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Women on the Road

Seniors Travel Insurance (don't get mad - get even!)

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8 May 2018 — It's beyond frustrating - shocking and hurtful, even. You roam the world for years with your favorite travel insurance and then BAM! Without warning (or it certainly feels that way), you're too old.

Nothing else has changed in your life except you're One. Day. Older. And suddenly it's back to the drawing board.

NOT YOU? Still young enough to qualify for standard travel insurance? Click here to see my recommendationFor many years I've been extremely happy with World Nomads - available to anyone under 65 in the UK, 66 in Canada and most of Europe, and 70 in Australia, New Zealand and the US. If you are older, don't worry and keep reading - there's plenty for you below (or click right through to see the best international travel insurance companies).

This is exactly what will happen to me one year from today.

I've been traveling all my life (and dutifully buying travel insurance) and because of this arbitrary event - a birthday - I become an overnight risk hardly anyone wants to insure.

Being a Taurean, I'm planning a year ahead of time. (I'm plotting and researching for the day I can no longer buy World Nomads.)

And so the worries begin. Insurance for seniors (I do hate that dismissive term!) is bound to be more expensive, or the small print will exclude everything but strolling along the Rue de Rivoli in Paris... or it won't cover you because you've had a bout of hypertension...

The good news is that my research has NOT been in vain.

Some insurances do fit that bill - but many do not. Our "slightly older" age group is a growing demographic, and companies are beginning to realize we're not going to stop traveling simply because we blew out an extra candle on the cake. 

Senior travel insurance is essential for travel - woman sitting on bench, thinking

Why seniors need travel insurance (like everyone else, actually)

Because you wouldn't dream of a trip without overseas travel insurance, right? I certainly wouldn't!

A single incident abroad  a gallbladder attack in the US, an operation and a ten-day hospital stay – cost me around US$ 25,000. Had I not had insurance, that entire sum would have come out of my pocket (and left it empty, I might add). As it was, I paid less than $500 of my own hard-earned money.

If you already know all this and just want information on what's available out there for holiday insurance over 65, click here.

According to statistics, 1 in 6 Americans say their travel plans have been affected by “medical conditions, natural disasters including severe weather; or mechanical or carrier-caused problems.” (I'd guess other countries have similar figures.)

If you only travel once a year, that means one travel mishap every six years.

So you reason: “I haven’t had any troubles with my travels for the last five years!” 

And it’s true: there will be many times your travel insurance goes “to waste,” but whenever I’m tempted to save a few dollars, I remind myself of that gallbladder attack. It seriously scared me and my family, not to mention ruined everyone's Christmas holidays.

Still, the fact that I didn't have to worry about depleting my bank account or dealing with paperwork probably helped me recover faster (the insurance dealt with the hospital directly, which is a good thing, given that I was unconscious for days).

Now, as I blow out that extra birthday candle, being well insured is more important than ever.

We become (just a little) less resilient

We’re not as resilient as we used to be: time does a number on everything, including our bodies.

As we age, we become more careful, but no one is immune to an accident, a slip or a fall. Even a simple sprained ankle because you missed a step could end up costing a few thousand dollars. 

Do you have a special condition that forces you to take medication daily? What if you lose your medicine? And what if the drug isn't available where you're traveling?

How about a car accident? Some countries have almost non-existent (or unenforced) traffic laws – if your car gets hit on your way to the hotel or to an attraction, who will pay your hospital bill?

What about getting muggedThe 'younger you' might have pulled a few punches in self-defence, but now – could you?

Besides being injured, you could lose your stuff. Travel insurance doesn’t just cover medical bills, it can cover the loss of your valuables or transportation.

Seniors travel insurance - hay spilled over a road in AlbaniaInsurance is always a good thing to have when you travel - things happen. This was my view on a trip to the mountains of Albania ©WOTR

We have a little less money

This is a worst-case scenario but what if you have to be evacuated to the tune of $150,000? You’d be paying that bill forever, and it could derail any future travel plans you might have. Any plans, actually.

As you reach retirement age, you realize there’s only so much money you’ll ever earn. If you’re living off a pension or savings and you lose $10,000 because a hurricane ruined your dream vacation, will you be able to afford that trip again?

Any medical emergency is all the more dangerous (and likely costly) the older you get.

Why not evaluate all the times and reasons you’ve been at the doctor’s this past year? How much did that cost you? With or without health insurance? Now add the uncertainty of a foreign country and language.

Do you really want to be arguing about money in a language you don't speak when what you really need is emergency health care? (Most major insurances have a helpline where they'll find someone who can translate or speak the local language, by the way.)

