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How to Buy Cheap Worldwide Travel Insurance (and Why)
Updated 24 August 2017 - Do you have $25,000 to spend next week?
If you don't have travel insurance, you might wake up in a hospital wondering what happened - and why you're about to go bankrupt.
Don't feel like reading all the way through? No problem. You can get an instant quote from World Nomads, the worldwide travel insurance I always use.
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I've met travelers who advocate saving a few pennies by focusing on prevention and natural remedies rather than buying insurance.
"I'll be careful," they say.
"I'll behave in a healthy way," they say.
If you have a head-on collision with a bus, no amount of prevention or herbal remedies will set your bones or see you through intensive care.
I don't want to sound alarmist but an unexpected gallbladder infection during a trip to the US cost me more than $25,000. What would I have done without my medical travel insurance?
The last thing I remember was taking a cab to the airport in Washington DC after visiting my brother and his family. And then, THIS. Eight days and $25,000 later, I was released and finally went home
So, why would you even buy medical insurance for travel?
For once, a question I can answer easily. Here's why.
- You might get sick or have an accident. Unless you're rich, this could set you back tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- Travel medical insurance gives you peace of mind. If you do get sick, eat something that makes you ill, have an accident or fall off a cliff, someone will be there to help.
- If you're in a foreign country where you don't speak the language, someone with medical knowledge will be able to speak directly to the hospital and prevent any major mistakes.
- The airline might damage or lose your luggage (oh yes, that's happened several times to me) or someone might steal it.
- You may get turned away from a hospital if you're not insured. Yep, this is the case in quite a few countries.
- What if you're in a developing country with poor health infrastructure and you need to be evacuated. Care to pay for that flight yourself? Especially if a medical specialist has to accompany you...
- Things happen. What if you have to cancel your trip? And you've paid for a round-the-world ticket?
PLEASE NOTE: Most travel health insurance covers you until the age of 65 or so, with variations depending on your country of residence. In France, where I live, I can use World Nomads until the age of 66 (in Australia, New Zealand and the USA, the upper age is 70). If you're older and live in the US, please check out the offers at Insure My Trip.
Any talk of insurance always reminds me of my father. A good Middle Easterner, he was highly superstitious. He wouldn't buy life insurance because he feared it would bring on death. When he did eventually die, my mother had to pick up a lot of pieces and endure quite a bit of pain because he hadn't planned for the future.
Travel health insurance is no different. Not buying it because it "might" bring on disaster is a bit naive; I'm always amazed to meet travelers who put their faith in... luck.
Ready to get the best travel insurance quote? Ask these questions first
As soon as I know my dates and destination, an international medical insurance policy is the first thing I buy. And it has served me well.
There was that costly incident in Washington.
And then there was this, below. A strange growth on my forehead that spread enough to worry me seriously. I happened to be in Santiago de Compostela, far from home.
Again, I didn't have to pay.
I don't need convincing: I buy a World Nomads policy each time I leave the country, period. I'm not particularly accident-prone but I don't want to spend the rest of my life paying off emergency surgery.
Amazingly flattering selfie after three hours in the emergency ward in Santiago de Compostela, looking a lot better coming out than I did going in (you'll have to trust me on that)
There are plenty of budget travel insurance companies that provide decent coverage, so choosing the most suitable can be difficult, especially since they're all out to court your business.
Ask these basic questions to help you narrow down your choice of travel insurer.
- How old are you? Most policies don't cover you after 60, 65 or 70. (This unfortunately goes for World Nomads as well, which stops its coverage somewhere between 65-70, depending on where you live.)
- How healthy are you? Most travel insurances won't cover pre-existing conditions.
- Where are you from? Buying multi-trip travel insurance in New Zealand will have a different price tag and cover than a single-trip travel insurance bought in the US.
- How long is your trip? You can get annual travel insurance for a year, or short-term insurance for a few days. The price, of course, won't be the same.
- Where are you going? Policy prices can differ radically depending on whether you're heading for a war zone or angling for a tan on the sand.
- What kind of trip are you taking? A gentle trek with a tour group is far less risky, from an insurer's point of view, than skydiving or bungee jumping, and your policy will be priced accordingly.
Look for these benefits when choosing your travel insurance coverage
Not all travel insurance cover is the same and reading the fine print, however painful, can save you a lot of money, time and frustration.
So here's what to look for.
- Value for money, but that goes without saying. Why spend more than you have to for a good insurance package? There are plenty of cheap travel insurance policies that are good. So shop!
- Easy access, especially the ability to buy your international travel insurance online. It should also be easy to understand, easy to claim and easy to use (for example, if it pays your expenses directly instead of making you front the expenses and wait for reimbursement).
- Valid pretty much everywhere. You don't want the one place you've set your heart on visiting to be the one that isn't covered, do you? There will be some no-go zones but the fewer the better.
- Special or high-risk activities. But only IF you plan to engage in them. Otherwise, skip the special coverage
- No silly constraints - like we'll cover you only if you happen to trip over a pebble while walking on grass - but if you were running, we consider that a 'dangerous' activity. You're not traveling to stay locked in your hotel room so you do need to be covered when you have a bit of fun!
