Heyo, Chris here, Founder of Greenbelly.
A lot of us travel abroad. Myself included. I spent ages researching this most recent 4-month leg to Thailand and China. I thought we could use this research as an opportunity to help shed some light for any of us traveling and needing international coverage. Ultimately, I went with World Nomads for their:
(Note: I have NOT filed any claims though. For that reason, I cannot attest to their claims processing nor their customer support.)
Let's dive into the topic and see how you too can choose the travel insurance that's right for your needs.
Travel insurance can offer many medical benefits similar to health insurance. However, the two are NOT the same. Travel insurance protects you from things like theft or reimbursement on flight changes. Travel medical insurance acts as a traditional insurance policy, having monthly premiums and deductibles for services.
TRAVEL MEDICAL: THE BIG STUFF
Travel Medical Insurance protects against medical expenses gained in a foreign country. This could include ambulance rides, stays at the hospital and emergency medical or dental costs. These costs can be ridiculously expensive, especially if you need medical assistance in a remote area without hospitals or other facilities nearby. It only takes one unexpected $100,000 trip to the ER to demolish a person’s savings, or even bankrupt them completely. Medical insurance protects from such scenarios and gives a heck of a lot of peace of mind.
TRAVEL: THE SMALL(ER) STUFF
Travel Insurance protects the financial parts of your trip. However, it is not uncommon for plans to often include coverage on medical emergencies as well. The most common problems travel insurance protects against are things like canceled trips (given the trip was void for a ‘covered’ reason), lost or stolen luggage or passports, and damaged goods. Each policy will have its own set of guidelines for what exactly it covers, so read these carefully. Many plans also protect against unforeseen events like natural disasters, terrorist threats, and even crisis response.
(Side note: Crisis response is protection against “express kidnapping.” This is a situation where a kidnapper will demand a small ransom for release. With crisis response insurance, the coverage will reimburse you for the cost of that ransom. This is a favored benefit among business travelers and missionaries.)
© Bill Morrow (CC BY 2.0)
Medical bills in a foreign country can add up. Fast. Like hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars-in-a-single-visit fast. Bankrupt your life savings type of stuff. Making sure that you have proper insurance coverage in case of emergencies, and that you understand that coverage is one of the best things you can do to prepare yourself for the unexpected. Here are a few things to keep in mind with travel insurance plans:
MAXIMUM COVERAGE AMOUNT: HIGH ON MEDICAL AND EVACUATION
If you're planning to do any kind of high-risk excursions, look for a plan that provides at least $100,000 in medical coverage and $300,000 in medical evacuation. It may sound like a hefty amount now, but as mentioned above, those bills can add up quickly.
COUNTRIES COVERED: GETTING ASSISTANCE EVERYWHERE YOU PLAN ON GOING (INCLUDING YOUR HOME COUNTRY)
This probably goes without saying, but to be safe, we’re going to say it anyway. If you’re visiting different countries on your trip, make sure your insurance covers ALL countries in your trip. Are you going to France and plan to do a day-trip to Spain, Switzerland or Belgium? Make sure your insurance follows you in these countries.
If you have to make a trip back home during your time abroad because of injury, illness or just returning for a holiday, then opt for a travel insurance plan that also has home country coverage. Many travel insurance policies allow a certain number of days of coverage in your home country after you’ve met the required days abroad. For example, Safetywing’s travel insurance allows U.S. citizens 15 days of coverage back home for every 90 days spent abroad.
ACTIVITIES COVERED: "SOFT" VS. "HARD" ADVENTURES
If your travel plans include more adventurous endeavors, then it's important to make sure you're covered for these activities.
Insurance companies categorize activities as either “soft” or “hard” adventures. Travel insurance policies typically cover the risk associated with soft adventures like hiking, biking or leisure sports. Hard adventures lie more on the extreme side. Think trekking to exotic locations, scuba diving or surfing.
