Buying the Best Travel Medical Insurance for You [2021]

Travel Medical Insurance

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The thought of getting sick or injured while traveling can be one of the most stressful aspects of planning a trip. Often, travelers assume that their primary health insurance will cover all costs of medical expenses on their trip, but not every health insurance plan covers every country and situation.

To ensure you have coverage if you need it, you may need to consider purchasing travel medical insurance. This can fill the gap between your regular insurance and any coverage you may have with your credit cards. We’ll breakdown all of the important details and tell you everything you should know about travel medical insurance.

What Is Travel Medical Insurance?

If you are traveling domestically within your own country, you will likely be covered by your primary health insurance. If you are traveling abroad, your coverage may not extend to those other countries. This is primarily where travel medical insurance comes into play.

Hot Tip: With a few exceptions, Medicare doesn’t cover health care while you’re traveling outside the U.S. and its territories. If you’re a senior, you can learn about your options for travel insurance here.

Travel medical insurance is a type of international insurance designed to cover emergency health care costs you might face when you are traveling or vacationing abroad.

A travel medical policy can be an important addition to your trip since your primary health plan may not cover you fully if you need assistance outside of your home country. An uninsured injury or illness abroad can result in a huge financial burden that can be significantly reduced by having travel medical insurance.

Bottom Line: Travel medical insurance is recommended by the U.S. Department of State, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to Allianz Travel, the most common overseas medical emergencies that are claimed include:

  1. Fractures from falls
  2. Cardiovascular problems such as a heart attack or stroke
  3. Trauma involving motor vehicles
  4. Respiratory problems such as a collapsed lung

So going with that first item, let’s say you’re exploring Europe and end up twisting your ankle on the beautiful, but uneven cobblestone streets in Rome. Depending on the plan you choose, you may be covered for:

  • The cost of a local ambulance to transport you to the hospital
  • Your emergency room co-payment
  • The bill for your hospital room and board
  • Any other eligible medical expenses, up to your plan limits

But there are limitations to travel medical insurance. Before you purchase a plan, it’s important to know exactly what you are buying — including which things are and aren’t included in your coverage.

What Does Travel Medical Insurance Cover?

Travel medical plans are designed to help in the event of an unforeseen illness or injury while traveling abroad. Travel medical insurance offers emergency medical expense coverage as well as emergency evacuation coverage. This means that the plan will reimburse you for reasonable and customary costs of emergency medical and dental care (up to the plan limits — discussed below).

Medical Evacuation Travel Medical Insurance
Travel medical insurance may cover emergency evacuation. Image Credit: Reshot

It is important to look closely at all plans you are interested in since many important things are hidden in the details. You might also find it helpful to brush up on your insurance lingo before doing this.

Plan Limits

Travel medical insurance covers emergency medical costs up to the plan limit. Plan limits vary greatly by plan but typically fall between $50,000 and $2,000,000. This is obviously a HUGE range, so you will have to determine the correct amount of coverage based on a few key items:

  1. How much (if any) will your own health insurance plan or credit card cover when you’re traveling outside of your home country? As we discussed above, Medicare doesn’t cover you at all outside of the U.S., so this would be an instance where you might want your plan’s coverage limit to be higher.
  2. How long is your trip? If you’re going to be away for more than 1 to 2 months, you might want a higher plan limit to account for the greater exposure to risk.
  3. Do you need extra coverage due to risky activities? For example, if you expect to ski, mountain climb, or do any other risky activities where you might get injured, you might want a higher plan limit.
  4. What do you feel comfortable with? If you feel safer having $100,000 as opposed to $50,000, then that may be the right decision for you. This insurance plan should provide you a sense of security so you can enjoy your trip.

Deductibles

Most medical single trip plans have some sort of deductible that you must pay before any benefits will be paid. After this, your travel medical insurance will cover any remaining costs, up to the plan’s limit.

However, you will be offered the option to increase, decrease, or remove the deductible altogether. Based on this choice, the price you pay (aka the premium) will be affected accordingly. For example, if you choose a higher deductible, your premium will decrease. If you choose a lower (or no) deductible, your premium will increase.

Length of Trip

You are covered by travel medical insurance based on the type of plan you purchase. These come in 3 types:

Single-Trip Coverage

This is the most common type of travel medical insurance. When you leave your home, go on a trip, and then return home, this is considered to be a single trip. While on your trip, you can still visit multiple countries and destinations all under the umbrella of this single trip. You will be covered for the duration of this trip under a single trip travel medical insurance plan.

Multi-Trip Coverage

Multi-trip coverage is for multiple trips and often purchased in 3-, 6-, and 12-month segments.

Long-Term Coverage

This is continuous medical coverage for the long-term traveler (think expats or people working abroad) and is typically paid on a monthly basis.

Does Travel Medical Insurance Cover COVID-19?

Many travel insurance policies offer good medical coverage, but not all plans cover expenses related to COVID-19. If that’s important to you, make sure to verify that the plan you’re buying specifically covers you in case you contract COVID-19.

