Updated: 11/3/20 | November 3rd, 2020
Travel insurance is probably the most boring topic when it comes to planning a trip. Nobody wants to focus on the worst-case scenario before they even leave home.
Plus, researching insurance is just plain tedious. There is a lot of fine print to scour, requiring you to read over the minutiae of each insurance plan before you pick the one that’s best for you. It’s a hassle.
But it’s also the most important thing you can do before a trip too. Should something terrible happen while you’re on the road, you want to have the confidence that your insurance plan will cover you.
While none of us want to imagine getting hurt or robbed or having to cancel our plans, the fact of the matter is that these things happen. It’s rare, but things you don’t expect does happen when you travel.
I never expected to break my camera in Italy.
I never expected to rupture my eardrum scuba diving in Thailand.
And while these unfortunate events are few and far between, it’s always better to be safe than sorry (trust me!). Medical bills aren’t cheap. Emergency evacuations cost tens of thousands of dollars. Unless you have a stockpile of disposable income, chances are you’ll want to buy travel insurance for your next trip.
There are a lot of misconceptions about travel insurance, so you’ll also want to learn everything you can about your plan and the company that is covering you.
Will your plan cover pre-existing conditions?
Is there an age limit or a limit on how long you can be out of your home country?
Will you be able to see doctors for non-emergency visits? What about dental coverage?
There is a lot to learn if travel insurance is new to you.
To help you make sense of it all, I’ll go over what is ACTUALLY covered by reputable travel insurance plans, so you know what to look for.
Table of Contents
What Travel Insurance DOES Cover
Chances are when you think of travel insurance, you’re picturing a medical emergency.
While accidents or serious illnesses while traveling abroad are rare, here’s what you can expect to be covered by a reputable insurance company:
- Your hospitalization fees
- Surgery costs
- Outpatient treatment costs
- Visits to registered medical practitioners (relating to your emergency injury)
- Prescribed medicines (relating to the injury)
- Medical evacuation (usually this is just to a local medical facility unless you have a more comprehensive plan from a company like Medjet. See below for more on evacuation.)
Medical evacuations due to accidents or natural disasters can cost upwards of $500,000 USD. Naturally, this is where having a solid insurance plan comes in handy. Most insurance plans will evacuate you to “the nearest acceptable facility” in case of injury or natural disaster. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t have to send you home.
In some cases, you will be repatriated back to your home country if your doctor thinks it necessary though this is rare and usually only occurs in cases where local medical staff can’t provide the assistance you need. That’s why companies like Medjet exist as they ensure you get home and not just to a nearby “acceptable” facility.
As with other medical emergencies, what’s covered here is accidental injury and sudden pain. For example, chipped teeth or a sudden infection.
General checkups are not covered, nor is major dental work that doesn’t relate to an injury or accident sustained abroad. If you just want your teeth cleaned or a new filling, you’ll have to pay for that out of pocket.
Most policies have limited dental coverage when compared to the rest of your medical emergency coverage (usually, it’s under $1,000 USD).
I know it’s never fun thinking about something like this happening, but knowing that you’re covered will give you and your loved ones peace of mind.
Should the worst happen, most insurance plans will cover the costs of a family member coming to get your body to take it home. Some policies will also include cremation services or burial overseas, should that be preferred.
Common exclusions would include death from alcohol or illicit narcotics, suicide, or pre-existing conditions not covered by the plan.
Policies usually offer between $5,000-50,000 USD in death/dismemberment coverage. However, many companies also include no coverage for this. If it’s a priority for you, be sure to purchase a policy from a company that includes death and dismemberment coverage.
Flight Delays and Cancellations
If your flight gets delayed or canceled, you can apply for compensation from your travel insurance provider (assuming the airline doesn’t provide coverage for you). As long as the cancellation or delay is not your fault, you can apply for reimbursement. However, if you miss your flight because you slept in, that doesn’t count as a valid reason!
Be sure to keep all emails, receipts, and correspondence from your airline regarding the delay or cancellation, as you’ll need them to verify your claim and get reimbursed.
If you need to cancel your trip — either before you depart or during your trip — for a verified medical reason, the death of a close relative, or the death of your travel partner, you can apply to get reimbursed from your insurance company.
To verify your claim, be sure to get a note from your doctor if you’re canceling due to illness. If you’re canceling due to a death, you’ll need to submit a copy of the death certificate (as well as other supporting documentation).
Coverage is usually limited to a couple thousand dollars — unless you have a premium plan. For example, World Nomad’s Explorer Plan offers upwards of $10,000 USD in trip cancelation coverage while their Standard Plan offers $2,500 USD.
Lost or Stolen Property
If your bags get stolen while you’re traveling, most travel insurance companies will reimburse you for some or all of the items (there are usually limits on gear like laptops and cameras unless you buy a comprehensive plan with additional coverage). Be sure to file a police report as it will be necessary for making a claim.
