What Should You Know About Travel Medical Insurance?

Staff WriterLast Updated Jun 24, 2020 6:50:45 PM ET
34897142901 8d02fa118a H Photo Courtesy: ER24 EMS (Pty) Ltd./Flickr

Traveling is about seeing new sights, absorbing new cultures and exploring unfamiliar environments — or relaxing in beloved ones. Even with the best preparations, however, the unexpected need for urgent medical care can interrupt a vacation. If you’re planning to travel outside the country, it may be a wise idea to purchase travel medical insurance for extra protection and peace of mind. Learn the basics about this type of insurance before you start shopping for a policy.

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What Is Travel Medical Insurance?

Domestic health insurance policies cover all or part of the costs for medical care that you receive while you’re living at home. If you have a medical emergency, a health insurance policy can relieve some of the financial burden that comes along with the high costs of treatment. When you purchase a health insurance policy (or your employer or the U.S. government provides one to you), the policy will likely have limitations about the type of care you’re eligible to get and where you can receive it. If you’re traveling out of the United States, for example, your domestic policy may not cover emergency medical care you need while you’re in a foreign country. Enduring a medical emergency without insurance coverage while you’re abroad can leave you with expensive bills you could have trouble paying.

That’s where travel medical insurance comes in. This is a type of health insurance policy that provides international coverage and is designed to pay for emergency healthcare costs you incur while you’re traveling outside the U.S. It can bridge the gap in what your domestic policy doesn’t cover while you’re abroad. If your domestic policy doesn’t provide any coverage while you’re outside the country, a travel policy can cover a wide range of medical services you may need in an emergency.

What Benefits Does Travel Medical Insurance Typically Include?

Although every policy differs in its coverage-related specifics and details, there are some common benefits that travel medical insurance policies typically cover.

The first is medical evacuation coverage. This is an appealing option if you’ll be traveling somewhere remote because, if you injure yourself or find yourself in an emergency medical situation, it covers the costs of transporting you to a better-equipped hospital from one that may not have equipment that’s as advanced as you need. In some cases it may pay for transportation back to your home country. This component of the policy typically covers evacuation by ambulance or airlift. It can be especially helpful for people going on cruises or to remote areas and for seniors.

Repatriation of remains coverage is also typically provided in travel medical insurance. This covers the costs to return your body home if you die while abroad, which may include coordinating with your home country’s government to approve transport, coordinating with local authorities for any necessary post-mortem exams, ground and air transportation costs, and a suitable container for your remains, notes International Insurance. Although it’s not pleasant to think about, this coverage can be valuable should the unexpected happen.

A crisis response benefit may be a bit less common, but it’s still available in many policies. This type of coverage pays the costs of care you may incur for unforeseen circumstances like kidnappings, terrorist attacks, natural disasters or political upheaval. If you’re kidnapped, this coverage may pay for things like ransom or the costs for hostage negotiators who may be called in to mediate a situation. 

Sometimes, travel medical insurance can cover certain costs for a family member, depending on the situation and the policy. A bedside visit benefit can pay for a family member to travel to you if you need to be hospitalized while abroad or need to be medically evacuated. If you end up staying in a foreign hospital for some time, this type of coverage may also pay for family members who traveled with you to return home.

What Benefits Are Typically Excluded From Travel Medical Insurance?

Much of what your domestic health insurance policy covers isn’t typically covered under a travel medical insurance policy. This includes services like basic primary care exams, care for pre-existing conditions and care for mental health conditions. Your travel plan likely also won’t cover the costs of prescription medications. If you give birth or need routine pregnancy or prenatal care, it also may not be covered under this type of policy. Before you purchase a policy, make sure you’re familiar with the types of coverage it provides. Read through the policy and note any questions you have. Then, ask insurance company representatives for clarification before you make a purchase.

When you hear the phrase “travel medical insurance,” you might also think of travel insurance. It’s important to note that these are two different types of policies. Travel medical insurance is meant to cover costs of unexpected medical emergencies and illnesses while you’re traveling. Travel insurance, on the other hand, involves policies that cover things like lost luggage or trip cancellations, with the goal of protecting your financial investment in your vacation. There can be some overlap in what these policies cover — meaning a travel medical policy from one company may also cover the cost of your lost baggage — but there often isn’t. Remember not to assume that a policy will provide both types of coverage; always check before making a purchase.

Your Existing Health Coverage

Before you purchase a travel policy, contact your health insurance company to discuss your existing policy. It may offer some types of coverage, such as those for emergency services, while you’re abroad. Or, your coverage may not extend at all once you leave the country. Familiarizing yourself with your current, U.S.-based policy can help you determine whether it’s worth it for you to purchase a separate travel medical policy. Even if you do have domestic health insurance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you purchase a medical insurance policy that covers you abroad before you travel, particularly if you have any pre-existing medical conditions.

Resource Links:

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2020/health-care-abroad/travel-insurance-travel-health-insurance-and-medical-evacuation-insurance

https://www.worldtrips.com/insurance-101/what-is-travel-medical-insurance

https://www.visitorscoverage.com/travel-insurance/medical-evacuation-insurance/

https://www.internationalinsurance.com/articles/repatriation-of-remains.php