When I traveled around-the-world for six months in 2007, many friends advised me to buy travel insurance. Normally I would not even consider such a thing. Frankly, I believe that most people in the U.S. are overly fearful about travel. In all my years of traveling I have had only one instance when insurance might have been a help. But in 2007 I was living on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and a local man, David Creecy, had been critically burned in the 2002 Bali terrorist bombings. At the time, rumors circulated that his health insurance refused to pay for him to be transported back to the U.S.; one of Creecy’s friends told me that he had to raise $25,000 cash before a medical evacuation flight could be arranged.
In addition to concerns about medical evacuation, I fretted over the amount of expensive gear I would be carrying. This trip was to launch my new career as a travel writer, so I would be backpacking with top-of-the-line cameras and lenses, a laptop, multiple thumb drives, and an iPod. So I made all the appropriate phone calls. Would my current health insurance company pay for my medical expenses if I had an accident or got seriously ill while traveling? Sort of. I would have to pay the bills when they occurred and submit receipts for reimbursement upon returning. Did my plan include medical evacuation? Absolutely not.
What about coverage for theft, loss, or damage to my electronic equipment? I considered dozens of policies from many different providers, all of which had very high premiums for six months. For each, I read the fine print until I was cross-eyed. In every case, reimbursement for electronic items was limited to $500, and then only if I could produce original receipts for the equipment. Since my clothes, toiletries, and luggage were worth very little, I decided to take my chances on the potential theft of my equipment, however I did decide that medical evacuation insurance would be an absolute necessity, and I chose MedJet because it was the only company that let me choose which hospital I wished to be evacuated to in the event of an injury or serious illness.
For instance, if I had been injured while on safari in Tanzania, the hospital of choice would likely be Nairobi, Kenya, or Cape Town, South Africa. With MedJet, I could demand to be taken to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Travelers who will be out of the country for less than 90 consecutive days can purchase an annual policy priced at $250 for individuals and $385 for families. Those traveling long term will need to purchase one of three expatriate policies, priced according to the length of time out of the country and ranging from $420 to $655 for individuals or from $535 to $975 for families.
If I were leaving again today, I would do exactly the same thing. Nothing bad happened during my trip. I didn’t get sick in any third-world country, despite eating constantly from street vendors. I wasn’t robbed or even vaguely threatened, though I walked all over unfamiliar cities. And I now know that there are decent medical services available in many areas of the world. Whether or not to buy insurance, and to what level of coverage, is an issue that everyone must decide for themselves, but at the very least, I advise purchasing medical evacuation service.
50 thoughts on “Travel Insurance – Do You Really Need It And Is It Worth The Price?”
There’s a company called Global Rescue. They do medical and security evacuation from point of injury toi the nearest appropriate medical facility or if needed to your home hospital. Plus, they are in partnership with IMG. IMG covers trip cancellation,lost baggage and hospital bills.
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I travel solo and always purchase travel medical insurance (including evacuation) to supplement my Canadian provincial medical plan. Last April when entering the UK, I was grilled by the Immigration agent, and one of the things I had to prove was that I had travel medical insurance. (I also had to prove I had an onward or return booking and had to explain whether I had enough funds to be travelling for five+ months in their country.) I’m going to have to do much more research into expat-style medical insurance when I want to be out of Canada for longer than six or seven months. I would not want to be unconscious or unable to communicate with health care providers, without carrying proof of medical insurance on my person.
The whole insurance issue is a complicated mess, Laura. I have a U.S. policy that covers emergencies while I travel, but I have to pay up front and be reimbursed. Because I have no permanent home base, I can’t get a policy from any of the worldwide companies, and because I’m on the road longer than 6 months consecutively, I can’t get a travel plan. Ugh!
Barbara, love your blog. My husband (70yrs) and I (61yrs) just sold our home and about to head out on a RTW trip for 1 to 3 years. We hold passports for both US and Australia. My question to you, what company do you hold your travel insurance with? We just want to be covered in an emergency.
Thank you in advance for your advise.
Hi Debbie: This is one of the most difficult issues with which I have to deal. I have U.S. health insurance with Blue Cross/Blue Shield. It is one of there very few policies that will cover me internationally for emergencies and accidents. Thankfully, I have never had to test it, but I was told that I would need to pay for the services out of my pocket and then apply for reimbursement. To be reimbursed, an invoice in English is required. Travel insurance will not work for me because I am out of the country most of the time, and policies for travelers are only good for up to 6 months. I will turn 65 next year so I will have Medicare, and I may decide to pay for a Part B policy as well, which I understand should only cost me about $120 per month. On the other hand, since I am rarely in the U.S., I may just opt for a Worldwide Health Insurance plan, which will cover me anywhere in the world except the U.S. I don’t worry about it too much, because heath care around the world is quite good and affordable. For instance, I get my dental work done in Mexico or Hungary, medical in Thailand or Malaysia. A few years ago I needed an MRI on my neck and got it done in Bangkok. Total cost, including two appointments with a neurologist was only $290. Frankly, it is cheaper to just self-insure than to pay for any U.S. policy or a worldwide policy that included the U.S. Hope that helps.
its really worth….yes its important and worthy..