And God forbid, should something happen to you, your grieving family does not need the added stress of finding large sums of money to pay for your illness or, worse, to deal with everything should you die abroad. You may have done it long ago, but now is not the time to play Russian roulette with your life, and that of your family.

Don't just take my word for it (other readers speak out)

"I always have travel insurance. Won’t leave home without it. I’ve used it once, for a minor issue, and the ease at which I came home 5 days earlier than expected was a huge relief. It’s a small part of my overall travel budget, but a big part of my peace of mind." (Elinor Warkentin, Chair of Women Welcome Women World Wide)

"At age 76 I had never had travel insurance but was required to have it for a program in Spain due to my age. A bus took off with me having one foot out the door, trying to disembark – I managed to grab the rail and yell at the driver and he stopped, apologizing. I was not injured but easily could have been. It was then that I realized the value of travel insurance." (Brenda Joyce, living in Thailand)

"Travel insurance was so useful when I suddenly had serious pancreas  trouble in China. I was rushed to the emergency ward in Wuhan International Hospital, stayed there two weeks before being allowed to fly back by medical plane to France, where I stayed in hospital six months!" (Monique Peubez, Jura, France)

"I never travel without insurance as peace of mind in case something goes wrong. My son has medical issues so I always purchase it for us. In January, 2018 my eye infection on vacation cost me over US$500 for a walk-in clinic and medication in Florida and a second doctor’s visit on our cruise ship and more medication when it persisted. A bit of paperwork and a few weeks later, I was reimbursed. It's just a cost I include as part of travel." (Lesli M.)

"Luggage COMPLETELY lost forever in France and with the airline money and insurance money (which by the way was easier to get) I was able to make a trip to Greece the next year using only what I received  from the lost luggage." (Alea K.)

"Sometimes life gets in the way.  When I retired and my daughter just finished college, we planned a three-week trip to Peru. Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer and lost all the money I had paid. Now I always buy travel insurance and when my mother was diagnosed with late stage cancer, I was able to get a full refund for all the costs of our prepaid trip to Kilimanjaro. Travel insurance gives me the confidence to plan and make reservations, knowing the unexpected is covered." (Betsy C., Hampden, ME, USA)

seniors travel insurance - all the more necessary on broken streets and sidewalksThis is a street in the old town of Panama - even with the best shoes it's not hard to imagine twisting an ankle or falling - all of which can affect a trip and require medical care ©WOTR

Travel insurance for senior citizens: how to choose

What follows is a look at various types of travel insurance for pensioners or seniors or anyone who has passed the dreaded cut-off date. 

I delve more deeply into different types of insurance and take a stab at answering all your questions. (If you don't have any questions and just want to get on with it, head over to read my travel insurance reviews.)

NOTE: Make sure you understand how much insurance you already have before buying any additional coverage. For example, your belongings may be covered by your homeowner’s policy, your credit card travel insurance might cover your car rental (or even your plane ticket), and your health insurance might cover major emergencies overseas. Once you know the extent of your insurance, buy coverage for the gaps. Never buy more insurance than you need – that IS a waste of your money.

Factors that will affect senior citizen travel insurance

Let's be realistic: your travel insurance coverage won't be the same at 18 and at 80.

But some things don't change - like our desire to get value for money, good service and excellent protection.

The most important thing you can do is read the fine print and understand where the gaps are in your coverage. Then you can tackle buying the right product.

Here's what you should pay attention to when buying senior travel insurance:

Your destination

The best travel insurance for Europe won't help you in Egypt. So make sure all your destinations are covered. If you're traveling to three countries, say so on your quote!

Remember that “worldwide” travel insurance could have exclusions, so read the fine print and ask the company questions. A friend of mine was recently headed for Yemen only to find her travel insurance wouldn't cover her there.

Your country of residence

Yes, it is a key factor. Some companies will only cover you if you are a resident of the US, or Europe, or Australia, or... Even if they cover you wherever you're from, the type of coverage might change so when you ask for a quote be sure to make your country of residence clear.

Also, if you’re an expat living outside your usual country of residence and planning a trip to a third country, look for international travel insurance carriers which will cover you even though you live away from home.

Your age

Of course - that's why you're reading this, right? Most policies have age limits, but many insurance companies will cover you as you get older – for an additional fee. Between the ages of 65 and 75, finding insurance won't be too difficult but as you get older, you'll find fewer companies and prices will rise. (I've listed recommended companies and their age limits on a comparison table on this page.)

The length of your trip

Perhaps predictably, short-term coverage costs less than long-term travel insurance. 

