What is Travel Health Insurance?

What Is Travel Health Insurance?

After living through a pandemic, people might be more cautious than ever when making travel plans. Even if you never purchased travel health insurance before, it’s something you may want to look into when booking future international trips.

Here’s what you should know about the different types of travel health insurance, what it covers (and doesn’t), if you need it and what it’ll cost you.

packing for a trip

What is travel health insurance?

People are often surprised that their regular health insurance may not offer full coverage (or any coverage) if they are traveling abroad. That’s where travel health insurance comes in.

It offers medical coverage while you’re traveling in case you become unexpectedly ill or get injured and can also include emergency evacuation.

Like other insurances, there are deductibles, limitations and other details to be aware of.

Medical travel insurance can be bundled into a more comprehensive travel insurance plan, or you can choose to only purchase medical coverage. The main difference is a stand-alone health plan usually does not include reimbursement for the actual cost of the trip, such as if you need to cancel it for reasons that are not medical in nature.

Types of travel health insurance

Shopping for travel health insurance does take a bit of research because there are so many different types of plans. Here are some of the factors you should think about when browsing.

Primary vs. secondary coverage

  • Primary coverage means that if you should fall ill or get injured, this policy will kick in as your main insurance. Your regular everyday health insurance would be the backup.
  • Secondary coverage is supplementary insurance that covers gaps that your primary plan doesn't cover.
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The wise move is to call your current health insurance carrier to ask about your coverage abroad so you can figure out what you’ll need. In some cases, the travel health insurance provider might require you to buy primary insurance.

Multitrip vs. single trip

Say you plan to go country-hopping in Europe for two weeks. That’s still considered a single trip even though you’ll be visiting different countries. But if you’re someone who has several trips abroad planned out over the course of a few months, and you’ll be returning back home in between, it might be easier and more cost-effective to purchase a multitrip policy that covers you for a set period of time over multiple trips.

What does travel health insurance cover?

Travel health insurance typically covers medical emergencies, dental emergencies, medical evacuation (though sometimes that’s an extra fee), accidental death and dismemberment and sometimes trip delay and baggage loss.

Here’s a sample quote from the GeoBlue Voyager Choice plan for a weeklong trip for a 53 year old and a 44 year old:

  • Insurance cost: $57.44
  • Medical limit: $500,000
  • Deductible: $100
  • Hospital services coverage: 100%
  • Dental care: Up to $500 for injury; up to $250 for pain relief
  • Accidental death and dismemberment: Up to $50,000
  • Emergency evacuation: Up to $500,000
  • Post-departure trip interruption: Up to $500
  • Lost baggage: Maximum benefit of $500 per trip, limited to $100 per bag
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What does travel health insurance not cover?

Most medical travel insurance does not include trip cancellation coverage that will reimburse you for the cost of the trip. In addition, all policies have lots of fine print to read through, so it’s important to understand what is and is not covered.

Preexisting conditions

One major consideration is how preexisting conditions are handled. Usually, you can get a preexisting condition waiver, but you will have to purchase your policy within a specific time frame of booking your trip – sometimes within 10 days, for example.

Coverage for preexisting conditions is important. For instance, if you have a heart attack while traveling, but the insurer looks back and sees that you have a history of hypertension, they may reject your claim — unless you are covered for preexisting conditions.

Adventure activities

Other policies may have exclusions for certain types of adventure activities. For example, in the sample quote above, the benefits for claims resulting from downhill skiing and scuba diving is $25,000 – far less than the maximum $500,000 coverage.

There are special policies for these types of excursions, so if you’ll be rock climbing, going on safari or jumping out of an airplane, you’ll need to dig deeper to find the right policies.

Another item to look into is the medical evacuation details. You’ll want to know if you’re covered for transportation to the nearest hospital (which could be inadequate at best), or if you can get transport back to the U.S. In many cases, you may be stuck in a foreign country while recovering.

Finally, unlike a general travel insurance plan, a travel health insurance policy won't offer comprehensive coverage on items that are not medical-related, like canceled trips or lost luggage:

Travel health insurance vs. regular travel insurance

Travel health insurance
Comprehensive travel insurance
Emergency medical care
Emergency dental care
Evacuation
Trip cancellation
Trip interruptionSometimes (if related to medical emergency)
Lost luggageSometimes with limitations
Hospital stays
Accidental death and dismemberment

How much does travel health insurance cost?

