What is Travel Health Insurance?

Travel health insurance (also called travel medical insurance) covers medical costs related to a policyholder’s health or an accident they suffer while traveling. Insurers usually include most of the four types of coverage in travel insurance policies, or offer them as independent à la carte options. It exists for those who want or need to fill a gap between their health insurance and trip risks.

Health or Medical Travel Insurance

This is the coverage most people associate with “travel health insurance” and “travel medical insurance.” Health or accident coverage is similar to health insurance policies in the U.S. Like healthcare insurance plans in the U.S., travel health insurance also has deductibles – a predetermined share of expenses the insured is responsible for paying. As an example, below is a list of coverages offered by one of the more comprehensive travel health insurance policies – the Voyager Choice plan by GeoBlue.

Inpatient and Outpatient BenefitsInsurer Pays after Deductible:
Surgery, anesthesia, radiation therapy, in-hospital doctor visits, diagnostic X-ray and lab100%
Office Visits: including X-rays and lab work billed by the attending physician100%
Surgery, X-rays, In-hospital doctor visits100%
In-patient medical emergency100%
Ambulatory Surgical Center100%
Ambulance Service (non Medical Evacuation)100%

Another element of medical travel insurance is the maximum amount of coverage and the insurance deductible you want, which in turn factors into the cost. Anything above the ceiling on your policy, or below the deductible on your policy will be your responsibility.

Medical Limits and DeductiblesOptions Include:
Maximum Benefit per Insured Person per policy period$50,000; $100,000; $500,000; $1,000,000
Deductible per Insured Person per policy period$0; $100; $250; $500

To be eligible for the GeoBlue Voyager Choice plan the policyholder’s home country must be the U.S., they must be under the age of 85, and enrolled in a primary healthcare plan. This plan is exclusively for international travel.

Depending on the insurance company or the plan a company offers, travel health insurance coverage might act as a person’s primary or secondary insurance. In cases where travel health insurance benefits are secondary, the insured must already have a traditional health insurance plan in the U.S. Expenses someone’s primary health insurance will or will not cover while traveling does not affect their secondary coverage.

Travel health insurance is not limited to trips of any length. Policies can be purchased for anywhere from one day to longer than six months.

Who Needs Travel Health Insurance?

Anyone might determine they should buy travel health insurance depending on their health, where they are traveling, and what they plan on doing on their trip. Having said that, there are situations when someone should strongly consider purchasing a policy.

Domestic Network Only: Before traveling abroad, every permanent resident in the U.S. needs to check their provider network to see if their health insurance company will cover them outside the country. Many healthcare plan networks might not extend outside the U.S. so policyholders could be without health or medical coverage while traveling, which is ill-advised. Those who find themselves in this situation should probably buy travel health insurance to cover them during their trip.

Senior Citizens: Elderly residents who are traveling – and especially depending on where they are traveling or what they are doing – should also strongly consider medical travel insurance. With age comes an increased risk of incidents occurring that require medical attention and severity of those incidents.

Health Risks: Travel health insurance policies typically cover preexisting conditions (with some stipulations), but even someone who believes they are relatively healthy might want to consider a policy. For example, a tourist in good health traveling to France and walking around Paris for a few days is probably at a lower risk of injury or accident than someone traveling to France and planning on bicycling across the country. Beyond activities like riding a bicycle or swimming, some travelers might plan to engage in high-risk activities such as bungee jumping. In those cases, a standard travel health insurance policy might not cover any injuries sustained during the high-risk activity. It is widely recommended travelers engaging in high-risk sports or activities seek special coverage in the event something happens to them.

Medical Evacuation

Travel insurance plans frequently include coverage for medical evacuation (or emergency evacuation). The coverage pays for whatever means of transportation necessary if a tourist suffers an injury or sickness that warrants their return to their home country. This could include almost anything, such as an ambulance, helicopter, boat or plane.

