Does your current health insurance policy cover medical care outside the United States?
Even if you have health insurance and special coverage isn’t required for entry to your destination country, you may still need a travel health policy. Many traditional health insurance policies, including basic Medicare plans, do not provide coverage outside the U.S. And while some Medicare supplement polices include overseas coverage, it may be limited.
“A lot of U.S. travelers really aren’t aware of how much medical coverage they have when they’re traveling internationally,” says Stan Sandberg, cofounder of TravelInsurance.com. “They’re assuming that health insurance travels with them, but in many cases it doesn’t.”
If you don’t have health insurance (travel or otherwise) that covers you in your destination, you could face bills running many thousands of dollars if a health emergency arises.
Will you be particularly vulnerable during your travels because of a health condition or high-risk activities?
The CDC recommends travel health insurance for international travel, particularly for those who “have an existing health condition, are traveling for more than six months, or doing adventure activities such as scuba diving or hang gliding.”
You can find travel health insurance plans that cover preexisting conditions, but you often need to purchase one shortly after paying for your trip (usually within two or three weeks). And some plans won’t cover medical care for injuries resulting from activities that are generally considered high risk. So be sure your plan does if you want to be adventurous and, say, skydive.
Do you need emergency evacuation coverage?
Even if your health insurance includes medical transportation, it may just cover the cost of getting you to the nearest appropriate medical facility. For example, if you sustained a serious injury on a safari in South Africa, your carrier may pay for transportation to a hospital in Johannesburg but not the cost to fly you back home.
Some travel health insurance policies include emergency evacuation home, and other companies, such as Medjet (MedJetAssist.com) and GlobalRescue.com, sell stand-alone plans that provide the coverage.
Choosing a travel health insurance plan
Travel health insurance generally isn’t super expensive. A policy for a 65-year-old going to Europe for two weeks could cost less than $35 for $50,000 in coverage, Sandberg says. Paying just a bit more can bring higher policy limits and extras like lost-baggage coverage. (By contrast, trip cancellation insurance is pricier, costing up to 10 percent of the price of your trip. And coverage that lets you cancel for any reason runs even more.)
Shop around. Sandberg’s company offers quotes from multiple plans, as do platforms such as InsureMyTrip.com. These companies also sell travel cancellation insurance, but you can narrow your search for travel health insurance policies by entering $0 as your total trip cost.
And, as noted above, you may want to consider whether a policy covers medical care for preexisting conditions or for COVID-19 and whether it includes emergency evacuation.