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Our quest for the right travel insurance

We spent most of our first year as full-time travelers in good health and free of robberies/incidents, and rarely thought about our travel insurance policy. Until right at the end of the year-long insurance contract when we both caught a major bug during our house-sit in Germany (we will spare you the details –  trust us, it’s better that way).

Although the company reacted very quickly and accepted our claim over the phone, the high excess waiver fee matched the amount we spent on doctor visits and prescription antibiotics. Imagine our disappointment when we received the insurance claim check for $14. Total. Luckily the out-of-pocket expenses in our case were relatively low, so rather than moaning about it, we simply saw this as an opportunity to re-evaluate our travel insurance needs.

Using what we now know after 400 days on the road about the realities of long-term travel, we are doing massive amounts of research for the best travel insurance packages. What we have found is that there are hundreds of travel insurance providers, but before you make your short list, it is essential to nail down what elements you need your insurance to cover.

How long will you be traveling for?

Annual travel insurance contracts normally cover several short-term trips per year, each up to 30 days maximum. If you plan to travel for over 30 days at a time, look into backpacking insurance, which ranges from three months to a year or even 18 months.

Which countries will you be visiting?

Insurance prices vary greatly depending on the countries you plan to visit. Your insurance quote for traveling in South East Asia, for example, will be remarkably cheaper than if you include the United States in your itinerary. If you do choose to travel through the United States, make sure you have the appropriate travel insurance, as even a basic visit to the doctor can be tremendously expensive, and a trip to the emergency room could eat through your budget enough to cause an early end to your trip.

What kind of a traveler are you?

The price of international Travel Insurance also depends on the kinds of activities you plan to undertake on your travels. Any adventure or winter sports such as bungee jumping, mountain climbing, scuba diving or skiing and snowboarding will increase your travel insurance quote. If you try to avoid the extra charge and are injured during an adventure activity, the hospital bill will come 100% out of your own pocket, so it is worth it to admit it and pay for the extra coverage up front.

How much are your belongings worth?

Make a list of all the items you are bringing along the trip, and know their value. Knowing how much your belongings are worth enables you to look for travel insurance which offers full liability up to the exact amount of your valuables. Having a list ready (best to be kept in an email so that you can access it if you need it) will also make it easier for you to make a claim that contains all of your belongings along with their value.

What does travel insurance cover?

Regardless of the travel insurance you choose, your travel insurance should cover the following:

  • Accidents
  • Emergency dental treatment
  • Loss of glasses or contact lenses
  • Free evacuation if special medical attention is needed
  • Lost luggage and/or theft
  • Accommodation in case of flight delays/cancellations
  • Loss of passport / other important documents
  • Lawsuits (if someone claims that you damaged his/her property)
  • Evacuation if there are natural hazards, terrorism attacks or armed conflicts
  • Regular & extreme sports/activities (if you choose)
  • Accidents while working abroad if you plan to volunteer or take a job somewhere
  • Cancellation of flights, hotels, etc. in case of an emergency
  • Delays

Take the time: Compare travel insurance companies

Whether you are looking for short-term or long-term travel insurance, make sure to compare several insurance companies using the following criteria:

1. How long does it take for the insurance to reimburse your expenses?

If you have to initially out of pocket for a medical transport or surgery, you don’t want to wait for months to get your money back. Make sure to find a company that promises quick reimbursement of your costs.

2. Can you call your insurance 24/7 to make a claim?

Check the company’s customer service – how do you make a claim? Can you call at any time? This is important as you will often be in a different time zone to the country in which you purchased your insurance. Do you need to provide them with receipts of your expenses before they reimburse you?

3. Does the policy include unlimited medical and hospital cover plus medical evacuation expenses?

Not all travel insurance companies offer unlimited cover, and if there is a limit, make sure sure that it would still pay for transport to your home country if needed, and treatment of severe injuries in all countries that you are planning to visit.

4. Which personal belongings are included in the policy?

Are electronics covered or do you have to pay a surcharge for laptops, cameras, etc? Some travel insurance companies do not include electronics or cameras but ask you to insure them extra. Check that everything you have with you is covered before purchasing a policy.

5. What does the policy say about high-risk travel destinations?

Several travel insurance companies do not offer full coverage for so-called high-risk destinations, i.e. countries which are at war or experiencing political unrest. Check that the countries you are planning to visit are covered by your policy.

6. What is the fee excess of the policy?

Most travel insurance come with an excess, or deductible, which is the amount policy-holders must pay before the insurance kicks in. Make sure you know this before you purchase the policy. In the end, we received $10 back from our only claim, because of the high deductible.

7. Does the insurance cover additional costs resulting from a robbery?

If your passport, cell phone, laptop and credit cards get stolen, you are likely to have additional administrative costs for canceling a phone contract, credit cards, applying for a new passport, plus travel costs to get to your country’s embassy to pick up the new passport – which might be all the way across the country from where your belongings got stolen. Find out just how much of this is covered by the insurance company you choose

Last but not least…

Cheap is not always the best! International or even domestic travel insurance might not seem essential if you’re young, in perfect health and heading to a fairly safe location, and you may decide for a cheapie policy. However, opting for the cheapest of any type of travel insurance will include major flaws which might not be visible at the first glance, but could end up costing you thousands of dollars in the event of a true emergency. Shelling out the initial cash for quality coverage is worth far more than picking up the tab for your lost laptop or emergency medical expenses. Do the research, evaluate your needs and spend the money on the right insurance policy for you.

