Travel insurance is something that a lot of people seem to forget about when they’re planning out their travel. Most people assume nothing will happen to them or that their regular medical insurance already covers them, but this is not always the case and it’s simply not a risk worth taking.
Travel insurance is such a small investment compared to the costs that you would have to deal with on your own if something were to happen to you on your trip.
Medical costs while traveling can be devastating when you’re not insured, adding insult to actual injury, so you absolutely need to make sure you’re covered for your trips, no question about it.
And travel insurance doesn’t only cover medical issues. It can also cover things like:
- having to cancel your trip suddenly and unexpectedly because of unforeseen circumstances
- losing or getting your passport or other valuables stolen/damaged
- and other travel-related losses
Getting into the habit of getting travel insurance every time you travel will ensure that you will always be covered, letting you travel worry-free since you know that no matter what happens, you have something to fall back on.
You can’t purchase travel insurance once you’ve already left for your trip (most of the time) so make sure you take care of this beforehand.
Note: I am not a licensed insurance broker and any information provided about travel insurance, whether on this page or any other, is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. The information I present to you is based on my own research and opinion. Reliance on any travel insurance information provided on this website is solely at your own risk.
So with that out of the way, here are the top 5 things you need to know about travel insurance:
Table of Contents
1. How much and what type of coverage you need
a. Travel Medical Insurance
The most important type of coverage you need is Travel Medical Insurance. This type of coverage is non-negotiable when you travel.
You never know when something could go wrong and not being covered could mean spending your life savings on emergency medical bills, taking out loans you won’t be able to pay back, or declaring bankruptcy, making your life even worse than what having the medical emergency would already make it in the first place.
Coverage usually comes in two parts: one part for emergency medical/dental coverage (everything to do with your emergency care) and one for emergency medical evacuation (like an ambulance or medevac helicopter + transport back to your home country).
The amount of coverage you should get depends on where you will be traveling to.
If you’re traveling to a developed country and staying in urban areas, you may not need more than $50,000 in emergency medical/dental coverage ($100,000 for the USA due to higher health-care costs) and $100,000 in emergency medical evacuation since you probably won’t rack up expensive bills being so close to high-quality hospitals.
Of course, if you want to be extra safe, you can get even more coverage, but those amounts should be enough.
However, if you’re going to a developing country, you may want to increase your coverage to at least $100,000 for emergency medical/dental since high-quality healthcare will be harder to find, and if you’re going to be in rural areas, at least $500,000 for emergency medical evacuation since a medevac helicopter can easily cost over $100,000 when you need to be transported over large distances.
Again, these amounts should be enough, but more is never a bad thing.
Sometimes, travel insurance providers will combine these two types of coverage into one total amount so be aware of that.
If that’s the case, you should go for at least $150,000 total travel medical insurance for developed, urban areas, $200,000 for underdeveloped countries and the USA, and $600,000 for rural areas. Also make sure the plan includes both types of coverage and enough allocated to each type.
b. Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance
Another thing to consider is Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance.
Trip Cancellation Insurance (TCI) covers you if something happens before you go on your trip that prevents you from going on it.
This includes a pre-departure illness, injury, or death of you, your travel partner, or someone in the family, as well as a whole host of other reasons for why you would have to cancel your trip that are out of your control (there are more than you think, but it depends on your policy).
Trip Interruption Insurance (TII) acts the same way, except it’s for when something out of your control happens in the middle of your trip that forces you to interrupt/cancel the rest of it.
The reasons are usually the same as the ones given for TCI and some providers will offer it as a combo with your Travel Medical Insurance since having a medical emergency during your trip means you will most likely need to cancel the rest of it. However, other providers will only cover the cost of the return transportation and not any other reservations.
Most of the time, these two coverages come together as one package and the way they work is that if you have made any non-refundable reservations related to your trip that you need to cancel as a result of some unforeseen circumstance covered by your policy, you can still get your money back for the ones you haven’t already completed.
This means that how much coverage you need depends on how much you’ve spent on non-refundable reservations for the trip.
In general, this type of coverage isn’t really as much of a priority as Travel Medical Insurance, but if you have spent lots of money on non-refundable organized tours, flights, or accommodation, then it might be worth it, especially if you, your travel partner, or someone in the family is in poor health.
If you choose to buy it, you need to make sure you do so no later than 7 days after you make your first payment for the trip as it may not be valid after that point (for TCI).
c. Lost, Stolen, Damaged, or Delayed Baggage & Personal Item Insurance
When it comes to traveling by air, most airlines will already be required by law to compensate you in case your checked luggage is delayed, damaged, or lost.
Usually this comes in the form of reimbursing you for any necessities you had to purchase as a result of a delay, paying for the cost of any items they damaged in transit, and awarding you up to a certain amount if they straight-up lose your luggage.
