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Why You Need Medical Insurance When Traveling Abroad

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Jessica Merritt
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Jessica Merritt

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A long-time points and miles student, Jessica is the former Personal Finance Managing Editor at U.S. News and World Report and is passionate about helping consumers fund their travels for as little ca...
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Traveling abroad can introduce you to new and thrilling experiences as you immerse yourself in diverse cultures and stunning landscapes. But you’re probably not prepared to explore the complexities of a foreign healthcare system. Medical emergencies can happen anytime, and medical coverage is particularly crucial when you’re far from home

When you have travel medical insurance, you can explore knowing you’re covered if you need access to quality healthcare wherever you are. Wherever your adventures take you, travel medical insurance can offer a safety net of access to high-quality healthcare.

Let’s examine why travel medical insurance is essential when traveling abroad and understand your options for getting international health insurance coverage for your next trip.

Why Medical Insurance Is Necessary When Traveling Abroad

The thought of facing a medical emergency in a foreign country is anxiety-inducing, especially if you’re not covered by health insurance accepted at your destination. Chances are, your U.S.-based health insurance doesn’t offer international health care coverage or it’s limited. 

The costs of medical care vary worldwide, and without appropriate coverage, you may face limited access to care or come home burdened by overwhelming medical bills. But a travel medical insurance policy — or a travel insurance policy that includes medical coverage — can protect both your health and your finances as you travel abroad.

If you experience a serious medical situation while traveling abroad, travel medical insurance with evacuation and repatriation benefits can help you get home to appropriate medical care. That could be crucial if you’re visiting a remote or underserved area where you can’t get advanced medical care.

Language barriers may complicate communication with providers, too. That can add complexity to an already stressful situation. But with travel medical insurance, you can typically access assistance services to help you find medical facilities, communicate with healthcare providers, and navigate the local healthcare system.

A travel medical insurance policy can help you confidently travel abroad knowing your support system extends to a foreign country where you can secure and coordinate necessary medical care. Whether you experience a minor health issue or a major medical emergency, travel medical insurance can safeguard your health while you explore. 

Bottom Line:

The U.S. Department of State recommends purchasing travel medical insurance for overseas coverage. Generally, Medicare and Medicaid don’t cover medical costs overseas.

Travel Insurance vs. Travel Medical Insurance

Travel insurance and travel medical insurance are related but not always the same. While a comprehensive travel insurance policy may offer travel medical insurance coverage, you shouldn’t assume it’s included

You’ll get broad coverage encompassing issues that could disrupt your trip when using travel insurance. For example, trip cancellations, lost luggage, and flight delays are typical coverage areas of travel insurance.

Travel medical insurance, on the other hand, is more specialized travel insurance that focuses solely on coverage for medical emergencies and related healthcare expenses while you travel. Getting travel medical insurance is key because many regular health insurance policies don’t cover medical expenses in foreign countries.

What Travel Medical Insurance Covers

Man making emergency phone call
If you have a medical emergency overseas, calling your travel medical insurance hotline can get you connected with treatment. Image Credit: Anna via Unsplash

Travel medical insurance often includes coverage for the following:

  • Emergency Medical Expenses: Coverage can pay for medical treatment for unexpected illnesses, injuries, or accidents on your trip, including doctor visits, hospitalization, and medications.
  • Emergency Dental Care: You can get covered for urgent dental treatment for unforeseen dental emergencies.
  • Medical Evacuation: Travel medical insurance can cover the cost of transporting you to the nearest appropriate medical facility or, if necessary, your home country.
  • Repatriation of Remains: If you die on a trip, travel medical insurance can cover the costs of returning your remains to your home country.
  • Accidental Death or Dismemberment: You or your beneficiaries can get benefits if an accident on your trip results in permanent disability or death.

These coverages can be especially helpful if you’re overseas, where getting medical care or getting safely in a medical emergency can be particularly costly. While these are common travel medical insurance coverage areas, you should read your policy documents carefully and understand what coverage is included in your travel medical insurance policy.