Coverage will usually include compensation for delayed baggage or baggage that’s damaged in transit as well.
If your wallet or passport is stolen, some plans will cover the cost of having a new passport or credit card mailed to you (this usually will depend on your residency). If your wallet is stolen with cash in it, you won’t be able to claim the missing cash.
Damaged or Stolen Gear
Most travel insurance plans include coverage for lost or stolen gear, such as laptops, cameras, and mobile phones. However, these high-ticket items usually have a cap on how much you’ll get back (usually under $500 USD per item).
If you’re traveling with expensive gear, you’ll want to pay for supplementary coverage to make sure it’s sufficiently covered. Be sure you have receipts for all your gear as well. Keep copies of them in your inbox so if something happens, you can file your claim without having to track down copies.
What Travel Insurance Does NOT Cover
While every plan is different, here is a list of the most common things that will not usually be covered by your standard or basic travel insurance plan:
- Accidents sustained while participating in extreme activities, like hang gliding, paragliding, or bungee jumping (though you can often upgrade to plans that do cover those activities)
- Technical climbing or alpine hiking (again, some plans can be upgraded to cover these activities)
- Alcohol- or drug-related incidents (including death)
- Carelessness in handling your possessions/baggage
- Pre-existing conditions. For example, if you have diabetes and need to buy more insulin, you won’t be covered
- General checkups for non-emergencies
- Stolen cash
- Missed flights or connections for reasons under your control
A few other notes about standard policies:
- If civil unrest makes your destination unsafe but your government hasn’t called for an evacuation, most insurance companies won’t evacuate you. (Medjet is the exception here. They have the best evacuation coverage.)
- Changing your mind about your trip, unfriending or breaking up with your travel partner, and pre-existing medical conditions don’t qualify for most trip cancellation plans
- If your visa is refused, you likely won’t be reimbursed if you decide to cancel your trip
A Note on COVID-19 (and Other Pandemics)
As many travelers learned the hard way, most travel insurance policies do not cover pandemics. Until now, that really hasn’t been a concern for most travelers. Heck, prior to this year I never really gave the “pandemic clause” much thought when reading my insurance policies.
However, these days pandemic coverage is at the forefront of every traveler’s mind (and rightly so).
Fortunately, as insurance companies adapt to our new reality, some companies now provide limited coverage for COVID-19 (or other pandemics). This limited coverage usually includes trip cancelation or delay (as is the case with World Nomads, though they also provide some medical coverage as well) or transportation home (as is the case with Medjet). SafetyWing also offers basic COVID coverage as well.
Before you buy a plan anywhere, be sure to read the fine print regarding pandemics and COVID-19. Make sure you fully understand what is and is not included so you can take appropriate action should a situation arise. When in doubt, call them and speak to a representative. Don’t risk your health on assumptions!
To help you stay safe on your next trip, here’s a list of the best travel insurance companies:
My favorite company is World Nomads. I’ve been using them since I started traveling all the way back in 2003. They are reliable, and claims are processed quickly and fairly. The company was built by an ex-nomad so he understands the traveler mindset and knows what travelers need to stay safe.
As someone who travels often, I prefer World Nomads because I can purchase and renew my insurance policy online in a matter of minutes (it’s super easy). They have friendly and responsive staff who answer questions and help solve problems via social media and (most importantly) they provide comprehensive coverage at a fair price. They also cover (American) travelers up to age 69 (66 if you’re from Canada).
They are endorsed by Lonely Planet and National Geographic, which tells you how good they are!
Other good travel insurance companies to consider
- Best for people living overseas
- The closest thing to normal health insurance
- Available for non-US residents
- Numerous plans to choose from
- Short-term and annual plans
- Extensive medical transport coverage
- Available for residents of USA, Canada, and Mexico
- COVID-19 coverage
- Super affordable plans
- Basic coverage options
- COVID-19 coverage
- Can purchase while abroad
These days, I never leave home without travel insurance. Having had to make emergency claims a few times over the years, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Just remember that travel insurance is a for-profit industry, which means you really need to do your research before you purchase a plan. Read your plan — and the fine print — so you know what exactly is covered and what they expect if you try to make a claim.
Keep any receipts, emails, and documentation relating to your trip in a separate folder in your email inbox. That way, you can easily make a claim if you need to.
While the cost can seem like a lot upfront, when you compare it to the potential cost of an emergency evacuation or a hefty medical bill, it’s peanuts.
Most insurance plans only cost a few dollars per day, providing you — and your friends and family — peace of mind in the process. If you ask me, that’s money well spent.
How to Travel the World on $50 a Day
My New York Times best-selling paperback guide to world travel will teach you how to master the art of travel so that you’ll get off the beaten path, save money, and have a deeper travel experience. It’s your A to Z planning guide that the BBC called the “bible for budget travelers.”
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- SafetyWing (best for nomads)
- World Nomads (most comprehensive)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.