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The Importance of Travel Medical Insurance : the Best guide 2024

Travel Medical Insurance : No one wants to get sick while on vacation, and an illness or injury can be one of the most devastating events.

Travel medical insurance is designed to help in these cases. It’s especially important if you’re traveling outside the country, where your U.S. health plan may have limited or no coverage. And Medicare doesn’t cover health care outside the U.S., except in very narrow cases.

What Is Travel Medical Insurance?

Travel medical insurance pays for emergency medical expenses during a trip. If you are traveling and have an unexpected illness, injury or medical condition that’s covered by your travel medical insurance, the plan will reimburse you, up to the plan limits.

Travel medical insurance pays “reasonable and customary” charges for bills such as:

  • Ambulance service
  • Doctor bills
  • Hospital and operating room charges
  • X-rays, examinations, treatments, lab tests and anesthetics
  • Drugs and medicines
  • Dental care, but check for special limits on the dental payout, such as $500

Generally, there are two forms of travel medical insurance :

  • Stand-alone medical insurance plans: These plans cover emergency medical and dental expenses you incur while traveling. However, a stand-alone medical plan doesn’t include other travel insurance coverage such as trip cancellation insurance or baggage coverage.
  • As part of a comprehensive travel insurance plan: In addition to emergency medical benefits, a comprehensive travel insurance plan can package coverage for trip cancellation, trip delay, emergency medical evacuation, baggage loss and more. It’s the best way to cover a host of potential problems.

Travel medical insurance is for medical emergencies while traveling, like a sprained ankle while sightseeing. It does not cover non-emergency or elective procedures.

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“It’s not intended for experimental medical treatment in a foreign country,” explains Carol Mueller, vice president at Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection. “It’s designed for travelers who face medical or dental emergencies and require care and treatment while traveling.”

Does Travel Medical Insurance Cover Covid?

There are many travel medical plans available that include Covid-related medical expenses. But since not all do, it’s important to verify Covid coverage before buying a plan if it’s a priority for you.

Covid medical coverage will fall under the limits of the plan’s travel medical insurance. It can cover any medical costs associated with contracting Covid during your trip, including doctor bills, medication and hospitalization.

Additional travel insurance benefits, such as travel delay insurance, can cover the extra costs of Covid quarantines. For example, if you contract Covid during a trip and have to extend your stay because of a quarantine, your travel insurance plan can reimburse you for the extra costs — assuming the plan includes Covid coverage.

See Forbes Advisor’s ratings of the best pandemic travel insurance plans for more information.

What Are the Different Types of Travel Medical Insurance Policies?

When you’re buying travel medical insurance, it’s important to know the difference between these coverage types.

Primary vs. Secondary Medical Coverage

Travel medical insurance can be primary or secondary coverage, depending on the plan. If it’s primary, it will pay out before any other health insurance you have. If you have health insurance and buy travel medical insurance as secondary coverage, your own health plan must pay first.

If you’re traveling overseas and your U.S. health plan doesn’t provide coverage, a travel medical plan that’s “secondary” will essentially become primary coverage due to lack of other insurance.

Single-trip vs. Multi-trip

How often you travel in a calendar year could be the deciding factor between these two coverage types. Here’s the difference between the two.

  • Single-trip coverage: Single trip coverage begins when you leave your home and travel to your destination (or destinations) and ends when you return home. The plan covers you for the duration of your trip. For example, you could purchase a single-trip plan for a four week European vacation where you visit several different countries.
  • Multi-trip coverage: Also known as annual travel insurance, this covers you for a calendar year and is good for travelers who take three or more trips per year. For example, you could take a trip to Italy, come home for several weeks, then travel to Germany, come home, then take off to Mexico.

Getting to a Better Location

You also want to consider emergency medical evacuation insurance. This pays for you to get to the nearest adequate medical facility, or even back home, depending on your condition. For example, if you’re vacationing in a remote part of the world, this would be essential coverage to have. Medical evacuation back to the U.S. can cost more than $50,000, according to the U.S. Department of State.