Most travel insurance policies will not cover hard adventures, so you’ll have to look into adding additional coverage to your policy. The below are typically not insured:
CUSTOMER SERVICE QUALITY: ONLINE REVIEWS GO A LONG WAY
Be sure to do thorough research on various insurance providers to see how highly rated their customer support and claims filing process are. Reading through reviews on sites like Trustpilot.com or Insuremytrip.com are great ways to learn about first-hand experiences from fellow travelers.
Many providers work with third-party providers to handle claims. Be sure you understand if your insurance company does this, and what company will handle your claim. That way you can check out reviews and customer ratings for that company as well.
CUSTOMER SERVICE HOURS: 24/7 COVERAGE IS KEY
Because unforeseen events and emergencies happen 24/7, it's important to have an insurance plan that has an around-the-clock hotline to provide assistance. You don't want to be waiting for surgery in a time zone that is 12 hours different with no one to call.
ADD-ON COVERAGE: MAKING UP FOR WHAT'S NOT COVERED
Every travel insurance policy is different and each will have things that they will and won’t cover. Shopping around to find a policy that’s affordable and has coverage for what you’re wanting to do on your trip will take some research. You may need to add on coverage for “high-risk” adventures like rock climbing, mountaineering, caving, etc. Keep in mind that plans can also vary depending on whether you're traveling alone, in a group or with a family. Your age, trip length, where you're traveling to, and how dangerous the area is will also matter.
MAXIMUM TRIP LENGTH (AND EXTENSIONS): AVOID LOSING YOUR COVERAGE MID-TRIP
If purchasing an annual travel insurance policy, the maximum trip length is the longest trip a single traveler can take within a year of coverage. This amount of time can range anywhere from 30 to 90 days. Make sure your plan guarantees you assistance for the entire duration of your trip.
If you need to stay abroad longer than originally planned for reasons out of your control like illness or flight cancellations, then many insurance plans allow an extension of coverage for a limited amount of time. If you're choosing to stay overseas longer by choice, then extending coverage may only be possible if your policy is “renewable” and you purchase the extension before your plan expires.
OPEN-ENDED TRIPS: WHAT IF I ONLY HAVE A ONE-WAY TICKET?
Maybe you want to go abroad without having to set a specific date of return ahead of time? Although there are policies that require you to have a return flight already purchased, there are still plans that make open-ended travel possible. Big Cat Travel Insurance and World Nomads are both highly-rated open-ended options. Keep in mind that many of these policies still have a specific time limit that you must adhere to.
There are hundreds of travel insurance plans to choose from. To narrow down the selection a bit, we’re covering six of the best travel insurance companies out there.
|Best For||Cons||Customer Service||Cost|
|Allianz Travel||Extended trips abroad||Not very flexible||4.5/5||$4-$9 per day|
|World Nomads||Adventurers/backpackers||Stops at 70 y.o.||3.5/5||$4-$7 per day|
|SafetyWing||Penny pinchers||Limited travel coverage||4.5/5||$2 per day|
|IMG||Short vacations, family trips||Limited travel coverage||4.5/5||$1-$8 per day|
|Travel Guard||Tailored insurance plans||Complicated claim system||3/5||$6-$12 per day|
(All the quotes reported in this section were requested for a 25-year old American living in Atlanta, GA, traveling to Thailand from March 1 to March 31, 2020. Some companies also asked us for an estimate of the trip cost, which we set at $2,000.)
The Gist: Allianz’s long-term insurance plans make it a top option for extended trips abroad. It’s also a great choice for families because it's one of the few providers that offer free coverage to travelers under the age of 17.
Planning a long overseas backpacking trip or taking a year to study abroad? Allianz’s extended insurance plans have options that cover up to a years’ worth of travel, where most companies typically top out around 3-6 months. Allianz would also be a good option for those planning a trip with youngsters since they’re one of the few companies where kids’ insurance is free. Allianz has special perks for business travelers as well. They offer four different annual plans all with one fixed price that cover unlimited international trips for an entire year.