If you’re only going on a weekend getaway, don’t purchase a month’s worth of coverage.

Likewise, make sure you know how long your coverage lasts. Single trip travel insurance will not cover your round-the-world trip in 80 days and some policies will simply not apply to extended travel, period. Just don't buy more than you need!

Extending your stay

If you're enjoying yourself so much you want to extend your holiday – one of the perks of getting older – what happens to your travel insurance? Can you extend it, and how much will that cost?

Be sure to ask how easy this is and whether your insurance covers any change in your travel plans. Can you do this via email? Do you need to make an international phone call? Can you do it online at their website? Or perhaps you can't cancel at all... You need to know this before you buy.

Travel insurance with pre-existing medical conditions

Let’s face it, the older we get the more likely it is that we have some kind of pre-existing condition. Although these are rarely included in a general plan, many agencies offer this kind of coverage as an add-on.

Make sure you investigate what counts as a pre-existing condition. It’s not just diabetes or high blood pressure – it could include a persistent cough or chronic migraines. It differs with each company.

There is such a thing as travel insurance for the elderly with medical conditions but not everyone provides it, so read  that fine print very carefully. (And whatever you do, tell the truth! They will find out and could cancel your insurance.)

Extreme sports

Not all of us will want to bungee jump or white-river raft, but a spur-of-the-moment adventure on your travels could pop up. If you have a deep-seated desire to throw yourself off a bridge (attached to a bungee rope, please!) then make sure your favorite activities are covered, from the mildest of hikes to extreme sports.

Read each policy carefully because there's often no rhyme nor reason for what is covered. Some may consider walking in the high mountains a 'dangerous' activity, while another may rate a risky sport as perfectly normal. There is little consensus on what's risky.

Weather, war or acts of terrorism

What if before your departure date you find out a hurricane will cross the path of your cruise ship? Or there's a bombing near the hotel you reserved or an undeclared war between opponents and the ruling party at your destination?

These incidents are often listed under the “exclusions” section of your policy. In fact, if your things are lost or stolen because of terrorist activity or political unrest, you are more than likely not covered under a basic plan. If you need that type of coverage, you may be able to add it on for a higher price.

Cancellation

When most of us read the word “cancellation cover”, we think “cancellation for any reason” (including coming down with the flu, losing a loved one, or deciding we can no longer afford the trip). That’s not how the insurance agency sees it.

Find out what they consider are acceptable reasons to cancel your trip, or purchase cancel for any reason coverage (and read the fine print!) I recently had a policy that would cover me if the trains went on strike and got me to the airport too late for my flight - but wouldn't cover me if the airline itself cancelled the flight. Go figure.

What type of coverage should I purchase?

This is where you have to consider what kind of traveler you are.

Are you looking for an annual travel insurance policy? Short-term travel insurance? Or perhaps multi-trip insurance?

In some cases, companies make the choice an easy one for travelling seniors: they have a low age cut-off for annual holiday insurance policies, forcing travellers over a certain age to buy single trip insurance only.

But if you do have the option, what’s better: buying insurance per trip, or by the year? (Pull out your calculator for this one!)

In most cases, purchasing insurance on a yearly basis is a good way to nail down budget travel insurance, but that could come at a cost: almost all annual plans exclude any kind of travel cancellation insurance or interruption coverage, as well as lost or stolen baggage, which are huge reasons people purchase travel insurance in the first place. If all you need is international travel medical insurance and evacuation coverage, then an annual policy might work for you.

It’s also a good idea to get yearly travel insurance if you travel spontaneously and tend to forget things (like buying travel insurance), and if you’re planning on taking a number of trips per year. Obviously if you’re only taking one or two trips in the next 12 months, an annual plan is unlikely to pay off.

In short, if travel insurance price is your main concern, annual plans can save you money – as long as you don’t end up with a cancelled or interrupted trip or stolen baggage, which annual plans don’t cover.

Senior insurance FAQ and travel insurance tips

I've tried to address most of the issues that concerned me when I started researching travel insurance for seniors over 65. I've covered plenty above, but I think this FAQ puts it all in order. So if you're confused at all about any of this, the following should help fill in the blanks.

Please bear in mind that, just like you, I am a traveler looking for the best senior trip insurance. I am not a broker or a professional, and all the information I provide here comes from my own research.

What is travel insurance?

Like other forms of insurance, travel insurance insures you against all the things that could go wrong while traveling (or before you go). There are different levels of coverage, from basic policies to comprehensive plans, for everything from medical emergencies to flight cancellations to lost baggage. Keep reading to learn more.