Depending on where a visitor is and how swift they need to be relocated somewhere for treatment, the out of pocket cost for a medical evacuation might be quite high. For example, the cost of an air ambulance helicopter flight within the U.S. could be as much as $47,182, according to a New York Times article. The same service abroad might cost even more and that might only get a traveler to a nearby hospital where they can be stabilized. Without insurance to cover an emergency evacuation, they might also be stuck with the bills to get them to an airport and for the flight back to the U.S.

Considering those costs, it’s easy to see why medical evacuation coverage typically has high maximum limits on the expenses. The limits typically start around $150,000 and other options commonly include $500,000 and $1 million.

Trip Cancellation or Interruption

If anything happens that might warrant cancelling or interrupting a trip, a traveler might lose money already paid and invested in it. Travel health insurance plans usually include some level of trip cancellation or interruption coverage for these instances – especially travel medical insurance policies that include medical evacuation.

Depending on what deposits or expenses are lost due to an interruption to cancellation, this coverage might be able to reimburse a policyholder a lot of money. For example, in some situations, none or only part of a fee for cruise ships is refundable. Depending on the length of the cruise and how or when someone booked it, a traveler without coverage might need to forfeit a substantial amount of money. Trip cancellation or interruption coverage could get them a significant amount of their money back.

If a travel insurance policy does not include trip cancellation or interruption and a traveler is considering purchasing it, they should check to see if their credit card provides the coverage. A few credit cards offer this perk, and there are usually stipulations to when it applies, but a tourist trying to save every penny might determine their card is adequate for their specific trip.

Accidental Death and Dismemberment

Some travel health insurance policies include accidental death or dismemberment benefits. The policies that don’t frequently offer it as an additional coverage, or as part of more expensive travel medical insurance plans.

Each travel insurance plan that includes accidental death and dismemberment might have different benefits. Some, like the GeoBlue Voyager Choice plan mentioned above, will pay a maximum benefit of $50,000 for an accidental death or dismemberment. Other travel medical insurance plans have limits as high as $150,000 or more. Travel insurance companies even assign different benefit limits depending on the body part lost. For example, a insurer might pay a higher dismemberment benefit if a policyholder loses an eye than if they lose a hand.

Like trip cancellation or interruption, accidental death and dismemberment benefits are offered by some credit cards. The Platinum Card from American Express—which has a $550 annual fee—is one card that offers death and dismemberment benefits.

Travel Health Insurance Cost

What a traveler will pay depends on a number of things including their limits, deductibles, age, where they are departing, where they are traveling to, trip length, and travel plans. Travelers who purchase policies that act as their primary coverage, have higher claim limits, or more comprehensive coverage should expect to pay more. Here is an illustration of ranges based on different limits and deductibles a sample tourist evaluating the GeoBlue Voyager Choice plan above.

Medical Limit$0 Deductible$100 Deductible$250 Deductible$500 Deductible
$50,000$14.80$13.04$11.76$10.56
$100,000$16.24$14.40$13.04$11.60
$500,000$17.92$16.32$15.12$14.00
$1 million$18.24$16.56$15.44$14.48

This sample policy is for a 30-year-old U.S. citizen living in the state of New York who is going on a 7-day trip to France. This plan acts only as a secondary policy to an existing health insurance plan, but it does cover pre-existing conditions. It also includes secondary dental coverage up to $500, a limit of $500,000 for emergency evacuation, and medical costs associated with complications of pregnancy or acts of terrorism are covered.

Preparing For A Medical Emergency Abroad

A person who determines they need travel health insurance should do more than purchase the policy to protect themselves – especially if they are traveling alone. Insurance or not, all travelers should carry a small medical portfolio in case they are injured or unable to inform medical personnel about themselves.

Travelers should also carry the contact information for their travel health insurance company that insures them.

In the event a medical emergency occurs and a covered traveler needs to visit a doctor, they should keep all receipts for whatever care they receive. Future claims will require these receipts as proof to process payouts.

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