What’s Not Covered

And while it’s important to know what travel medical insurance covers, it’s also important to know what’s not covered. For example, you’re covered by travel medical insurance if you fall and break a leg while hiking in a foreign country. But you’re not covered if you travel for medical procedures like dental care, cosmetic surgery, or fertility treatment.

Additionally, preexisting conditions are usually not covered. And your coverage may not qualify if you have a medical emergency due to intoxication or drug use. Dangerous activities such as adventure sports aren’t typically covered by travel medical insurance unless you get an adventure travel insurance plan.

You should also understand travel medical insurance’s exclusions, limits, and deductibles. These can include specific excluded activities such as adventure sports, limits on coverage such as up to $500,000 for medical evacuation, and deductibles, which you must pay before your policy will reimburse your costs. For example, you might need to pay $200 for an emergency medical expense on your trip before your insurance coverage kicks in.

Hot Tip:

Does your travel medical insurance cover COVID-19? Sometimes, but not always. Check your plan’s details to determine if it includes COVID-related medical expenses, travel delays, and quarantines.

The Cost of Medical Travel Insurance

You should expect to pay between $5 to $20 per day for travel medical insurance, but your actual cost may vary based on your individual factors and the insurance provider. Getting quotes from multiple travel medical insurance providers to compare your costs and coverage options is a good idea.

What you pay for travel medical insurance depends on several factors, including your age, health, destination, travel length, deductible amount, and coverage limits. Additional coverage, such as adventure sports, can add to your policy cost.

Additional Coverage Options

You may have the option to get primary coverage, which means you can submit a claim to the travel medical insurance company before submitting it to any other insurance policies you have, such as your health insurance plan at home. Another option is multi-trip coverage, which allows you to cover emergency health care in multiple locations over multiple trips as long as it’s within the covered period, usually 30 to 90 days.

Although travel medical insurance adds to your travel expenses, the cost of a medical emergency overseas can far outweigh the cost of the insurance premium. Travel medical insurance is a small price for the peace of mind and financial protection of coverage for a medical emergency when traveling abroad.

To illustrate the potential costs of international travel medical insurance, we got quotes for a 30-year-old traveler from the U.S. visiting Australia for a week. While basic secondary medical coverage of $50,000 costs just $5.35 for the duration of the trip, a multi-trip policy good for 30 days with $1 million in medical coverage costs $193.

single trip travel medical insurance quote
Basic medical emergency coverage can be incredibly affordable. Image Credit: InsureMyTrip

The multi-trip policy offers up to $1 million in medical evacuation coverage, but the basic secondary medical coverage policy offers no medical evacuation coverage.

multi trip travel medical insurance quote
A multi-trip travel medical insurance policy may be more costly upfront but can pay off with better coverage that extends to multiple trips during the covered period. Image Credit: InsureMyTrip
Hot Tip:

Need even more extended coverage? Expats may benefit from long-term travel medical insurance, which provides coverage for routine medical care. These policies are usually good for a year and offer comprehensive coverage, including routine medical care — not just the emergencies covered by travel medical insurance.

Is Credit Card Travel Insurance Enough for International Trips?

Many credit cards offer travel insurance, but before you depend on it for medical care on your international trip, look hard at the coverage. You may be left underinsured if you depend solely on your credit card’s travel insurance for medical emergencies. 

Credit card travel insurance may be considered secondary coverage, which only covers costs not reimbursed by your primary health insurance. There may be exclusions for lengthy trips or high-risk activities. Read about your card’s travel insurance benefits to learn about limitations on medical expenses and exclusions such as preexisting medical conditions.