Do I need travel insurance and why is it important?

Just like you wouldn’t own a home without homeowners’ insurance, you should never travel without travel insurance.

Yes, travel can be expensive and the last thing you want to do is tack on an extra sum (no matter how small). But however much you pay, you'll still be paying a lot less than if you get sick or hurt without insurance. (Remember my $25,000 gallbladder attack and operation? Wouldn't that have been fun without insurance?)

You never know what's going to happen.

How does travel insurance work?

You can buy insurance online (or by email or phone, if you wish).

If you have a pre-existing condition, or you’re a senior living in certain countries like Canada, you may need to fill out a medical evaluation before purchasing your policy.

You’ll pay a premium up front for your policy with your credit or debit card. The premium is usually non-refundable (unless the agency offers a “cooling off” period).

If something happens and you need to use the insurance, you file a claim and after review, your insurance decides what it covers (like theft of baggage or interruption of a trip due to illness) up to the predetermined amount specified in your policy. Anything above that amount will come out of your pocket.

The claims process is different with each insurer, so read about how to file a claim before you buy, and make sure you understand what documents you’ll have to provide (such as a doctor’s certificate if you need to cancel because of sudden illness).

What does travel insurance insure me against? What are the standard kinds of coverage?

It depends on your policy. Here are the most common types of coverage (but keep in mind that some plans will include one, two, or several of the services below):

Travel medical insurance for seniors (and evacuation coverage)
This coverage is often grouped together, but not always. Medical coverage is your health insurance overseas: this covers sudden illness or injury (so long as it did not occur during a non-covered hazardous activity, while you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or because of your own recklessness, like trying to take a selfie on the edge of a cliff).

It will pay your medical bills, up to a certain threshold (I would recommend purchasing a policy that covers at least US$100,000). Medical evacuation pays the cost of transportation to a hospital in your home country should you need better medical care than you can get at your destination. This can be pricey, so at least US$300,000 in coverage is wise.

Theft, lost or damaged baggage coverage
Again, you may need to purchase these coverages separately. This covers the monetary value of your goods (up to a certain threshold) should they get stolen, lost or damaged during your travels. Pay attention to the coverage amounts: sometimes it’s quite low ($500), and airline rules may actually give you more. Also, your renter’s or homeowner’s policies may cover your goods, so check those first so you don’t buy more insurance than you need.

Hazardous activities coverage
Every insurance agency has different levels of coverage for sports and adventure activities – some are included in standard travel insurance plans, and others require an upgrade. Planning a skiing trip in the Alps? Make sure you read the fine print. If you break your leg on the slope and skiing was considered “hazardous,” your medical coverage will be void. Compare your itinerary with the insurance agency’s list of covered sports and activities. If you don't see yours listed, get in touch with them - get it in writing!

Trip cancellation and/or interruption coverage
Once again, this coverage is not universally defined, but the general idea is that it covers the cost (part or all) of your non-refundable trip purchases should an unforeseen event force you to cancel your travel plans.

But make sure you understand what cancellation reasons are covered. Can you get your money back if a family member dies? What if you lose your job? What if the airline goes bankrupt? If your daughter goes into labor at 37 weeks, this is probably not covered because the pregnancy was no surprise. 

Make sure you understand what documentation you’ll need to show the insurance company if you cancel or interrupt. Some agencies offer “cancel for any reason” coverage, which means you can cancel for anything: even deciding you no longer want to go. (This type of insurance is rare and costly.)

Accidental death or dismemberment coverage
Yikes. No, we don’t want to think about it, but what if you die while travelling? Or lose a limb in the rainforest? Besides covering your medical bills, this will pay to bring your body back home. Sometimes this is part of general medical coverage, but not always. Again, read your policy carefully.

What if I have a pre-existing condition?

Let’s face it, when you’re looking for travel insurance over 65, the chances that you have some kind of pre-existing condition are higher – whether it’s high blood pressure, arthritis, or simply a bad knee.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t travel! More and more insurance companies are allowing you to waive the pre-existing condition clause for a fee. Your decision to upgrade should be based on how likely you think you'll end up in a foreign hospital as a result of that condition.

But remember, whatever the condition, you'll still be covered for other events. If you get salmonella poisoning, that has nothing to do with your diabetes and your treatment for salmonella should be covered. Or if your mother passes away while you’re traveling, that’s not a result of your arthritis, so you should be able to interrupt your trip and go home at their expense (as long as that’s included in your policy).

How much does travel insurance cost?

The older you get the higher the premiums for travel insurance. Unfortunately, this is hard to avoid. Insurance is a business and the older you are the riskier it is for companies to insure you. That said, even higher premiums can be worth it, because you just never know...