However, the moment you’re off the plane and your luggage is back in your possession, you’re on your own for the rest of the trip unless you have extra coverage for it. Some travel insurance policies include coverage for any luggage or personal items that have been lost, stolen, or damaged during your trip.
This can include everything from stolen cash up to a certain amount, replacement costs for a lost or stolen passport, and reimbursement for the repair or replacement of lost, damaged, or stolen personal items.
Usually, there is a per item reimbursement limit as well as a total reimbursement limit that you can get offered and it’s usually not enough to cover any high-value items. Not to mention that some types of items like electronics and specialty equipment may not even be covered in the first place. As a result, you’d have to get additional insurance if you want to protect those items.
Generally, this type of coverage is nice to have, but shouldn’t be a priority for you.
If the only things you’re taking with you are inexpensive clothes and other accessories that are easy to replace, then you probably won’t need this type of coverage, but if you are traveling with very expensive clothing, electronics, or equipment, then extra coverage might be worth it.
If you do choose to get it, keep your receipts, take photos of your packed luggage, and make sure your coverage is enough for the total value of your items.
d. Other important features
No matter what, you want to make sure the travel insurance company provides 24/7 emergency assistance so that you can call them as soon as an incident occurs.
This is non-negotiable. You don’t want to have to figure out time zones for office hours or be dealing with an emergency on your own over a weekend when their office is closed.
In addition, you want to limit your deductible amount. A deductible is the amount that you have to pay out of your own pocket in an emergency before your insurance will kick in to cover the rest.
Ideally, you want that amount to be $0, but you can save money on your plan if you accept higher deductibles. However, I don’t recommend going any higher than a $100 deductible as it kinda defeats the purpose of having insurance in my opinion.
Finally, there are other miscellaneous types of coverage that insurance companies will offer you, some of which you will probably never use and others which can be fairly useful.
One of the more useful ones is Car Rental Insurance. If you plan to rent a car and your travel insurance policy includes coverage for car rental damage, then you may not need to get additional insurance. Learn more about it in my Guide to Car Rentals.
2. Check if you're already covered
Now that you know how much and what type of coverage you need, you should check if you’re already covered!
When it comes to Travel Medical Insurance, you may already be covered thanks to your private or public health insurance as some private or public health insurance policies include travel medical insurance.
In addition, some employers already provide travel insurance for their employees, but others only cover you if your trips are business-related. Make sure to check all the details of your existing coverages to see if they apply to your trip.
If not, you may also be covered thanks to your credit card benefits. Many credit card policies include some sort of travel insurance ranging from single types of coverage such as trip cancellation insurance to full comprehensive coverage which also includes travel medical insurance.
However, it’s important to check the fine-print because many policies have limits such as only providing coverage for a certain number of days or only covering you for purchases made using the card.
If you’re interested in credit cards that can offer you travel insurance as well as other money-saving benefits while traveling, check out my Guide to the Best Credit Cards for Traveling.
If the insurance coverage offered by your private health insurance, work benefits, or credit card is enough for you, then you can start preparing for your trip, but if you’re not covered or the coverage is not enough, then you should definitely look into purchasing additional travel insurance coverage.
3. Be aware of any exclusions
If you are planning to partake in any activities that the insurance provider deems as extreme or high-risk during your trip, your travel insurance will most likely not cover you without paying an extra premium for it.
Most activities such as skydiving, scuba diving, white water rafting, hang gliding, and bungee jumping (to name a few) typically fall under this umbrella. Find out what your insurance policy states about this and plan accordingly.
In addition, if you have any pre-existing conditions, most travel insurance policies will not cover you for anything related to them. Don’t expect to be reimbursed for buying medication for your condition on your trip and if you get into a medical emergency as a result of your pre-existing condition, you most likely won’t be covered for it.
Similarly, don’t expect your travel insurance to cover any non-emergency related doctor visits. You’re paying out of pocket for those unless you find a policy that will cover you. Expect to pay a lot more for the policy in these cases.
When it comes to your personal items, your coverage is only valid if you have made a reasonable effort to avoid loss. If you are careless with your belongings, your insurance provider may decide not to cover you for them in the case of loss or theft.
Finally, your healthcare won’t be covered if you are also careless with your own safety. Alcohol or drug-related incidents, self-inflicted injury, and simply being reckless in your behaviour are all reasons for an insurance provider to deny your claim. How they define being careless depends on the provider.
In addition, if your government has a travel advisory in place for the country you want to visit, then you most likely will not be able to get travel insurance for your trip since most providers will not cover you. Do your research and see if there’s a travel advisory in place for the country you want to visit. Here are links to the official government travel advisory websites for the USA, Canada, the UK, & Australia.
4. How to find the best travel insurance
If you’re not covered already, you will have to purchase travel insurance. There are many travel insurance providers out there and a google search will come up with many local and big-name providers that you can choose from, however the best way to find and compare multiple providers and plans at the same time is by using SquareMouth or InsureMyTrip.
