10 Things You Need to Know About Travel Insurance BEFORE You Buy
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Guest post by Matt Kepnes
When it comes to planning a trip, travel insurance is a boring part of the process. No one daydreams about it the same way you daydream about backpacking Europe or exploring Machu Picchu or hiking in New Zealand.
No one wakes up and gets excited about reading a twenty-page insurance policy. And yet buying travel insurance is one of the most important things a traveler can do.
Over the past decade of backpacking the world, I’ve lost my bags, had my camera break, and popped an eardrum scuba diving. I’ve also been knifed. In each of those situations, travel insurance was there for me when I needed help.
While bad things don’t happen often, they can — and do — happen. It’s important to be prepared for those situations, even if they are few and far between. Just because they haven’t happened to you in the past doesn’t mean they won’t in the future.
That’s why I always travel with comprehensive travel insurance.
For just a few dollars a day, you can be sure you are covered should something go wrong. Don’t think of it as a cost; it’s an investment in your safety and peace of mind. To help you find the best travel insurance for your budget and travel style, here are ten things you need to know about travel insurance before you buy it:
Travel Insurance Saves Lives
First and foremost, travel insurance can save your life. If something happens and you need emergency medical attention, your travel insurance company will be able to help you navigate the ins and outs of the situation so you can focus on getting the care you need.
Don’t be cheap when it comes to your health!
You Need To Document Everything
While travel insurance is there to help you in difficult situations, you need to do your part. Document everything. Take photos of everything you’re bringing with you, email yourself copies of your purchase receipts for big items like your phone or laptop (as well as their serial numbers in case they get stolen), and save any medical bills you’re sent if an emergency does occur. And save your receipts in order to get reimbursed for covered expenses.
Always do your due diligence and be prepared. That will make filing a claim much easier (and faster).
Travel Insurance Is Not Health Insurance
One important thing to keep in mind is that travel insurance is not the same thing as health insurance. It’s emergency medical insurance. That means that, unless you have a super-comprehensive plan, you can’t get coverage for non-emergencies like a regular doctor or dentist checkup.
Break your leg? Travel insurance will help! Have a cavity or need to ask your doctor some questions? You’ll have to foot the bill yourself.
Travel Insurance Covers More Than Just Medical Emergencies
In addition to medical emergencies, the best travel insurance policies also cover trip delays and cancelations, lost or stolen baggage, and emergency evacuation. Some even provide rental car insurance.
In short, a comprehensive travel insurance plan is a one-stop-shop for all your travel safety needs.
Travel Insurance Won’t Always Get You Home
One important fact about travel insurance that most people don’t know is that, even in an emergency, travel insurance does not have to send you back to your home country.
In many cases, the insurance will simply get you to “the nearest acceptable facility.” That could be in the destination you’re visiting or in a neighboring country; it doesn’t necessarily mean “home.”
For that reason, many travelers supplement their standard insurance plans with a policy from Medjet, a medical transport company that gets you home if you need emergency medical transportation. If you don’t want to be stuck in a foreign medical facility, consider supplementing your travel insurance with a policy from Medjet.
Not All Emergencies Are Covered
While travel insurance covers you for medical emergencies, not all emergencies are covered. If something happens because you acted recklessly or did something “a reasonable person” wouldn’t do, then you’re on your own.
Did you injure yourself while intoxicated? You’re on your own for that.
Did you get hurt doing an extreme sport that your plan doesn’t cover? Sorry, but you should have read the policy’s exemptions.
Read the fine print so you know what is excluded. Where people go wrong when submitting claims is thinking that travel insurance covers everything — but it doesn’t. There are always exclusions. Make sure you read yours to know what is — and isn’t — covered.
Travel Insurance Now Covers COVID-19
When the pandemic first started, a lot of travel insurance companies struggled to keep up with the number of claims they received. Most weren’t ready for a global pandemic and excluded it from their coverage.
Fortunately, many of the best travel insurance companies, like World Nomads and SafetyWing, now include provisions for COVID-19. That means, once borders reopen and it’s safe to travel, you can travel safely, knowing you have the coverage you need should you get infected.
Insurance Companies Are For-Profit Businesses
One thing to keep in mind when shopping for an insurance plan or making a claim is that travel insurance companies are out to make money. While the best companies will treat you fairly, they still generally want to minimize payouts. They aren’t your BFF, so make sure you keep that in mind when shopping, reading reviews or making a claim.
Also, you need to follow their guidelines to the letter if you make a claim. However, don’t hesitate to follow up, demand explanations, or resubmit the information to have it reviewed a second time.
It’s Better To Be Safe Than Sorry
Insurance might seem like an unnecessary cost when you’re budgeting for your trip, which is why a lot of travelers skip it. However, medical evacuations can cost upwards of $200,000. Do you have that much money just lying around?
Even “regular” emergencies can cost thousands. I remember reading about a blogger without insurance who was injured at the beach — in ankle-deep water, no less! One wrong step and they broke their foot. It cost them almost $10,000!
When I got stabbed in Colombia, I flew back to the US for treatment, because the Colombian hospital wasn’t great. I was lucky I didn’t need surgery and that I could handle everything on my own. But if the knife was a few centimeters deeper? I’d have needed emergency surgery right away — and likely a medical evacuation to the US. I can’t even begin to imagine how much that would have cost.
Long story short, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Trust me!
I Never Leave Home Without It
I’ve been traveling the world for over a decade. I’ve been to over a hundred countries and have had all kinds of emergencies, big and small. Also, as part of my job helping people travel, I’ve written a lot about travel insurance. I’ve read up on the laws and talked to staff at all the main travel insurance companies. It’s a topic I’m an expert in.
The upshot: I’m convinced that travel insurance is something no traveler should leave home without, including me.
Whether you’re heading out on a weeklong vacation or a yearlong round-the-world adventure, you need to make sure you’re covered by the best travel insurance you can afford. While the odds of something happening are slim, bad things do happen. Injuries abroad can cost next to nothing — or they can cost tens of thousands of dollars. You just never know.
That’s why I always buy travel insurance when I travel.
About the Author
Matt Kepnes runs the award-winning travel site nomadicmatt.com, which helps people travel the world on a budget. He’s the author of the NYT best-seller How to Travel the World on $50 a Day and the travel memoir Ten Years a Nomad. His writings and advice have been featured on CNN and the BBC and in the New York Times, The Guardian, Lifehacker, Budget Travel, Time, and countless other publications. You can follow him on Instagram at @nomadicmatt. When he’s not on the road, he lives in Austin.
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