Plans vary, but if you’re just looking for medical travel insurance for travel outside the U.S., you can usually get coverage for less than $50 per person for a single seven-day trip. Older travelers may pay a bit more, and prices can climb a bit if you decide to add on riders for extreme activities, increase your coverage or lower the deductible.

Generally speaking, however, travel health insurance is an affordable way to have peace of mind that your medical expenses will be covered should something unexpected happen when you go abroad.

If you decide that you want to also cover the cost of the trip itself, comprehensive travel insurance is a better option for you, but expect to pay a higher premium based on your total trip cost.

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Best travel health insurance plans

Many travel insurance carriers offer comprehensive plans that include medical coverage. If you’re looking for stand-alone medical travel insurance, some of the top providers include IMG, Seven Corners, Atlas Travel Insurance and GeoBlue. There are also other carriers that have specialized coverage, such as World Nomads for adventure activities, and Medjet that covers the repatriation of travelers back home in the event of injury.

To provide an idea of coverage and costs, we generated sample quotes from IMG, Seven Corners, Atlas Travel Insurance and GeoBlue, selecting $500,000 coverage with a $100 deductible for a couple, ages 51 and 44. The travelers are leaving from New York and the trip is eight days:

Sample quotes from top insurance travel health insurance providers

Company
Cost
Coverages
IMG$45.85Limited COVID coverage, $1 million for emergency evacuation, accidental death and dismemberment, acute onset of preexisting conditions, trip delay, trip interruption, lost luggage
Seven Corners$82.18COVID medical coverage, $500,000 for emergency evacuation, accidental death and dismemberment, acute onset of preexisting conditions, trip delay, trip interruption, lost baggage
Atlas Travel Insurance$56.24COVID medical coverage, $1 million for emergency evacuation, accidental death and dismemberment, crisis response, political evacuation, acute onset of preexisting conditions, trip delay, trip interruption

Do you need travel health insurance?

Travel health insurance is almost always a smart idea if you’re leaving the U.S. That’s because in the case of an injury or medical emergency requiring treatment, hospitalization or medical evacuation, the out-of-pocket costs can be exorbitant.

If you fall into any of these categories, a travel health insurance policy, or medical coverage that’s part of a comprehensive travel insurance plan, is advisable:

  • International travelers: Just imagine the nightmare scenario of breaking your leg while in a foreign country and being taken to a medical facility that wants upfront payments. With travel medical insurance, you can be reimbursed. And depending on your plan, you won’t have to worry about owing hundreds of thousands in medical evacuation and/or repatriation costs.
  • Those with health conditions: It’s important to make sure that the medical travel insurance you go with will cover you fully if you become ill from a preexisting condition. That said, having a policy that does will allow you to worry less should you get a flare up or recurrence of an illness that requires medical attention.
  • Older travelers: It’s important to note that Medicare will not cover you once you step foot outside of the U.S. If that’s your primary health insurance, you’ll need additional protection for international travel. Not to mention that as you age, you’re at greater risk for falls, injuries and medical episodes.
  • If you’re going on high risk excursions: You’ll likely need special coverage or add-on riders to cover accidents and injuries that happen during adventurous activities like mountain climbing, hiking, scuba diving, etc.

COVID-19 and travel health insurance

Though many travelers might seek travel health insurance specifically because they’re worried about contracting COVID-19, not all policies will cover it. The main reason is that since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus to be a pandemic, some insurers will consider it a foreseen event, meaning that coverage may not apply. The idea is that because it’s foreseeable that travel is a high exposure risk activity that could result in getting sick from COVID-19, the traveler is responsible for getting ill.

With some insurers, coverage may only be limited to travel in certain countries depending on the level of travel warnings at the time.

Of course, some travel insurance companies have also expanded their coverage to include medical treatment for COVID-19 that takes place during a trip. The bottom line is that you need to confirm this to be the case.

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How much travel health insurance do you need?

Most of the plans available start below $100,000 in medical expenses and go up from there. Because there’s usually not a huge difference in price to increase your coverage to $500,000, it’s usually worth it to go for the extra coverage, as bills can add up quickly depending on the severity of the situation. You could even go for higher coverages, but $500,000 should be sufficient.

When comparing plans, take a look at the evacuation coverage as well. The CDC points out that the cost of medevac alone can reach $100,000 or more. A higher amount of coverage is always a good idea if it’s affordable to you, but it may require upgrading a base plan.

