Travel Medical Insurance: Do I Need It?

travel medical insurance

Whether you’re travelling for pleasure or business, world travel will undoubtedly expose you to some exciting new experiences. It can also expose you to significant risks for illness or injury. And your domestic health insurance company won’t cover your medical care when you’re travelling abroad.

If you’re wondering “Do I need travel medical insurance?” you’re in the right place. This article discusses everything there is to know about travel health insurance. This completely unbiased article will cover:

Let’s begin with a definition.

What is Travel Medical Insurance?

Travel medical insurance covers the cost of most emergency medical treatments you might need during a trip. If you experience an unexpected injury, illness, or covered medical condition while traveling, the policy will reimburse you for these expenses, up to the policy limits, of course.

Do I Need Travel Medical Insurance? I Already Have Health Insurance.

Yes, you still need travel medical insurance. Remember, your domestic health insurance policy will not be accepted at a hospital or doctor’s office when you’re travelling in another nation. This is true for both group health insurance (the type offered by employers), and Medicare policies for seniors.

Domestic health insurance policies and Medicare will only cover you while in the 50 US states, Washington DC, and US territories like the US Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico, for instance.

Your domestic health insurance policy will NOT cover you in:

  • Mexico
  • Canada
  • The Caribbean
  • The Turks & Caicos
  • Europe
  • Asia
  • Australia
  • And so on

If you’re leaving the US, travel medical insurance is always a good idea. The policies are generally very affordable, especially when compared to the costs of emergency medical care abroad.

Three primary reasons people purchase travel medical insurance are:

Immediate CareMedical emergencies always seem to pop up at the worst time. If you have a travel health insurance policy, you know you’ll get fast care while abroad. You won’t need to make dozens of phone calls or arrange for wire transfers to pay for care.

Most importantly, there is a good chance the healthcare provider will see you right away, because they know they will get paid.

Foreign Language HelpUnless you’re truly fluent in the country’s official language, communicating with a doctor or hospital staff can be a huge challenge while abroad. Your travel health insurance provider can arrange for emergency services and provide a personal translator or other translating services.
Peace of MindYou’ll enjoy your vacation or business trip more if you feel secure about your healthcare while abroad.

Is There Any Reason Why One Should Not Buy Travel Health Insurance?

We cannot think of any reason one would go without travel health insurance. It’s very affordable, which is a nice trade-off for the peace of mind that it brings.

This leads us nicely into a discussion of prices.

Travel Medical Insurance Costs

Every insurer offers different prices and packages, but in general, travel medical insurance costs anywhere from $40 to $100 per covered individual. If you’re planning an extended trip, more than a few weeks, be sure to check the date range on the policy. Higher coverage limits and longer policy periods will affect your cost for travel health insurance.

Now, let’s explore typical coverages and exclusions.

Travel Health Insurance Coverages and Exclusions

Travel health insurance is meant to cover most medical emergencies you could suffer while travelling for work or pleasure. It does not cover your routine medical care issues.

For instance, your travel health policy should cover things like:

  • Ankle strains or sprains
  • Broken bones
  • Strokes
  • Heart attacks or cardiac events
  • Emergency dental procedures
  • Emergency transportation in an ambulance
  • Emergency repatriation — that is, emergency trips back home for emergency health care that could be treated more effectively here in the US

This list isn’t comprehensive. It’s meant to give you an idea of covered issues. Just know that any major illness or injury which forces you to find emergency medical treatment while abroad will usually be covered by your travel health insurance policy.

Your next question is: “What isn’t covered by a travel health insurance policy?” Routine, standard medical care is not covered by this kind of policy. Some examples:

  • A routine doctor visit
  • Diabetes care supplies
  • Routine dialysis

On Pre-existing Conditions and Travel Medical Insurance defines pre-existing conditions as “a health problem, like asthma, diabetes, or cancer, you can before the date that new health coverage starts.”

Health insurers here in the US cannot deny you regular health insurance due to pre-existing conditions, but your travel health insurance policy is different. Most travel health insurance providers state they will not cover pre-existing conditions.

Is Pregnancy Considered a Pre-Existing Condition for Travel Health Insurance?

A documented pregnancy is a pre-existing condition. If you’re travelling while pregnant, a travel medical insurance policy won’t cover any care related to your pregnancy. This includes both routine care and it may include emergency care related to the pregnancy, too.

In theory, if you become pregnant while on a long trip, and you suffer an injury or illness, your emergency costs should be covered. But routine OB / GYN care wouldn’t be covered.

Remember, travel medical insurance is for emergencies and unexpected illnesses.

Does International Travel Medical Insurance Cover Pandemics and Epidemics?

If you’re shopping for travel medical insurance, this question is likely at the front of your mind. So, does travel health insurance cover pandemics and epidemics? Well, if you suffer from a pandemic illness while abroad, your immediate medical care should be covered. If you need to be flown home for better treatment, that’s covered, too.