Be aware of your travel insurance policy’s rules for evacuation. For example, some policies might pay to transport you back to the U.S. only after you’ve been hospitalized for seven days following a medical emergency.

What’s Not Covered by Travel Medical Insurance?

What’s covered and excluded by a travel medical insurance plan will depend on the travel insurance company. Here are some common exclusions.

Pre-existing conditions

How pre-existing conditions are covered will vary by travel insurance company, and one insurer might define a “pre-existing condition” differently than the next. Some insurance companies will take a look at your past medical history to determine if a condition was present during a period that could range from 90 days to one year ago, depending on the policy.

Travel insurance plans will generally cover pre-existing conditions as long as you buy your plan within a couple of weeks after you make your first trip deposit. Buying your plan right away lets you lock in a pre-existing condition exclusion waiver. For example, Allianz Travel requires you to meet the following requirements before it will cover expenses due to a pre-existing medical condition:

  • Your policy was purchased within the timeframe specified by your plan (for example, within 14 days of the initial trip payment).
  • You were a U.S. resident when you purchased the policy.
  • You were medically able to travel when you purchased the policy.
  • On the policy purchase date, you insured the full nonrefundable cost of your trip with Allianz Global Assistance. Any subsequent nonrefundable costs must be insured within 14 days of their purchase. If you fail to do so, those expenses will be excluded under the pre-existing medical condition exclusion.

Intoxication and drug use

Travel medical insurance typically won’t cover emergency medical costs due to intoxication or drug use. For example, if you become intoxicated and fall off a balcony, your travel medical insurance won’t cover the cost of your injuries.

Dangerous activities

Some travel medical insurance policies won’t cover expenses that resulted from activities such as mountain climbing, skydiving or parasailing. If you plan to engage in activities like this, work with a travel insurance agent to compare adventure travel insurance plans to make sure your particular activities will be covered.

Other exclusions

Other typical exclusions to travel medical insurance include:

  • Routine medical examinations, such as vaccinations or immunizations
  • Obesity or weight modification, such as intestinal bypass surgery
  • Organ or tissue transplants
  • Corrective devices and medical appliances, such as eyeglasses or contact lenses

Who Needs Travel Medical Insurance?

Even travelers in good health should have some form of travel medical insurance if they’re going outside the U.S. According to Allianz Travel, the most common overseas medical emergencies their policyholders experience include:

  • Fractures from falls
  • Trauma involving motor vehicles
  • Respiratory problems such as a collapsed lung
  • Cardiovascular problems such as a heart attack

If you don’t have the right coverage in place and you get injured or sick on your trip, you’ll be stuck paying medical bills out-of-pocket.

Senior travelers, especially, should make sure to have good medical benefits when traveling abroad, since Medicare won’t provide benefits outside the U.S.

“If you’re traveling outside the United States you absolutely need some form of travel medical insurance. You also need to look at where you are traveling outside the country because medical care varies greatly around the world,” says Mueller at Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection.

How Do I Purchase Travel Medical Insurance?

Before you buy a travel insurance policy, it’s a good idea to compare quotes from multiple insurers. Most travel insurance companies offer free quotes on their website. You can save time by visiting an insurance comparison website that compares quotes from multiple companies.

But price shouldn’t be the only deciding factor. It’s a good idea to find a plan that also covers Covid-related problems. The best travel insurance companies offer a solid range of coverage options at a fair price.

How Much Does Travel Medical Insurance Cost?

The average price for a stand-alone travel medical insurance policy is $92.75 per trip, according to Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison provider.

However, some travelers may be able to secure a basic travel medical insurance plan for as little as $2 or less per person per day of coverage.

Travel medical insurance cost examples

COMPANYCOST PER TRIP WITH MEDICAL COVERAGE LIMIT OF $100,000 AND A $100 DEDUCTIBLEWorldTrips Atlas International$10.22GeoBlue Voyager Choice$13.86IMG Patriot International Lite$9.39UnitedHealthcare Safe Trip 1$14.11Source: Forbes Adviser research. Based on a 35-year-old traveling to Mexico for a week.