How to buy travel health insurance

Purchasing a solid travel health insurance plan starts with assessing your needs and then doing your research. Here are some strategies to help you find the right plan:

  • See what your health insurance covers. Get in touch with your provider to see if any medical services are covered abroad. It’s also worth checking into your travel credit card insurance benefits, as some include coverage for trip cancellation and more. This can help you determine how much additional coverage you need.
  • Consider your health, age and the nature of your trip. Are you traveling abroad to go to the beach and visiting a few museums, or are you planning to go zip lining through mountains? Are you healthy and physically fit, or dealing with a chronic condition or are you immunocompromised? Does your destination have quality health care available, or will you have to be transported a long distance to find a hospital if needed? These answers can help you determine the types of coverage and add-ons you might require.
  • Shop around with a third-party broker. Sites like QuoteWright.com, InsureMyTrip.com and Squaremouth.com that let you comparison shop can make it easier to browse and compare different plans.
  • Get a few quotes. Look at medical travel insurance plans from at least two to three carriers before you make a final decision. Compare not only the costs, but the plan benefits and limitations to see which offers the best value.
  • Make sure your coverage is adequate. Look for any loopholes before you buy, particularly when it comes to COVID-19, extreme activities and preexisting conditions. If the fine print is confusing, get a representative on the phone to clarify.
  • Buy travel insurance ASAP. Once you decide on a plan and book your trip, don’t hesitate. Many carriers will only provide a preexisting condition waiver if you get your plan within a certain time frame of your trip booking. You might only have a few days, so do your insurance due diligence before you book the trip so you’re ready to play for your insurance plan right after.

How to use travel health insurance

If you end up needing to use your travel health insurance, you’ll want to get in touch with the provider as soon as possible. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Have your plan information on hand. Once you’re insured, be sure you receive or print out/download all of the necessary documents and contact information to take with you on your trip. Keep digital and physical copies, too, just in case you lose the originals. Make sure the insurance carrier has provided you with a checklist of what to do and how to contact them in the case of a medical emergency.
  • Keep all receipts and documentation. Anything that you end up paying out of pocket that’s related to your medical emergency might be reimbursable, but you’ll need proof. This includes bills, paid receipts, injury/accident reports, physician’s statements, etc. If you’re receiving any type of medical care abroad, be sure you have everything in writing before you leave the facility.
  • Open a claim as soon as you can. Most insurers let you do this via an online portal or by calling a 24-hour emergency hotline.

Does my health insurance cover international travel?

All health insurance is different, so it’s always a good idea to call your provider to get the details when you’re planning a trip abroad. Many private plans offer some type of limited coverage, but usually not enough to cover you in the case of a major medical emergency.

How much is travel health insurance?

Travel health insurance cost varies depending on the level of coverage, the length of your trip and the number of travelers and their ages. In most cases, you can get moderate coverage for $50 or less per person.

How much travel health insurance do I need?

Coverage needs depend on personal preference and other factors, including your age, health and nature of your trip. In general, try to find medical coverage for $100,000 or more, which should cover most medical emergencies and hospitalizations. For additional peace of mind, look for coverage of $500,000.

Do I need travel health insurance when traveling to Europe?

Yes. You should consider medical travel insurance for any travel outside of the U.S., since your regular health plan may not suffice.

Do I need health insurance to travel to Canada?

Yes. Even when visiting our close neighbors to the north, it’s a good idea to purchase travel health insurance to cover gaps that your personal plan does not cover once you cross the border.

Is travel health insurance tax deductible?

The IRS does allow you to write off the cost of travel medical insurance premiums as they are considered a medical expense. If your coverage is part of a comprehensive travel insurance policy, you can only deduct the travel medical insurance portion of the cost.

Are travel insurance and health insurance the same?

Travel insurance and health insurance are not the same. Travel insurance can include health insurance, providing coverage for both the cost of the trip and medical emergencies. However, travelers may also choose stand-alone health insurance, which is intended to cover medical expenses that occur during travel and less focused on trip cancellation losses.

Does Medicare cover you when traveling overseas?

Medicare does not cover medical bills incurred outside of the U.S. There are some very limited coverages, but getting travel health insurance is usually necessary to cover most expenses.

Does travel health insurance cover dental problems?

Most travel insurance plans include some dental coverage, either for emergency procedures or for painful dental injuries that occur in accidents.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.