Some great comments and viewpoints here. I will now never make a trip outside of the UK or France without travel insurance covering medical costs. A few years ago my husband and I took our first trip to New York for a friend’s wedding. We took out travel insurance before we left because a few months earlier I’d had an emergency operation for a twisted intestine (prior to that I’d always been healthy, never had anything happen to me my whole life). It was good that we did. The first night I arrived in NY I had pains in my stomach and spent the next week holed up in hospital, operation, recovery. The bill was over $40,000. The insurance company tried to refuse to pay saying the illness was a pre-existing condition. My husband wrote a compelling response to explain how it was not and, very fortunately for us, the company agreed to pay up, after several months of wrangling. There is no way I could have paid the bill otherwise. I think the insurance cost me less than £100. You just never know what is around the corner. If you travel and have no insurance and nothing happens to you, then all that says is that that time you were lucky. The next time you might not be quite so lucky…
Hi Sharon: Your comment touches on one of the issues that concerns me regarding travel insurance. I think you were very fortunate that the company from which you purchased your policy eventually relented and paid your claim. I have heard many horror stories about denial of claims over the years, which leads me to distrust travel insurance in general, as they seem to be more interested in getting out of paying claims that in serving their clients. Of course, some companies are better than others, so it bears saying that people who opt to buy insurance should do some due diligence before deciding which company to trust.
Basically travel insurance is designed to protect you against a number of situations, though not all travel insurance plans are the same. Some will cover things such as theft whilst others will cover accident or illness. So it is important that you know exactly what your insurance covers if you do get it.
Compare the cost of the trip versus the cost of the policy. If you just bought a $200 airline ticket, is that worth covering? If you paid for it with a credit card, and the airline ceases to operate before your flight, you’re already covered – under federal credit laws – by your own credit card company, since you bought or contracted for a service which you didn’t get.
Look for a policy with a travel insurer that is independent from your tour operator and is licensed by your state. Many cruise lines and tour operators offer insurance, often at lower premiums than those charged by outside insurers. But if the cruise line or tour company goes out of business, there may not be money to cover your claim.
If flight or cruise delays make you want to cancel, you may be out of luck. Read the fine print, as with some policies, more than half of your vacation has to be delayed before you can cancel and be covered.
At the very least, just get a quote and see what your options are. For a great US-based broker (i.e. they do all the leg work to find the best plan, get a quote, do the math, etc.)
Great blog. However, far too many people neglect the dangers of travelling without proper health insurance! Private health care can be extremely expensive in some areas where the public health system is not good.
I would buy travel insurance anyway as it’s a protection.
Medical evacuation aside, Americans whose health insurance coverage (if they have any) won’t cover them outside the U.S. suffer little pain by purchasing a travel insurance policy that fills that gap. These are generally quite inexpensive policies. Several years ago I was in an accident in Germany and was hospitalized for two days. I had no coverage from a U.S. policy. Without the inexpensive travel insurance policy I had purchased before leaving the U.S., I would have been out almost $2,000 in hospital and other medical bills.
Hi mkraft: It depends upon your particular coverage. For example, my Blue
Cross, Blue Shield does cover me when I am out of the country, however I
must pay the cots up front and be reimbursed when i return to the U.S.
I agree. A medical cover or evacuation plan is important, but cover for personal goods is usually money wasted. The limitations, premium and hassle of getting money out of the insurance companies are usually not worth it.
we should always be vigilance in selecting an insurance company. it pays to be more careful…
I’m a traveler too and on a trip to Thailand a couple of years ago, I was hospitalized after collapsing at th Royal Palace in Bangkok. I was taken by ambulance to the hospital where I was admitted and examined from one end to the other. In spite of a doctors admonishment that I should remain for 3 days, I checked out after 12 hours, many tests, medication, great treatment, food and a private room. I had to pay by credit card when I checked out. When I got home, I learned that the total bill was $445.00 US. Of that, my personal medical insurance reimbursed me all but a $50.oo deductible. I rarely buy travel insurance but medical evacuation insurance is advisable in some instances. Although I’ve never been injured or ill to that extend, I do some adventurous activities so I always consider that when I travel.
I’m a light traveler, but that’s only because I have a small tendency to misplace things, valuables especially, and that’s were insurance comes in. I wouldn’t leave the house without it, and it’s paid off so far.
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