For me, the single most challenging piece of traveling for an extended time was figuring out medical insurance before I left. (Because I quit my job to travel, I no longer had medical insurance.) Because a medical issue can cost an enormous amount of money (the number one reason people declare bankruptcy is because of medical bills) it’s critical that you have some sort of medical coverage while traveling. The trick is determining if you need just a basic travel insurance policy or a policy that is specifically medical.
This post guides you through how to choose and compare travel medical insurance.
photo credit: ssoosay
Determine Your Resident Country’s Medical Insurance
Depending on where you live, it’s possible that your country’s medical care system will cover you while you’re traveling abroad.
If you a US citizen – the US government doesn’t provide any sort of coverage for you. And, if you already have health insurance, there’s a strong possibility that your medical insurance won’t even cover you while you’re traveling internationally. Check your policy.
Determine Coverage for While You Are Home and Not Traveling
Again, I can only speak to this piece from a United State’s perspective. If you’re quitting your job to travel you have the following options for health insurance:
COBRA – COBRA is an option if you want to stay on your current health plan. However, it’s extremely expensive. Check with your employer to find out more about COBRA coverage.
E Health Insurance – E Health Insurance offers Short Term Health Insurance Policies — However, note that pre-existing conditions are not covered for most short term plans. (Though this may be changing with the new health care bill.) If you’re a regular healthy person this probably won’t be a problem. But if you have a chronic illness or injury, this may not be for you.
It’s important to have some sort of medical insurance for right before you leave to travel and for when you get home. Note that these plans probably don’t provide coverage for you while you’re abroad. But they are important for providing coverage once you are home.
Determine Your “Host” Country’s Medical Insurance
If you’re going to travel to a single country, such as New Zealand or France, it’s possible that if you get into an accident while there you’ll be covered by that country’s health care system. You should look into health care in the country you’ll be visiting and if/how you would be covered.
If you’re going to multiple countries you should definitely buy travel medical insurance or at least travel insurance that covers emergency medical issues.
Buy Travel Medical Insurance
Most likely, after researching the above you are going to want to buy an international travel medical insurance policy.
What to Look for in a Travel Medical Insurance Policy
Pre-existing condition coverage — Many international medical insurance policies do not cover prexisting conditions. However, some policies will cover “acute onset” or “unexpected recurrence” of a pre-existing condition. This essentially means that if suddenly your knee goes out due to a football injury when you were in high school, you’re ok. But if you’ve need continuous treatment for the condition then you’re not covered. What’s the limit for pre-existing coverage conditions. For plans that offer preexisting condition coverage I’ve seen ranges from $1000 – $100,000 in maximum coverage.
Emergency Medical Treatment Does the plan offer emergency medical treatment coverage? What are the limitations and exceptions? (see high risks sports section below and preexisting condition coverage above)? What is the limit to the most amount of money they will pay for emergency medical treatment?
Emergency Medical Evacuation and Medical Repatriation: Squaremouth defines as: “Emergency Evacuation arranges to medically transport a patient to an appropriate medical facility. Medical Repatriation arranges for a patient to return home to receive care. Repatriation of Remains arranges for return of deceased remains back to the place of residence.” What are the maximum limits per person and per policy? This may also include death/funeral/return of remains coverage.
Death/Funeral Expenses: Is there coverage for return of remains in case of death? What about funeral expenses? Yes, this is terrible to think about, but you don’t want your family to have to pay these expenses if you were to die while traveling.
Accidents for “High Risk” Sports — Skiing and snowboarding are considered high risk and not covered by many policies. Evening if you get injured during something as low key as canoeing you might not be covered. The World Nomad’s policies are known for covering most activities and adventures.
Where to Buy
Squaremouth: Squaremouth is essentially a search engine for travel insurance and travel medical insurance. It has an amazing (the best I’ve seen) comparision chart for international medical insurance. If you need coverage for a preexisting condition Squaremouth shows you good policies. excellent. These policies may be more specific to medical insurance and may not offer basic travel insurance coverage for issues like trip cancellation or theft.
World Nomads: World Nomads Travel Insurance is used by many backpackers and twenty-somethings. It has especially good coverage of high risk sports, easy to understand policies, and an easy to file claims system. World Nomad’s policies tend to be general travel insurance policies.
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