SquareMouth seems to have the most providers available to compare from on their website. Their prices also seem to be more reasonable than other travel insurance comparison sites.
The travel insurance companies they show you are reputable and you can even see reviews from former customers for each one of them. Make sure to read them and avoid any companies with a review score lower than 4/5.
InsureMyTrip is also worth checking out if you want to see even more options. They have a few providers that Squaremouth doesn’t and can be a good alternative.
When doing a search, start a quote and input the information about yourself and your trip. Use the filters provided to only show you plans that match your needs and compare the options that you are presented with. Sort them by price and read the fine print for any that you are interested in.
Remember what you should look for in a travel insurance policy:
- At least $50k per person in emergency medical if going to developed countries and at least $100k if going to the USA and/or underdeveloped countries
- At least $100k per person in emergency medical evacuation if going to urban areas and at least $500k if going to rural areas
- 24/7 emergency assistance
- A low deductible ($0 is ideal, but up to $100 is ok too)
- Extreme sports coverage if you plan to do any activities considered to be “high-risk”
- Travel Cancellation/Interruption Insurance if you are making any expensive non-refundable reservations
- Loss/Theft/Damage Insurance if you are traveling with any high-value personal items
If you find a plan that you like, you can buy it right then and there using your debit or credit card. And if you can’t find a plan you like or you want to see even more options, I recommend googling for travel insurance as SquareMouth and InsureMyTrip won’t have every travel insurance company and policy available since it differs depending on where you’re from and where you live.
Always read the fine print for any policy, I can’t stress this enough.
In addition, you cannot buy travel insurance once you’ve departed on your trip (most of the time) so it is a good idea to take care of this before you do, the sooner the better.
4b. What to do if you plan to travel long-term
If you plan to travel long-term, it may not make sense for you to continue paying for health insurance at home while you’re abroad since seeing how you’re not going to be there, it’s just money wasted.
This becomes a problem when looking for travel insurance because most travel insurance providers either won’t insure you or will provide a significantly lower coverage amount for travel medical insurance if you’re not insured at home.
The reason why is because insurers will do everything they can to limit the amount of money they actually have to spend when incidents occur and the best way they can do that is not by paying for your healthcare in a foreign country, but rather by actually transporting you back home as soon as medically possible so that you can get treated with the health insurance that you already have there!
This is how they can afford to offer travel medical insurance for amounts over $1,000,000. They know they will never have to pay anything close to that amount because they will just get you home to where someone else will pay the bill instead.
And if there is no one else to pay that bill, they either will choose not to cover you or to just drop their coverage to a small amount that they are actually willing to pay. Pretty sneaky, eh?
So what’s the best thing to do in this situation?
Well, find the best policy that offers the highest coverage amount for people that aren’t paying for standard health insurance anywhere in the world. You won’t find many decent travel insurance policies out there like this, but one type of insurance that would work well for you is expatriate insurance.
Expatriate insurance is designed for people that have left their home country for long periods of time and who aren’t paying for health insurance anywhere in the world.
In other words, it’s the type of insurance that you’re looking for.
Since it’s not as profitable, you won’t find as many companies offering it, but one that does is SafetyWing. They offer a plan called Nomad Insurance which gives you up to $250,000 total coverage with $100,000 of it for emergency medical evacuation.
SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance won’t act as health insurance so you won’t get regular check-ups visits covered, but it does act as travel medical insurance meaning emergency medical/dental situations are covered.
It also includes Trip Interruption and even Liability Insurance which is not very common with most travel insurance. You can even buy it after you’ve already started your trip! It does have a $250 deductible, but it doesn’t even kick in for most situations.
It is a great option for long-term travelers and only costs $37 per month ($68 if you want to include US travel).
5. Using your travel insurance
The best situation you can have is an incident-free trip, but this won’t always be the case for everyone so you should always be prepared.
Carry a copy of your travel insurance confirmation and policy with you both digitally and in print-form so you can refer to them when needed. Note down the main things you’re covered for so you are always aware of them and save the emergency assistance number on your phone so you can find it easily.
If an incident occurs, follow the instructions given to you in your policy. Usually they involve calling the emergency assistance number as soon as reasonably possible.
Don’t expect to be able to get your money back if you take matters into your own hands as many travel insurance policies often require you to let them make the decisions on how to proceed. Let the agent on the phone guide you through what you need to do and make sure to get all the necessary documentation throughout.
Once you have recovered or the incident is over, work with your travel insurance provider to make any claims for reimbursement if you need to and be thankful that you made the investment to cover yourself!
And that’s all you need to know!
Travel Insurance can be complicated, but that doesn’t give you an excuse not to get it. No matter where you travel to, you should be covered because you never know when something can happen.
If this guide has helped clear up everything regarding travel insurance for you, let me know in the comments below. And if you want to know which precautions to take so you don’t have to use your travel insurance, check out my Guide to Staying Safe While Traveling!