Premiums can also rise for other reasons, such as longer trips (more time for something bad to happen), trips with visits to multiple countries or “less safe” countries or plans with upgrades such as hazardous activities cover or a pre-existing condition waiver.

When should I buy travel insurance?

As soon as you buy your tickets! If your travel insurance covers cancellation for reasons like sudden illness or natural disasters, you MUST have insurance prior to those things happening. You cannot buy travel insurance after you come down with the flu or once the tropical storm headed to the Caribbean has been named. While most insurance companies will let you buy insurance any time before you leave, you are better off doing it once your nonrefundable travel purchases have been made.

Where do I buy travel insurance?

In today’s world, it’s incredibly easy to buy travel insurance online. While some companies let you call, and while you could get insurance through a travel insurance broker, it’s easiest to get the best deal by comparing plans online and filling out the “Get A Quote” form on the insurance company’s website. 

I know this is obvious but... don't be tempted to lie on your application. EVER. About anything, not just your health. A company may try to do what it can to avoid paying you and if it finds any inconsistency, it could void your entire policy, whether you're omitting a health concern, fudging your age or giving the wrong address.

What are common travel insurance exclusions?

When purchasing travel insurance, you need to know what’s included, of course. But don’t stop there. Make sure you fully understand what your policy does NOT cover. I can’t stress this enough: read the entire policy, and do so when you are alert and most likely to comprehend all that legalese. 

To sum up, here are a few things your policy probably DOES NOT cover:

  • Frequent flier miles are typically nonrefundable
  • Unpleasant weather (rain during a beach vacation) that isn’t dangerous
  • Mental illness, whether pre-exisiting or sudden, is rarely covered by insurance
  • Returning early just because you want to
  • Not having enough money to go on the trip
  • War, terrorism or political unrest
  • Hazardous activities
  • Cancellation of a wedding at your destination
  • Divorce or breakup with travel partner (although I have seen this covered occasionally)
  • Accidents while under the influence of drugs or alcohol (this includes falling after a couple of drinks, so be wary!)
  • Accidents as a result of reckless behavior (like racing in a car with a friend)
  • Doing something illegal
  • Stolen items because you failed to keep them safe and secure (as in, you left your bag hanging over your chair in a busy café or left your camera in a locked car)
  • Financial default of your airline or travel provider (although some plans do cover this)

What if I want to skydive, bungee jump or other fun things?

Well, you wouldn’t be the first person to try skydiving on their 80th birthday.

If that’s you, check to see if the insurance company offers coverage for hazardous activities. While most don’t offer it in standard plans, you might well be able to upgrade. Just make sure your particular activity is listed among those they cover.

How do I make a claim?

This varies from company to company, but it should be outlined clearly in your policy. Typically there is a number to call. Make sure you call within the proper time frame: some agencies actually require you call within 24 hours of a theft, for example. Also, make sure you keep all the supporting documents you’ll need to prove your claim: if you can’t fly because you broke your leg and need surgery, you’ll need a doctor’s certificate saying that you are unfit to go on your trip. If your things are stolen, contact the police and get a copy of their report. If you go to a hospital overseas, you'll need to keep all the receipts and any paperwork to submit to the insurance company.

How much medical coverage do I need?

This depends on your risk factors and the location to which you are traveling, but as a general rule you’ll want around US$100,000 in medical coverage and US$300,000 in medical evacuation coverage. If you can get more without a huge increase in premium, better safe than sorry. (The Canadian side of me tends to buy too much insurance but I belong to the 'better safe than sorry' school.)

While my US readers are knowledgeable and accustomed to the high cost of health care in their country, non-US readers, take heed: the US is expensive! Don’t skimp on medical coverage if you’re visiting the United States, ever. 

If you’re traveling to a remote country without access to quality medical facilities, your medical evacuation will cost more. So keep that in mind too.

And just because you're visiting a supposedly "safe" country doesn't mean you don't need insurance. Things can happen anywhere.

In conclusion...

I've always advocated people should buy travel insurance - I certainly buy it, for every trip. I rarely need it - I've only needed it twice in my life - and I've been traveling for (many) decades.

I also try to emphasize the need to read and understand the policy. Again from sad experience, I've bought insurance that 'covered everything' - except it didn't and had I taken the time to read the policy carefully, I would have known that.

Insurance is just peace of mind for me. I buy it, and I forget about it. It's like a seat belt, it's on, and it'll do its thing if it's needed. But if I come up short against someone in front, I'll be awfully glad to have it on.