Included: Most plans include assistance for trip cancellation, baggage loss/theft/delay, emergency medical, medivac, and repatriation.
Types of Plans:
Cons: Although Allianz does offer a lot of coverage plans, there’s not much room for flexibility within these plans. So, what’s offered at each level of coverage is what you’ll get. Another drawback is that if you lose your passport, or it gets stolen, Allianz will provide detailed instructions on how to get a new one while abroad, but they won’t cover the costs associated with doing so, unlike other providers.
Customer service and claims (4.5/5 stars on trustpilot.com): Allianz’s customer support team is said to be pleasant and filing a claim is fast and easy! Some customers even got their money reimbursed in less than a week.
Cost (25-year-old American traveling to Asia for 1 month): $4-9/day depending on the plan.
The Gist: The most recognized travel insurance company on the market, this is a great option for backpackers and those pursuing more adventurous excursions.
Covering over 200 activities in 130 countries, World Nomads is like the kingpin of travel Insurance. It's recommended by all the top brands (like Lonely Planet and National Geographic), it’s the go-to company for many first time and even seasoned travelers, and it’s used by a lot of the major overseas tour and travel companies. It’s also known to be one of the best bang-for-your-buck companies out there, especially in covering adventurous endeavors. World Nomads even has a checklist available online so you can look to see if the activity you’re wanting to do is covered. The variety of plans include open-ended options, and there’s even a way to buy insurance while already traveling.
Included: Most plans cover flight changes (including missed, delayed or canceled flights), medical care, theft, medevac, lost or stolen luggage claims (including expensive electronics like laptops, GoPro’s and cameras.)
Types of Plans: Standard and Explorer.
Cons: World Nomads has an age limit, unfortunately (something they’re hoping to improve in the future). They provide assistance for anyone up to 70 years old.
Customer service and claims (3.5/5 stars on trustpilot.com): The company has a lot of mixed reviews, some great, some voicing their disgruntles about the turn-around time on filed claims. However, World Nomads still remains the leader of the pack in travel insurance.
Cost (25-year-old American traveling to Asia for 1 month): $4/day for the Standard plan, $7/day for the Explorer plan.
The Gist: Best for penny pinchers, digital nomads who travel for work, or those who want flexible coverage that's easy to cancel or renew.
A newer company, Safetywing is already getting recognition for being one of the most inexpensive options in the travel insurance game. Their cheapest plan is as low as under $2.00/day (if between the age of 18-39). They also give a lot of flexibility in their plans which automatically renew every four weeks for up to a year. You can cancel your plan at any time with no penalty fee (helpful in case of trip interruption). So, it’s great for those that aren’t exactly sure how long they’ll be traveling for. Safetywing also provides home country coverage after 90 days abroad. Once you’ve passed the 90-day mark, you receive 15 days of home coverage if you live in the U.S., and 30 days if you live in another country. Also, like World Nomads, you can sign up for this insurance while on the road. Their plans offer worldwide coverage in all countries except Iran, North Korea and Cuba.
Included: Travel delays out of your control, checked luggage only, health coverage, medivac, and limited coverage for sports and adventure activities.
Types of Plans: Travel insurance and medical insurance included in one package deal.
Cons: The company markets itself as a travel medical insurance provider. For example, Safetywing does not cover trip cancellations or missed flights, but it offers some coverage on incidents like travel delays and lost luggage. However, there are limitations. For example, the luggage that’s covered is only checked baggage, and no expensive electronics like laptops, iPad, camera’s or lenses qualify.
Customer service and claims (4.5/5 stars on trustpilot.com): Being a new runner in the travel insurance game, the company has limited reviews. However, the handful of reviews they have are great. Their customer support team has been called “excellent, easy and reliable,” and the claims process is said to be quick and simple. You can even lookup live status updates of your claim on their website.
Cost (25-year-old American traveling to Asia for 1 month): Less than $2/day.
The Gist: Best for those that are vacationing with families, going on less-adventurous trips or taking shorter U.S. based vacations.