- Flexibility. What if you change your mind and want to keep traveling? I've been known to lengthen a trip on the spur of the moment so extended travel insurance is important to me.
- Length of cover. Make sure your overseas insurance covers the full length of your trip. Many travel insurances are only valid for a few weeks or months, not convenient if you're contemplating a gap year.
- Solid medical coverage, especially in expensive countries like the USA. I make sure I'm covered for US$ 1 million at least. I'll probably never need it, but I'm happier knowing it's there. Hospital bills mount quickly and you'd be amazed at how expensive a serious accident with lengthy rehabilitation can be.
- Basic coverage like trip cancellation, cover for damaged or lost luggage and personal effects and if possible, personal liability insurance (although you may already have this through your home insurance policy). Coverage for electronics is typically low with most overseas travel insurance policies so you'll probably need to get extra cover from another company, unless your household insurance covers your gear.
- Repatriation and 24-hour a day assistance in an emergency. If you can't get appropriate medical treatment where you are, you'll be flown to where it is available, or even home if that's the best solution. You'll also be accompanied by medical staff if you can't travel on your own. And if you phone them in the middle of the night, you won't get a robot asking you to "press 3 if this is an emergency".
A few final tips before you sign on the dotted line
Once you've gathered the basic information, keep the following travel insurance tips in mind as you shop around:
- Check the deductible. No policy will pay 100% of costs and you'll have to fork out the first hundred or two.
- Read the fine print. You won't be covered for war or terrorist acts by most policies, but each policy defines these differently. Think about this when you're planning your trek across Afghanistan. Carefully read what your policy does NOT include.
- Be honest. Don't lie about pre-existing conditions when you apply. Insurance companies do check and if they find out you've lied, they might cancel your entire policy - just when you need it.
- Your fault. Most policies won't cover you if what happened is your fault. If you got drunk and punched a wall, your broken fist will probably be yours to mend. If you tried to fly under the influence of drugs, ditto.
Here's why so many people (including myself) consider World Nomads the best international travel insurance
It takes a traveler to understand travelers. One of the reasons I like World Nomads is because its founder is a former backpacker and traveler, who understands the needs of independent travelers, myself included.
- Its policies are affordable, especially for long-term adventure travel.
- You can be covered for up to 18 months and that's essential if you're a long-term traveler.
- You can extend your policy online. I've done it - it takes about 60 seconds.
- If something happens to you, you can also put in your claim online.
- You don't have to buy it in your country of origin. Anyone who has ever tried to buy travel cover outside their own country will appreciate how important this is.
- Any insurance that covers bungee jumping and kite-surfing can certainly cover most of my basic needs (only in some countries, though, so check first).
- This is a company created by travelers for travelers, so I don't feel my needs are being sacrificed on the corporate altar.
- Corporate conscience. An important issue for me is giving something back to the communities I visit. World Nomads has a philanthropy network and offers travel scholarships, and I like a company with a conscience.
Remember that most World Nomads policies are only valid if you're under 66 (under 70 in certain countries) so if you're in that age group or beyond, check to see if you're covered. If not, insuremytrip.com should have what you're looking for, at least if you're from the US. (I'm looking into options for other countries.)
So where's the catch?
No policy is perfect for everyone, but this one does come pretty close, at least for my needs.
BUT, you may want to shop around elsewhere if...
- ...if you're past the age limit. Like most insurances, World Nomads unfortunately assumes you won't be an adventure traveler much after retirement, or covering seniors simply costs too much. (I love them but they're wrong on this one!) If you've been on the road any length of time, you've seen those spry 80-year-olds whipping by uphill and leaving you in the dust. If you're one of those, World Nomads is not for you.
- ...if you plan on carrying a huge number of valuables with you, in which case you'll have to find special insurance for that diamond-studded iPhone.
- ...if you're driving your own car, in which case it might be worth shopping around for travel insurance that covers both you and your vehicle. Most travel insurers, including World Nomads, do not cover your car.
- ...if you plan to undertake any high-risk activities not covered by the policy - and this is why you have to check the fine print.
- ...if you need coverage in your home country. Remember that this is travel insurance, not home insurance, so your coverage only starts once you leave your country. If your bags get stolen while you're waiting for your flight, you'll have to claim from your home insurance policy.
- ...if you already have travel coverage from a national health insurance plan in your country, a private health insurance plan, your credit care or your home insurance.
- ...if you're planning on breaking the law, you won't be covered by World Nomads or by anyone, for that matter
- ...if you have a pre-existing medical condition that you're sure will flare up. You may have to search for a costlier health insurance that specializes in harder-to-insure patients (unfair, I know).
Bottom line, any comprehensive travel insurance has to meet your specific needs - and that's the catch. You still have to read the small print just to make sure (and please, don't neglect this essential step - boring but necessary).
Do click to get a quote or use the form below. It costs nothing and will give you an instant idea of price and conditions for your specific situation.
Remember - there's every chance you'll be fine. I've been traveling for more than half a century and (touch wood) have had very few "incidents". But when I had them, I was awfully glad not to be out on a limb by myself.
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