Keep in mind that travel medical insurance can also be part of or added to a comprehensive travel plan that includes other types of coverage, like trip cancellation insurance and trip interruption insurance. The average cost of a comprehensive travel insurance plan will vary based on the cost of your trip, duration of trip, plan benefits selected and your age.

Factors in the cost of travel medical insurance

How much you pay for travel medical insurance depends on four primary factors:

  • Age
  • Trip duration
  • Destination
  • Coverage limit and deductible

How Much Travel Medical Insurance Should You Have?

It’s a good idea to select a plan with enough coverage based upon the type of trip you’re taking. For example, emergency medical evacuation from a cruise ship can cost between $50,000 and $100,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The most generous travel insurance plans provide $500,000 per person for emergency medical expenses and $1 million for emergency medical evacuation.

Other good plans have ample medical coverage of $250,000 or $100,000 per person. And some have less, which you might find sufficient. See Forbes Advisor’s ratings of the best travel insurance.

Examples of Travel Insurance Plans With Good Medical Coverage

The table below breaks down the average cost of the plans with the highest medical expense maximum from each listed travel insurance provider.

ProviderBest Medical Insurance PlanAverage CostMedical Expense Coverage
TravelexTravel Select$248$50,000
FayeTravel Insurance Plan$298$250,000
IMGiTravelInsured Travel LX Basic$356$500,000
Seven CornersTrip Protection Choice$263$500,000
AIG TravelDeluxe$319$150,000
Trawick InternationalSafe Travels Explorer$212$150,000
HTH WorldwideTripProtector Preferred$284$500,000
TravelSafe InsuranceClassic$270$100,000
Allianz Global AssistanceOneTrip Premier$349$75,000

Travel Medical Insurance FAQ

Do I need travel insurance if I already have health insurance?

If you are traveling outside of the U.S., consider buying travel medical insurance even if you have a U.S.-based health plan. Many health plans won’t cover you outside the U.S. or provide only limited global coverage. If you get sick or injured, you could be stuck paying for your medical expenses out-of-pocket.

Senior travelers should definitely get travel medical insurance because Medicare isn’t accepted outside the U.S., except in very limited cases.

How do I use travel medical insurance abroad?

If you have a medical emergency while traveling abroad, contact your travel insurance company for assistance. Travel insurance companies offer 24/7 global assistance hotlines to help travelers in emergencies, including coordinating medical treatment, language translation and arranging for medevacs.

How far in advance should I purchase travel medical insurance?

It’s best to buy travel insurance within the first 14 days of your first trip deposit so that you can get a pre-existing medical condition exclusion waiver. This waiver means that pre-existing conditions won’t be excluded from your travel medical coverage.

Even if you miss the window from your first trip deposit, you can still buy travel insurance at the last minute.

Should I buy a comprehensive travel insurance policy or a stand-alone travel health plan?

If you want coverage for problems such as trip cancellation, trip delay, trip interruption and lost baggage, then look at comprehensive travel insurance plans.

If you only need travel medical coverage, it doesn’t make sense to spend money on coverage you won’t use and you can focus on medical-only plans.

Is travel health insurance ever required?

Travel health insurance requirements aren’t common, but some countries do require travelers to provide proof of medical coverage before being granted entry.

Always check a country’s entry requirements before leaving the country. If your trip includes an organized tour, it’s also a good idea to check with the tour operator to determine if they have any specific insurance requirements.

Keep in mind that travel conditions and requirements are fluid. For instance, you may find that a country experiencing a high-level of Covid transmission may require travelers to carry insurance that covers Covid testing, quarantine and hospitalization costs.

How to Find the Cheapest Travel Insurance

Be a Savvy Travel Insurance Comparison Shopper

As with most insurance, comparing policies from multiple companies can potentially save you hundreds of dollars. Travel insurance policies often include most of the same benefits, but the price and coverage amounts can vary considerably by policy.

