Health Insurance

Make Sure Your Health Is Covered While Traveling

Standard health insurance policies do not extend beyond the U.S. Learn how medical travel insurance can cover your health needs while abroad.

Make Sure Your Health Is Covered While Traveling

As pandemic restrictions begin to ease across the world, many people are getting ready to travel again. Though COVID-19 has declined, it is still important to remain on top of current health restrictions and trends at your intended destinations so you can stay healthy. To help streamline your trip, research what your destination expects when you arrive: Do you need medical travel insurance? Are there travel advisories? What does this mean for your trip?

What Is Medical Travel Insurance?

Medical travel insurance, or travel health insurance, provides coverage for medical care on your trip abroad. Most U.S. health insurance policies do not extend to care received outside of the country, so any costs incurred for your trip to the doctor after a bout of food poisoning would have to come out of pocket. Even health services received in border countries Canada and Mexico are generally not covered, though in some circumstances, coverage may extend to citizens traveling through Canada to or from Alaska and the U.S. mainland.

Standard health insurance may cover cruise ship travelers so long as the ship is traveling within U.S. waters, though it is best to check with your insurer for details. Most cruise lines have onboard medical staff that can treat minor ailments and injuries for set fees, but major medical emergencies may come out of pocket.

While some countries provide publicly-funded medical care to citizens, travelers are generally exempt. Medical travel insurance can help defray potentially high health service bills if you need to seek care overseas.

Other Common Types of Travel Insurance

Medical Evacuation Insurance

If you travel to a country with a minimal health care infrastructure, you may want to consider medical evacuation insurance. For example, access to health services can be challenging in remote and sparsely populated destinations, or in underdeveloped countries. This type of travel insurance provides coverage for medical evacuation from remote areas to hospitals, which can otherwise cost up to $100,000, according to the CDC.

Trip Cancellation Insurance

Trip cancellation insurance provides coverage if you need to modify or cancel your trip. Policies typically include coverage for expenses such as flight, cruise, or train tickets along with packages purchased at hotels or resorts. However, read your policy carefully because there may be a time limit for reimbursement — such as 48 hours or longer before your trip — and may also include clauses about the reasons for cancellation, such as new travel advisories or significant life events.

Which Countries Require Medical Travel Insurance?

Depending on your destination, you may be required to purchase medical travel insurance and show proof of coverage before being allowed entry. Many countries currently require travelers to provide proof of medical travel insurance in the event they contract COVID-19. For example, travelers to Bermuda must show proof of insurance that covers both COVID-19 medical costs along with doctors’ visits, prescriptions, and air ambulance transport. 

If you are not sure about insurance requirements for your destination, check the country’s official tourism page. For example, the official Visit Dubai website specifies that travelers must have medical travel insurance with international coverage before entering. 

Along with medical travel insurance, it’s a good idea to check for other requirements too before completing your trip planning. This includes researching passport requirements, visa requirements, COVID-19 testing and vaccination requirements, and quarantining requirements.

What Happens if You Don’t Buy Medical Travel Insurance?

If you do not purchase medical travel insurance for destinations where it is mandatory, you may be turned away at customs by country officials. In much the same way as passport and criminal record check stipulations, each country can create its own rules around travel insurance coverage amounts, coverage periods, and type of health events covered.

If medical travel insurance is not required but you become ill abroad and need to seek medical care, you will likely have to pay all of the costs out of pocket.

What Are Health Travel Advisories?

Travel advisories in general are cautions or warnings about travel to specific countries. You can find a list of current advisories at Travel.State.Gov. Advisories have four levels:

  • Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions
  • Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution
  • Level 3: Reconsider Travel
  • Level 4: Do Not Travel

Since 2020, many travel advisories reflect the destination country’s overall health status for COVID-19. For example, as of April 18, 2022, Japan was listed at Level 3: Reconsider Travel because “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined Japan has a high level of COVID-19.

Other advisories may include warnings about natural disasters, political unrest, or rising crime rates. 

How do Advisories Affect Medical Travel Insurance Coverage?

Medical travel insurance often includes conditions that void coverage if advisories are in place and you still choose to travel. In some cases, trips purchased prior to advisories being issued may be covered if you choose to go, while others may not provide coverage if Do Not Travel advisories are in place regardless of your purchase date. Check with your travel insurance insurer before booking a trip to determine the impact of advisories on any potential claims.

Where Can You Buy Medical Travel Insurance?

When it comes to buying medical travel insurance, several options are available, including:

Direct From Insurance Companies

You may purchase medical travel insurance through your existing home or auto insurance provider if they offer it, or contact a new insurance company directly for coverage. Research to see what coverages insurers offer and what the policies cost. Also take time to read customer reviews of travel insurance experiences too because this can offer insight into how companies handle claims.

Travel Agencies

If you book your trip through a travel agency, they may also offer medical travel insurance. In many cases, these policies are underwritten by larger insurance companies, so you may be able to find a better deal by contacting the insurance company directly. While travel agents are a good source of information around travel requirements and country expectations, it is still a good idea to check travel advisories and official tourism sites yourself before booking and before departure.

Credit Card Companies

Many credit card companies offer included or opt-in travel insurance coverage that provides travel medical expenses, cancellation, lost baggage, and trip interruption options.

When Should You Consider Buying Medical Travel Insurance?

Medical travel insurance is a good idea whenever you are traveling out of the country, though it is more critical for those with severe allergies, chronic conditions, or recurring health issues. Those intending to stay abroad longer should also look into medical travel insurance coverage, as they would otherwise be without health coverage for an extended amount of time.

Entry requirements also play a part: many countries currently require travelers to provide proof of COVID-19 medical travel insurance coverage before being allowed in.