Do I Need Travel Medical Insurance?

May 19, 2019

Travelers, especially those going overseas for the first time, tend to over-insure themselves. And while it’s always best to protect against unforeseen risks, many travelers agree to insurance plans that they don’t really understand and end up paying for coverage that they don’t need.  

It isn’t particularly helpful that travel insurance companies create advertisements that appeal to every single insecurity we have about traveling, without pointing out that some of their packages are completely redundant. The trick is to outsmart the people who are trying to lure you into unnecessary purchase. 

So without further ado, let’s get you smart on the two main types of travel policies—travel insurance and travel medical insurance. 


Key Differences

In a nutshell, travel insurance is designed for relatively short trips, with reimbursements for a wide range of financial claims.  Travel medical insurance packages, on the other hand, are better suited for long-term stays, with claims generally focused on health issues.

Travel Insurance

If you’re taking a domestic trip, travel insurance is often a great backup, especially if your destination is outside your primary health insurance’s network/zip code. Note, though, that most travel insurance policies are intended for foreign travel – since your regular plan will probably stop at the border.  Make sure to read the fine details carefully before ordering a package to make sure it has all of the features that you need based on your destination.  


What does it Cover and What Should you Look out for?

Packages vary, but there are certain basics to look for if you want adequate reimbursement for losses you could incur. A standard policy should include:

  • Emergency Medical Expenses – The emphasis is on emergency here.  Most policies cover costs during emergency situations, giving you just enough to stabilize and return home. Once you return, you’ll have to rely on your regular plan to continue your treatment. Rarely will any travel insurance policy cover your health if you have a pre-existing condition or if you opt for a routine medical checkup while abroad. Also, note that emergencies usually include dental care and surgery, but only to the extent that you’re relieved of immediate pain.
  • Curtailment/Cancellation – If you have to shorten or cancel or your trip for any reason beyond your control, your insurance should reimburse you for the associated costs. 
  • Missed Flight – If you don’t make it to your plane on time due to a car accident, overwhelming traffic (even after leaving for the airport on time), bad weather, etc., your insurance should cover you. Just be prepared to support your claim that your delay was not your fault. 
  • Baggage – In case of missing, damaged or stolen baggage, your travel insurance will either give you a fixed sum of money or require that you provide a list of the items you lost for reimbursement.


What Should You Expect in Premium Travel Insurance Policies?

  • Document Protection – Premium policies will cover extra (accommodation and travel) expenses resulting from the need to replace missing travel documents like passports or licenses.
  • Personal Liability – If you’re responsible for causing an accident that either injures another person or causes property damage (or both), your premium policy should provide full coverage.
  • Expensive Property – If you’re traveling with costly or rare items – paintings, musical instruments, etc. – you’ll need special insurance for them, as a standard travel policy won’t cover them.
  • Petty theft – You’ll be covered if your cash gets stolen or lost.

Note that most policies have exclusions that absolve the insurer of liability in certain scenarios.  This could include drunkenness on the part of the insured, lack of receipts (for items you want reimbursed), lack of a police report for missing items, travel to high risk areas, involvement in high risk activities (sports like skiing have special policies), acts of God (think volcano eruption), etc. Some policies are intended for a limited number of days, so if your trip exceeds the policy’s time frame, you’ll be without coverage. 


What is Travel Medical Insurance?

In the ideal sense, travel medical insurance policies are designed for expatriates, i.e., people who’ll be working overseas for prolonged periods of time or those who frequently travel abroad.

In these situations, travel medical insurance is ideal because it’s extremely inclusive and can be used to treat a large number of health issues – even until the individual is fully recovered.

Some of the benefits of this insurance include:

  • Hospital stay, both in an average room and when there’s a need for recovery in an intensive care unit.
  • Broad coverage of services to include most types of care, including vaccinations.
  • International support, allowing you to choose where you’ll be treated, no matter what country you’re in.  This is especially helpful in countries with a low standard for medical care.   
  • Emergency medical evacuation, which extends to natural disasters. Check the number of international networks/partnerships your insurance company has with foreign hospitals if you want this option.
  • Repatriation of remains in the event of death.
  • Medical emergencies for ambulance services, injury coverage, etc.

Note that since travel medical insurance covers a longer period of time, most policies allow you to add dependents to your plan. Some will even cover you for short-term return trips since you might not have local health care. For the most part, the longer you live abroad, the more eligible you become for certain packages.

Because travel medical insurance is aimed at protecting you from incurring high medical bills (helicopter emergency evacuation can cost $25,000 without insurance), some firms won’t protect you against lost baggage or trip interruptions like travel insurance would. So if you find a travel medical insurance that covers extensive health care plans and protection against standard travel risks, expect to pay a premium for it.

In Conclusion…

For the most part, you can bypass travel insurance if your trip will be ridiculously short  (perhaps for just a couple of days) and the cost of the insurance will exceed possible financial losses. It’s a question of weighing costs, benefits, and risks.  We will say that if you are looking at spending a lot of time outside of the country, you should at least do your research on travel medical insurance.  Many people swear by it when it comes to long or frequent stays abroad. 




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