IMG offers an assortment of plans that cover a variety of different travel. A favorite for the thrill-seekers is the ITravelInsured Travel LX, which offers up to $500,000 in emergency medical coverage, $1,000,000 for emergency evacuation costs, and they’ll even cover up to $10,000 in search and rescue missions. IMG is best known for being a healthcare provider rather than a travel insurance company. Aside from the plan mentioned above, many of their options are geared towards people living with dual residencies, multinational employers and those that are looking for health-care while living abroad for extended periods of time.
Included: Many of IMG’s plans include trip cancellation, interruption, delays, lost or stolen baggage (including from your hotel), emergency medical care and evacuation, and a universal prescription discount program.
Types of Plans: A variety of budget-friendly options, plans are available for individuals, groups, and even those working at sea.
Cons: IMG focuses more on travel medical rather than travel insurance, so although they offer travel insurance plans, their options are not as inclusive and there are fewer choices than competitors.
Customer service and claims (4.5/5 stars on trustpilot.com): IMG is known as being reasonably priced with a knowledgeable customer support team. They also have a great site layout that’s a breeze to navigate for filing a claim, and most patrons have commented on how quickly claims are handled.
Cost (25-year-old American traveling to Asia for 1 month): $1-8/day, depending on the plan.
The Gist: If you want to tailor your travel insurance plan, then Travel Guard is the company for you. They offer a large number of build-your-own options at a range of reasonable prices.
Travel Guard falls under the larger corporation AIG. You can customize any of their plans to cover common travel concerns, adding on only the benefits you feel necessary for your travel. The most basic plans come in at a fairly low price. So, if you want a straightforward plan without all the bells and whistles for a bargain, then they’ve got that option for you. Another great perk that the company offers is default insurance, which means that if a tour company you’re traveling with “defaults”, Travel Guard will still cover you. This is a rare perk not commonly offered by other insurance plans.
Included: Coverage plans vary, common offerings include trip cancellation, travel medical and health insurance, rental car insurance, cruise insurance, and annual travel insurance.
Types of Plans: Travel Guard has plans that are fully customizable, but there are three main levels of coverage available ranging from the cheapest to the most expensive: Essential, Preferred and Deluxe.
Cons: The large variety of plans and options may make choosing one difficult, and the claim’s system is said to be hard to use. Also, not all plans are available to U.S. residents.
Customer service and claims (3/5 stars on trustpilot.com): They don’t have the greatest reviews, with many customers saying that when claims are filed the turnaround time was much longer than expected. However, the company supposedly does follow up to let customers know when claims are finalized and their checks are in the mail.
Cost (25-year-old American traveling to Asia for 1 month): $6-12/day, depending on the plan.
Every travel insurance plan is unique, so it’s important to read through each one carefully. To help navigate and understand all the insurance jargon used in these policies, here are a few common terms you NEED to know.
DEDUCTIBLE: THE PART YOU'LL HAVE TO PAY
To put it simply, a deductible is the sum of money you pay before your insurance company pays. Think of it as “upfront” costs that you’ve previously agreed to. At the beginning of your health care service, you pay this agreed-upon amount of money—which is a specific amount listed in your contract with your insurance company. Then, your insurance company steps in and pays the rest. For example, if you have a deductible that’s $500 and your total medical costs total to $5000, then you pay the $500 upfront, and your insurance company then pays the $4500. Keep in mind that not all insurance companies make you pay a deductible.
MAXIMUM LIMIT PER INJURY: THE MAXIMUM AMOUNT YOU'LL GET
This refers to the total amount of money you’ll be covered for under the insurance policy. The limits usually range from $1,000,000 to $5,000,000, but they can be higher in special cases.
COINSURANCE: THE % OF YOUR BILLS THE INSURANCE COMPANY EXPECTS YOU TO COVER
Once you’ve met your deductible, you may be asked to pay coinsurance. Coinsurance is a certain percentage of your medical charges that you pay while your insurance pays the rest. For example, if your medical coinsurance agreement is 30%, then you pay 30% of each one of your medical bills, while your insurance pays the remaining 70%.
