physical with it. Travel insurance is accident insurance. It is there to protect you in case of emergency and, if need be, get you home in a hurry. If you want a global health plan (because, say you now live in Beijing), you need a completely different type of plan.
No matter what company you choose, remember that all plans are different and you want one that suits the type of trip you are taking (for example, I don’t get plans that cover high-risk activities like skydiving because I don’t do those type of activities). There’s a 99.99% chance you will never need to use the policy you bought, but accidents happen and life on the road is uncertain. It’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when you are in a different country, thousands of miles from home.
Travel insurance is a Plan B. Don’t be penny wise but pound foolish. Get the insurance! Find a company that works for you and be covered. Life is full of accidents.