How To Get Health Insurance for International Travel

As you search for travel medical insurance, follow these steps:

  • Understand Existing Coverage: Review your existing health insurance policy for coverage while traveling abroad, as some plans offer limited coverage for emergencies beyond your home country. Also, understand the limitations of any credit card travel insurance medical coverage you may have. 
  • Consider Your Travel Needs: Plan the details of your trip, including the destination and length of travel. Also, note any planned activities such as adventure sports you may need additional coverage for. You’ll need this information and details of any preexisting conditions before you can compare quotes for travel medical insurance.
  • Get Travel Medical Insurance Quotes: Research insurance providers with travel medical insurance and obtain quotes so you can compare their costs, policies, and coverage. You’ll want to consider factors including what medical expenses are covered, whether emergency evacuation is included, and if there’s coverage for repatriation of remains. Understand the fine print, including limitations for preexisting conditions and the policy’s deductibles and maximum coverage details.
  • Read Reviews: Once you’ve narrowed your options, find out what customers have to say about their experience with the insurance providers you’re most interested in. Consider costs, how easy it is to work with the company, and the process for getting medical care and claims approved.
  • Purchase Your Policy: When you choose which travel medical insurance policy you want, it’s time to sign on the dotted line. Read your policy documents to understand the terms and conditions, coverage limitations, and how to get medical care and make a claim.
  • Carry Your Insurance Policy: As you travel overseas, carry a copy of your travel medical insurance policy, emergency contact numbers, and other relevant information, such as major medical records you might need in a medical emergency.
Hot Tip:

Before purchasing a travel medical insurance policy, review your current health insurance policy to determine if it provides any coverage while traveling abroad.

How Much Medical Travel Insurance You Need

The level of coverage you need for travel medical insurance depends on your destination, trip duration, age, and health condition. You should look for at least $100,000 to $500,000 in coverage for emergency medical expenses and evacuation.

The destination is a key factor because medical costs can vary significantly from one country to another. You’ll need more coverage in a country with expensive medical care.

You should also consider how long your trip will be because a longer trip generally means a higher risk of encountering health issues. Your planned activities also make a difference because adventure sports and other hazardous activities have a higher risk of injury. Dangerous activities might necessitate emergency evacuation coverage.

Your age and health condition can influence your medical coverage as well. If you’re young and healthy, you may not need as much coverage as an older traveler with existing medical conditions that could complicate medical care.

Hot Tip:

You can learn about health considerations for your destination from the U.S. Department of State website. Search for the country you plan to visit and check the Health section which can offer information on payments for treatment, how to contact emergency services, vaccination recommendations, and more.

Final Thoughts

Medical insurance while traveling abroad isn’t a luxury — it’s a necessity. Traveling internationally without proper health coverage is risky to your health and finances. Understand the difference between travel insurance and travel medical insurance and be prepared to choose the right travel medical insurance plan to support your health and peace of mind as you travel.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does medical insurance cover you when you traveling abroad?

Your medical insurance may not cover you when traveling abroad, though some health insurance plans offer limited coverage for emergencies outside of your home country. Review your policy to understand your international health coverage and consider purchasing travel medical insurance if your current health insurance policy is inadequate for international travel.

Is travel medical insurance the same as travel insurance?

Travel medical insurance and travel insurance aren’t the same. With travel medical insurance, you’ll get coverage for medical emergencies while you travel, but travel insurance typically offers coverage primarily for non-medical issues that can pop up on your trip, such as trip cancellations and flight delays.

What is the recommended amount of travel medical insurance?

How much travel medical insurance you need depends on your age, health, destination, trip duration, and planned activities. You should look for at least $100,000 to $500,000 in coverage for emergency medical expenses and evacuation.

Do I need travel medical insurance if I already have health insurance in the U.S.?

Yes, you should get travel medical insurance for international travel even if you have health insurance in the U.S. Many domestic health insurance plans offer limited or no coverage for medical expenses you incur abroad.

How much does travel medical insurance cost?

Expect to pay between $5 to $20 per day for travel medical insurance, depending on your age, destination, health, travel duration, coverage limits, and deductible.

Jessica Merritt's image

About Jessica Merritt

A long-time points and miles student, Jessica is the former Personal Finance Managing Editor at U.S. News and World Report and is passionate about helping consumers fund their travels for as little cash as possible.

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