MEDICAL EVACUATION AND REPATRIATION: TRANSPORT TO THE HEALTH FACILITY
Medical evacuation, also known as medevac, is the part of the insurance policy that covers transportation costs to the nearest medical facility in the event of a severe illness or injury. This could be by ambulance, helicopter, or even transportation back to your home country. You want to be sure you have coverage of at least $300,000 here, as these services are not cheap, and medical transportation by helicopter in rural areas can easily reach upwards of $200,000.
Many policies have a medical evacuation agreement built-in, or an inexpensive option to add it. Some even pay for the costs associated with getting back home if a medical professional declares that further assistance is required. When reading this portion of a policy, pay close attention to the eligibility factors, as they can vary from policy to policy. As for repatriation, this refers to the return of someone back to their home country.
PREEXISTING CONDITIONS: ILLNESSES YOU'VE HAD PRIOR TO REGISTERING WITH THE INSURANCE COMPANY
A preexisting condition is any medical injury, disease or illness you had prior to starting a new health care plan. This may include diabetes, lupus, sleep apnea, asthma or any other chronic illness. To qualify as a pre-existing condition, you need to have been deemed “not medically stable,” and seeking treatment during the 60-180 days prior to your policy’s purchase date. Although you may not be able to purchase coverage for a preexisting condition, some travel insurance policies offer exclusion waivers which will help to cover costs for such circumstances. To qualify for this waiver, you need to buy the insurance on or shortly after the date you make the first payment for your trip. Each policy is different and many have other stipulations involved, so again, read through your policy carefully.
There’s good news with filing travel insurance claims. According to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, a whopping 90% of claims filed are honored! That’s an impressive number, however, that doesn’t mean filing a claim is necessarily easy. It’s quite a tedious and time-consuming task. Here are a few tips to keep in mind prior to submitting a claim that can make the process much faster and easier.
1. Check to see if you already have coverage – Call and talk to your current insurance provider or even credit card company to see if you already have travel insurance in your plan (you MIGHT). If you do, find out the details and how long you’re covered to make sure the plan is a good fit for your upcoming trip.
2. Read the policy – Then reread it again times if you have to. Unfortunately, the fine print is what mattes. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and talk through any and every part you don’t understand with your insurance provider. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to make sure you know EXACTLY what your policy covers and its proper protocols.
3. Document everything –
A. Valuables – Keep receipts and take pictures of your valuables ahead of time. Document everything important you’re taking with you, and report any stolen item immediately. Then, get a copy of that police report! You’ll need it to file a claim through your insurance company.
B. Illnesses – Many policies require that you involve them in helping choose the provider when seeking medical assistance. For this reason, if you get sick while abroad, call your insurance provider and they’ll work with you to find the best (covered) care near you. Be sure to hold on to all paperwork throughout your visit with the doctor to later file a claim.
C. Any other hiccup - Insurance companies need to see proof when filing claims, so get copies of all documentation throughout your travels. This includes medical records, lost luggage vouchers, police reports, and any notices of flight delays or changes.
4. Communicate with your provider – Always call and talk with your insurance company prior to submitting a claim so you understand the expectations and process. This could save you a lot of time and possibly headaches if the insurance provider rejects your claim because of missing information or documents.
5. Be prepared to file a claim – When it comes to insurance, it's better to plan just-in-case rather than assuming you'll be able to figure everything out when - and if - you'll need assistance. For example, find out what documents you'll have to send in with your claim ahead of time and be sure to have these documents with you while traveling.
By Chris Cage
Chris launched Greenbelly Meals in 2014 after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for 6 months. Since then, Greenbelly has been written up by everyone from Backpacker Magazine to Fast Company. He wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail and currently works from his laptop all over the globe. Instagram: @chrisrcage.
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