In general, cancellations due to fear of travel are not covered. However, some plans cover you if you or your covered traveling companion were to become sick as a result of COVID-19. This means that you could still receive benefits for the losses that are covered by the plan.

Traveling During Pandemic
Image Credit: TheOtherKev via Pixabay

Many countries around the world, such as Costa Rica and the United Arab Emirates, are even requiring travelers to hold a specific level of medical coverage to account for COVID-19-related medical care and evacuation.

In addition, “Cancel for Any Reason” has become a hot topic. This optional coverage is not available with all plans but lets you cancel a trip for a partial refund no matter what your reason — including unexpected travel bans, lengthy quarantine periods, or cancellations due to concerns over COVID-19.

What Doesn’t Travel Medical Insurance Cover?

Since travel medical insurance is meant to cover emergencies, certain types of expenses are excluded from most travel medical policies. In addition, for insurance purposes, a pre-existing condition is general defined as any condition:

  • For which medical advice, diagnosis, care, or treatment was recommended or received within a defined period of time prior to your coverage date (varies from plan to plan, but is typically within 60 days to 2 years)
  • That would cause a “reasonably prudent person” to seek medical advice, diagnosis, care, or treatment prior to your coverage date
  • That existed prior to your effective date of coverage, whether or not it was known to you (commonly includes pregnancy)

Hot Tip: You do not need a medical examination in order to purchase travel insurance. If you have a claim, the insurance company will investigate to ensure that your claim occurred during the coverage period of your policy and wasn’t a result of any pre-existing conditions.

Here are some of the most frequent exclusions:

  • Pre-existing conditions as defined above
  • Routine medical examinations and care (i.e. wellness exams, ongoing prescriptions, etc.)
  • Routine prenatal, pregnancy, childbirth, and post-natal care
  • Medical expenses for injury or illness caused by extreme sports
  • Mental health disorders
  • Injury caused by the effects of intoxication or illegal drugs
  • Payments exceeding the plan limit

Unless you’ve purchased a comprehensive travel insurance plan, other exclusions include claims related to:

Be sure to read the description of coverage for any plan you’re considering before you make the purchase. While reading the entire document front to back can be tedious, it’s better to know what’s excluded before you attempt to make a claim.

What Travel Medical Insurance Isn’t

Now that we’ve let you know what is and isn’t covered by travel medical insurance, we’ll also breakdown the difference between travel medical insurance and other similar options.

Comprehensive Travel Insurance

Comprehensive travel insurance plans offer the most benefits of all plan types and will typically include medical coverage. It can offer you additional coverage for things like trip cancellation, trip delay and cancellation, lost luggage, and more. It’s the best way to cover a host of potential common travel-related problems.

Some comprehensive plans also offer additional coverage for things like rental car damage, Cancel for Any Reason, or a pre-existing condition waiver.

Bottom Line: Comprehensive travel insurance is a full-service plan and includes travel medical coverage as well as other coverages that will protect all aspects of your trip. 

Health Insurance

You might be thinking that already have medical insurance provided by your employer or through Medicare. However, when you travel to other countries, your primary health insurance might not go with you. Before your trip, check to see whether your domestic plan provides any coverage once you’ve left your home country since many offer limited or no coverage.

How Does Travel Medical Insurance Work?

In case of a medical emergency, you will want to be able to lay your hands quickly on your travel insurance plan’s contact information for the 24-hour Emergency Assistance program as well as your policy number, so make sure to keep this information somewhere that is easily accessible. Also, be sure you know how to place a call to that number from outside the country.

Emergency Room Visit
Image Credit: F. Muhammad via Pixabay

This is important because you’ll be required to call your travel insurance provider and notify them that you need to be seen by a medical professional as soon as possible. Obviously, you may not be medically able to call before you seek emergency medical treatment, but you should do so as soon as you are able to.

The earlier you can call, the more likely it is that you can avoid any issues for payment of claims and you can also get help and advice from the company’s emergency assistance program.

Bottom Line: Specific details on when and how to contact your insurance provider in case of a medical emergency vary by plan and provider, so thoroughly review these details in your plan information.

For example, in the event of an emergency that requires emergency medical evacuation, your insurance provider will have to approve the evacuation and even make those arrangements for you. If you don’t call ahead to have them do this, the company may not approve the expense and you may be stuck paying for the evacuation in full.

Once you are actually at a medical facility to receive care, make sure to document the experience as thoroughly as possible. This means asking for copies of all of your records before you check out. You’ll need to provide these records to the insurance company when you eventually file your claim and having proof of treatment and costs will assist you in filing a successful claim and getting your money back as soon as possible.

How Much Does Travel Medical Insurance Cost?

Travel medical insurance plans can vary widely in price, but in general, plans cost anywhere between 4-10% of your total non-refundable trip cost. The pricing of any plan takes into consideration many things, including a few that we discussed above, to determine the cost. These include:

  • Age of travelers
  • Plan limits
  • Deductibles
  • Supplemental plans such as “Cancel For Any Reason” coverage or coverage for pre-existing conditions
  • Length of trip

In addition, if you decide that a comprehensive plan is a better choice for you, this will also increase the price.

