Suffering an injury or illness abroad can be extremely expensive, especially if it requires emergency medical care or unplanned evacuation. If you’re planning a cruise or vacation overseas, take some time to think about how you would deal with a sudden medical emergency. Although you can’t cover every contingency, it’s a good idea to check your insurance policies to understand exactly what’s covered while you’re out of the country.
While some countries offer free medical care to foreigners, evacuations or emergency medical services can end up costing thousands of dollars that may come out of your pocket. Statistics about medical costs abroad are hard to find, but one British study found that it cost an insurance company an average of £25,000 (about $39,000) to bring a vacationer home after a medical emergency.[i] Many primary health insurance policies (including Medicare) limit or exclude coverage overseas, making supplementary travel medical insurance worth thinking about.
There are many types of travel insurance that may cover trip cancelation, lost or damaged luggage, medical services, or medical evacuation. Often, your homeowner’s or rental insurance policy will cover lost, stolen, or damaged belongings while you’re away. However, the coverage may be limited or have a high deductible, so read the fine print.
If you’re only going to be away for a few days or will be just a short flight away from home, travel medical insurance or evacuation insurance may not make much sense. However, if you’ll be away for an extended period or have ongoing health concerns, a supplemental policy may be worth considering. It’s always a good idea to check your current coverage to see what medical services are covered overseas before leaving home. Many policies will cover certain medical needs abroad, but only up to a threshold amount, and may not cover a medical evacuation at all.
For most people, travel insurance is supplementary to their existing insurance coverage with the purpose of extending the safety net while traveling. For that reason, it’s critical to understand which policy is “primary” and will kick in first, and which is “secondary” and designed to cover gaps in the coverage. If your current insurance policy doesn’t cover medical services abroad at all, you’ll want to consider purchasing a travel policy that will provide primary coverage.
As with any other type of insurance policy, travel insurance has a wide range of coverage, benefits, exclusions, and limitations, making reading the policy terms absolutely critical. Make sure you understand how the policy treats pre-existing conditions, exclusions relating to high-risk activities or travel in restricted areas, preauthorization for treatment or second opinions, and emergency transport or repatriation. Think carefully about the types of illness or injury you’re most at risk for, and look for a policy that offers the kind of coverage you need in the country you’re visiting.
If you do decide to purchase supplementary travel insurance that covers medical services while abroad, make sure that you keep the policy documents and company contact information close at hand while traveling. If you need medical care while abroad, notify your insurance provider as soon as possible (especially if preauthorization is required for treatment), and document the medical care thoroughly. Many travel insurance policies operate on a reimbursement basis, meaning that you pay out of pocket and send receipts for reimbursement.