Finally, make sure to keep the receipts of all the expenses in case you have to provide them after returning home and keep a good record of all other costs incurred – phone calls, tickets and other fees, in order to be able to make a full claim.

We have been using WorldNomads, one of the world’s leading travel insurers, for many years. Get a quote for your trip now:

Tags : travel insurancetravel tips

13 Comments

  1. Such an important topic! When we started our project we went with STA Travel and had a horrible experience. After the first 2 month were over we wanted to extend (which is normally not a problem with them) but they took so long to get back to us that our policy ran out. Greatest thing was, since we were already on our trip they refused to sign us up again.

    Now we are with World Nomads, great policy but we found it expensive. Which we could find an alternative!
    For 91 Days Travel Blog recently posted..A Tour of Sucre’s Hat Factory

    1. World Nomads seems to be the only company for long-term nomads, we’ve heard that before. Interesting about STA – looks like we’ll probably have to avoid them as well. Have you made any claims with World Nomads? Would be interested to hear more about your experience with them!

  2. I’m sure that some day this will bite me in the ass, but I have never gotten travel insurance, and don’t plan to in the future. Very few companies will cover high-end camera equipment, which is the main thing I need covered. I’ve gotten mugged, robbed, and ill overseas, and insurance would have covered none of the things that happened to me, so I don’t see the point.
    Kelsey recently posted..The Benefits of Solo Travel

    1. I think there are a lot of people out there that would totally agree with you, and I think on some level, we do too. The biggest risk for me is the big ‘un…the airlift or the major hospital stay. If I lost all my belongings, I really wouldn’t care too much. It may bite you in the ass one day, or you will be significantly richer than us! 🙂

      1. Since I don’t have US health insurance (due to pre-existing conditions), it’s actually cheaper for me to be treated overseas than at home, so I’d never use the airlift. As for the hospital stays, I’ve never found them too bad, though I’ve only gone to the hospital in Asia. In South Korea I got my knee badly chewed up by a large dog and had minor surgery and about 25 stitches. The grand total for my entire bill, including my prescriptions, came to around $170, and that was without any kind of insurance, and everything was done in a hospital no worse than you would find in the rural parts of the USA (and that’s only because I was in rural Korea. The urban hospitals there are great). I got really sick in Switzerland and went to the doctor, and my visit and meds came to a grand total of $40, without any kind of insurance.

        1. Kelsey it’s messed up about ‘pre-existing’ conditions in the U.S…. I’ve lived abroad my whole adult life, and honestly one of the main things that keep me from moving home is my fear and rage at the US healthcare system (that because you’re ill you can’t get insurance, and that people go bankrupt paying for healthcare, when payment is not even an issue in Europe? SCAM!). You’re right, too, about just paying for the health care. We have paid out of pocket for almost all our healthcare issues so far (too little to claim). The Travel insurance is great for losing your stuff or getting robbed, but you’re right, as an American, health care abroad is probably going to work out better, anyway!

  3. World Nomads’ pricing and cover varies drastically according to your country of residence. As an Aussie for a year’s cover they charge about $650 whereas for some other countries they charge over $1000 for a similar policy.

    One really important clause with policies such as these is that the policy lapses the minute you go home. So if you buy a year long policy and then return to your country of residence for a day you forfeit the remaining period of cover. For this reason for long term nomads an expat medical plan may provide cover more appropriate for one’s needs.

    1. Charlie, it’s true about the difference in pricing for various countries – we checked for the U.S. (home country) and the UK (country of residency) and the price for a 12-month policy was much higher in the U.S. than in England. We’ve never thought about the fact that the policy lapses when you go home – thanks for pointing that out! Have you ever made a claim – if so, how was it handled?

      1. I’ve been lucky enough never to have need to make a claim with any of the various insurance companies I’ve used over the years. Insurance for me has always been more about peace of mind for mum than for myself. The expat plan I have nowadays has a high deductible ($1000 – my choice) to minimise premiums so something serious would have to happen for me to claim. This plan costs about half of a nomads’ plan for me because of my country of residence.

  4. We live in the Austin, TX currently and still trying to decide what to buy as the pre-existing condition policy makes it seem that if we want to be covered after we return then we need to buy two policy’s; one high deducible policy like HumanaONE that is for the US only that we won’t really ever use except for when we return so that we don’t have more then a 64 day lapse in coverage, than the other coverage being a travel specific coverage like Wold Nomads.

    The coverage you linked to Good2Go doesn’t appear to have a policy greater then 365 days. If it was just me and not my wife and I, I think I would just go without and role the dice! 🙂
    Dustin recently posted..Mount Whitney

    1. Dustin – it’s a tough call which insurance company to go with. WorldNomads is definitely the best one if you need insurance for longer than a year, but they are quite pricey and you never know what they’ll cover in the end. We went without insurance for a while, after we had only gotten 8 Pounds (~5 Dollars) from our insurance when we made a claim, and we figured it was much cheaper if we paid our doctor’s bills ourselves rather than hoping we’d get money reimbursed by the insurance company. That worked pretty well when we traveled in ‘cheap’ countries with minimal costs when seeing a doctor, but we also had to go to the ER when we were traveling in the U.S. last year – it was there and then that we wished we would have renewed our insurance 😀

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