A good place to start is to check out Forbes Advisor’s rankings of the best travel insurance companies.

A travel insurance agent can also be helpful. That person can help identify the coverage you want and then price-shop the options.

The average cost of travel insurance is between 5% to 6% of your trip cost, according to Forbes Advisor’s analysis.

Understand Exactly What Can be Insured Under Travel Insurance

You can avoid overspending on a travel insurance policy by understanding exactly what costs can be insured. For example, trip cancellation insurance will only reimburse you for prepaid and non-refundable trip expenses. Don’t buy coverage for parts of the trip that aren’t prepaid and non-refundable, such as fully refundable plane tickets. You can’t make a travel insurance claim for costs you can get refunded.

Avoid Unnecessary Travel Insurance Coverage

Be cautious about buying coverage or upgrades that you likely don’t need.

For example, many travelers buy a “cancel for any reason” upgrade in addition to standard trip cancellation insurance. It adds an average of 50% to the cost of your travel insurance plan. The upgrade gives you partial reimbursement for trip costs if you cancel for a reason not listed in the base policy — for example, canceling because you’ve had a falling out with your traveling companion.

However, if your primary concern is covered by trip cancellation — such as canceling due to an illness — you can be covered without spending the additional money to add a “cancel for any reason” upgrade.

Another example: you don’t need baggage insurance of $2,500 if you’re packing $200 worth of T-shirts, shorts and a swimsuit.

You also may not need travel medical insurance if you’re not leaving the country during your trip. This may be especially true if you’ll primarily be shopping, dining out and sightseeing and not participating in a lot of outdoor activities like hiking and biking. Your U.S. health plan will usually cover you if you become ill or injured during a domestic vacation.

And if you’re booking a trip last-minute, trip cancellation may be less important.

That’s why it’s a good idea to think about why you want travel insurance. Don’t go with the policy with the most bells and whistles that you won’t need. Instead, explore which coverage would benefit you the most.

Consider Buying an Annual Travel Insurance Policy

If you’re taking one or two trips a year, buying travel insurance for each one makes sense. But if you’re planning multiple trips, buying a policy for each one gets inconvenient and expensive.

Annual travel insurance policies are primarily designed to provide travel medical insurance for multiple trips, and at a better overall price.

These types of annual policies can make it easier to buy just one policy instead of multiple ones and could be a travel insurance solution for people who plan to take multiple domestic flights. However, annual travel policies may not make sense if you’re taking road trips.

Basic annual policies also offer limited trip cancellation insurance and trip interruption coverage.

Check Your Credit Card’s Travel Insurance Benefits

The best credit cards for travel insurance have perks and insurance benefits built in. The key here is that you must charge the entire trip on that credit card.

If your trip expenses exceed the credit card’s coverage limit, you can buy travel insurance for the remaining amount. This will make the policy less expensive than insuring the entire trip cost.

Value of Travel Insurance Should Be More Important Than Cost

Cost should not be the only factor when you’re buying travel insurance. A cheap travel insurance policy that lacks good benefits won’t pay off in the end.

“Shop for value,” says Christina Tunnah, a spokesperson for World Nomads, a travel insurance company. “Some plans are priced low for a reason — they could come with high deductibles and low benefit limits.”

For example, Tunnah says you could buy cheap travel insurance and find there’s only $5,000 for medical expenses when you have an $8,000 hospital bill from your trip. Comparison shop but don’t skimp on coverage that is important to you, such as trip cancellation or travel medical insurance.

For some people, medical coverage matters the most, and baggage insurance is less important, especially if you’re not planning to pack anything valuable, Tunnah says. Medical coverage is especially important if you’re traveling overseas because U.S. health plans may provide limited or no coverage outside the U.S., and Medicare is not accepted outside the U.S.

Travel medical insurance limits vary by travel insurance policy. For instance, GoReady offers $50,000 in travel medical coverage per person, while HTH Worldwide, Seven Corners and USI Affinity plans provide $500,000 in medical coverage, depending on the policy.

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