Which Company Has the Best Travel Medical Insurance?

The best travel medical insurance company for you may be determined by what type and how much coverage you’d like to have. Let’s review a few options and companies to consider.

Credit Card Coverage

Many premium cards have some medical coverage, so be sure to look over all of the best credit cards for travel insurance coverage and protection.

For example, cardholders of The Platinum Card® from American Express may already have $15,000 of secondary medical coverage. For many, this may be enough, but for others, you may not feel comfortable at this level of coverage and want to purchase a travel medical insurance policy.

Travel Medical Insurance Policies

If you are looking to purchase a plan from a reputable company, a few options include:

1. Patriot Travel Medical Insurance from IMG Global

For the out-of-country plans, Patriot offers:

  • Short-term travel medical coverage
  • Coverage for individuals, groups, and their dependents
  • Daily or monthly rates
  • Freedom to seek treatment with the hospital or doctor of your choice

The following plans are available based on the level of coverage that you desire and you can request a quote through their website linked above.

IMG Global Patriot Travel Medical Insurance
Image Credit: IMG Global

2. GeoBlue Single Trip Traveler Medical Insurance

GeoBlue offers both the “Voyager Choice” and “Voyager Essential” single trip plans. Both plans allow you to choose your level of medical coverage (from $50,000 up to $1 million) and offer $500,000 in emergency medical transportation and repatriation coverage.

The main difference between the 2 plans is that the Choice plan does not require you to be covered by a primary health plan, but doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions. The Voyager plan will cover all pre-existing conditions, but functions as a secondary coverage after your primary health plan.

GeoBlue Travel Medical Insurance Coverage
Image Credit: GeoBlue Travel Insurance

3. Allianz Travel Medical Insurance

Allianz offers an Emergency Medical plan that offers additional benefits that extend beyond simply medical coverage. This plan is a comprehensive plan that covers lost baggage and trip cancellation and delay, in addition to emergency medical coverage. See just a few of these benefits below:

Allianz Emergency Medical Travel Insurance
Image Credit via Allianz Travel Insurance

In addition, many companies, such as AAA, offer travel insurance through Allianz, so you may receive a further discount if you reference your AAA policy.

Final Thoughts

Travel medical insurance can be beneficial for most travelers when traveling internationally as most primary health insurance plans won’t cover you abroad. We hope we’ve given you the tools you need to select a plan that works best for you and your travel needs.

At the end of the day, a travel medical plan is a great option if you’re traveling abroad and are not worried about covering trip costs due to a cancellation or added expenses due to a travel delay. Anyone looking for robust coverage for baggage or interruption should consider an upgrade to a more comprehensive plan.


All information and content provided by Upgraded Points is intended as general information and for educational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as medical advice or legal advice. For more information, see our Medical & Legal Disclaimers.


Frequently asked questions

How much travel medical insurance do I need?

When considering the amount of coverage you’d like for your travel medical insurance plan, consider the following:

  1. How much (if any) will your own health insurance plan or credit card cover when you’re traveling outside of your home country?
  2. How long is your trip?
  3. Do you need extra coverage due to risky activities?
  4. What amount of coverage do you feel comfortable with?

Refer to the section titled “Plan Limits” for more detailed considerations.

How long does it take to receive travel medical insurance?

Travel medical insurance coverage starts the day of your trip, so you want to make sure you sign up for it before you leave. Most plans allow you to buy insurance up until the day before your trip.

However, the best time to buy travel medical insurance is within 15 days of making the first payment on your trip, since buying early can often qualify you for bonus coverages.

Is travel medical insurance worth it?

Depending on your primary health insurance and any secondary coverage you might be eligible for, travel medical insurance can still be a great tool to protect you from financial hits caused by injury or illness.

In addition, travel medical insurance can help organize assistance in extreme circumstances (such as medical evacuation). You can also pick the appropriate level of coverage to make you feel comfortable.

Does AAA offer travel medical insurance?

Yes, AAA offers travel medical insurance, but it is usually serviced by another company such as IMG Global or Allianz. You will normally receive a greater discount if you mention your AAA insurance policy, so don’t forget to include this when you request a quote!

Can you get travel insurance when already abroad?

Most companies do not offer travel insurance policies once your trip has already begun. There are a few reputable companies, such as World Nomads and SafetyWing, that are set up for long-term travel.

These companies allow you to purchase plans once your trip has already begun, but the rates may be higher than a plan that was purchased prior to leaving for your trip.

Christy Rodriguez

About Christy Rodriguez

Christy was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but lived in Texas the majority of her life. Now, work has her living in the Bay Area with her husband and yellow lab. Her first international travel experience was for a summer study abroad program in Italy. After that, she knew that she was destined to travel as much as possible. Luckily, her husband worked at Southwest Airlines, so they were introduced to the exciting world of “non-rev” travel.

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