Travel insurance vs. health insurance

Should you take out an extra policy when you go overseas?

When you take out travel insurance, you expect to be covered if (god forbid) the worst case scenario happens while you’re abroad. However, an increasing number of expats are caught out each year, finding themselves coughing up for expensive medical bills they didn’t realise wouldn’t be covered by their travel insurance policy. With the average cost of overseas travel bills amounting to £2040, this is not a matter that should be taken lightly. Imagine finding yourself forking out $50,000 for emergency surgery in California, then you’ll seriously regret not having read the small-print before you left. Not to worry though, we’ve compiled a list of the most common scenarios that should be covered by your travel insurance and those that might not be, so you can ensure you don’t have to worry about maxing out your credit card just in case the worst does happen.

What your travel insurance should include

Your travel insurance policy is designed to cover you in case you have to pay out for expensive medical treatment abroad and get you home safely. This means that you should be insured for:

  • Emergency medical treatment expenses such as hospital costs and the ambulance bill
  • Paying for your travel home if your illness has caused you to miss your return trip
  • Emergency dental treatment to soothe immediate pain
  • Transport and/or accommodation expenses for a relative or friend if you require assistance and need to be escorted back home
  • Assistance hotlines, active 24/7, to provide you with support and advice about the treatment you need and the procedures you should to take

It’s worth noting that citizens from the European Economic Area (EEA) who have an EHIC card will be covered for the same level of state provided medical care in the EEA as they would back home. However, it doesn’t cover you if your travel plans are interrupted so it’s also definitely worthwhile taking out travel insurance just in case.

When you might need to take out extra health insurance

If you’ve taken out an annual policy, make sure to check how long you’re covered for as some have limits on the length of individual trips or stipulate a maximum length of travel time throughout the year. If you’re planning on being away for long periods, then it may be worth looking into tailor-made expat or backpacker policies that will keep you insured for the whole time that you’re away.

Most travel insurance policies don’t cover you for pre-existing illnesses so be sure to mention any niggles you may have and any medication you’re taking, even if you don’t think it’s important, so that the travel insurance providers can make an accurate assessment and provide you with a plan that will keep you completely covered.

If you’re over 65, you may be required to take out a separate health insurance policy for your stay.

Many annual policies only include short haul destinations, so if you’re from the UK, for example, it’s likely that you will only be covered within Europe and possibly some parts of northern Africa. If you plan on travelling further afield, make sure you take out a global policy or a single trip policy for that specific country.

Most travel insurers also don’t include health insurance for trips to the U.S.A in their standard policies as medical treatment is so expensive there.

It’s also unlikely that you’ll be covered if you decide to partake in certain sports during your stay, such as skiing or whitewater rafting, so check with your provider which are covered and which aren’t.

Finally, be sure to check your Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s guide for countries that are deemed unsafe to travel to as it’s unlikely you’ll be covered for trips to these locations. A lot of travel insurers don’t cover you in the event of terrorist attacks or natural disasters so it’s worth taking out extra insurance if the place you’re going to has a high risk of these threats.

Be safe, not sorry

So there you have it. Although 99% of the time you probably won’t have to claim on your insurance, at least you can be assured that, in the 1% chance that something does happen, you’ll be protected. After all, the last thing you want to worry about when you’re sick is paying out of pocket for pricey hospital fees.

Image: Alex Proimos

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Kat Ashton

Kat Ashton currently resides in Madrid. She is a harsh critic of anything that contains fennel and spends her time reading, writing and dreaming about the intangible world of ideas.