If you’re planning to visit a pandemic / epidemic area, remember that it can be really challenging to get an emergency flight home for medical treatment when countries shut down air travel. Travel medical insurance can be particularly helpful in this situation because you know your treatment will be covered.


  • If you need to cancel an upcoming trip due to a pandemic, epidemic, or flight restrictions, travel health insurance does not come into play.
  • If you wish to leave a nation immediately because of fear of pandemic status – but you’re not actually sick — this policy will not reimburse you for an emergency flight.

There is a different type of insurance available for those issues. It’s called Trip Insurance, or Trip Cancellation and Interruption Coverage.

What Coverage Limits are Available on Travel Medical Insurance Policies?

A coverage limit is the agreed-upon amount that an insurer will pay for your emergency medical care and transportation. You can buy anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000 in coverage.

How Much Coverage Should I Purchase?

There is no easy answer to this question. You’ll need to weigh the costs of medical care abroad, with the type of risks you may be taking, the length of your stay, and your budget.

For instance, let’s imagine you’re planning a three-week dream vacation romping around South Africa. Your vacation includes some exciting safaris to see the elephants, and an afternoon touring diamond mines. When you’re not carousing through the bush, you’ll stay in fine hotels in Cape Town, a city that happens to be rife with carjackings and robberies.

Since you’ll be taking part in some risky activities (the safaris), and South Africa has a reputation for violent crime should you leave the hotel, plus the length of this dream vacation, we’d suggest you purchase a higher limit of coverage. South Africa is a long flight away! If you need medical evacuation, it won’t be cheap. You can expect to pay $100,000 or more for an emergency medical flight back to the US from SA.

Conversely, if you’re just heading into Toronto, Canada for a long weekend to do some business and see an opera, you’ll feel good about a policy with $50,000 of emergency medical coverage. After all, you can catch an Uber from Toronto to Niagara Falls, USA for less than $300 if you need to get stateside quickly.

Now, depending on your state of residence, you might not need to travel far to leave the country. Let’s think about travel health insurance for Mexico and Canada.

Travel Medical Insurance is Available for Mexico and Canada Specifically

Your domestic health insurance will not cover medical care in Mexico or Canada. Nor will Medicare. Whether you travel to these nations occasionally to visit family, or you visit them often for travel, you should get travel health insurance. And there are some insurers who work specifically with travel medical insurance policies in one or both of our neighboring nations.

Why You Need International Travel Medical Insurance When Visiting Mexico

Americans visit Mexico to experience a vibrant culture, exotic foods, and amazing historic sites. But your trip to Mexico can be fraught with personal dangers and risks of illness or injury. Consider local mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria and dengue fever, for example. And then remember that your domestic health insurance policy has little-to-no coverage for your medical care outside the US. At best, you’ll get hit with expensive “out of network” medical costs. It’s worth spending a few dollars on travel health insurance when you visit Mexico, even if this is a routine visit for business.

Why You Should Buy Travel Medical Insurance When Visiting Canada

Most of Canada has a much gentler and less dangerous reputation than Mexico. But that doesn’t mean you should skip the international travel health insurance policy for this trip.

Canada has a universal, centralized, publicly funded healthcare system called Canadian Medicare. Compared to the US, healthcare in Canada can be more or less expensive, depending on the care provided. But you may need to wait in line for even basic tests and treatments.

For example, as of 2020, there are a total of 378 MRI machines in the entire nation of Canada. Here in the US, we have almost 12,000 units. In the US, they’re a staple at even the smallest hospital, and many private practitioners have them, too. But they’re rare in Canada.

Imagine that you, an American, suffer a painful soft tissue injury while visiting Canada. You stumbled down some stairs and seriously sprained your ankle on the way to see the Phantom of the Opera. Your ankle has swollen to the size of a grapefruit, and it’s incredibly painful. You cannot walk or drive, and you need an MRI, but there isn’t one for 200 miles.

You’ll need emergency transportation to an MRI machine 200 miles away —that can cost thousands of dollars — and you’ll need to pay for this basic diagnostic out of pocket, currently that’s about $900 to start. So, your little stumble ends up costing you $5,000. You’ll be kicking yourself because you could have spent $40 on travel medical insurance.

Now, let’s talk about how to shop for travel health insurance, and list some providers that can help.

How to Shop for the Best International Travel Medical Insurance

First, get an idea of a coverage limit you’d prefer, and a budget in mind. As we’ve mentioned before, travel health insurance is affordable, and it’s not going to be an ongoing expense — ad infinitum — like auto or homeowner’s insurance.

$50,000 is a good start for a short trip to a safe destination, but you can splurge on a bigger policy if you’d like. If you’re taking a long trip (more than just a few days), plan on taking some risks (like a safari, zip-lining, or intense hiking), or feel concerned about mosquito-borne or water-borne illnesses, get more coverage.

You Can Run Some Internet Searches

We’re confident you know how this works. Visit your favorite search engine and search for phrases like:

  • Travel medical insurance Canada
  • Travel health insurance Mexico
  • International travel insurance

If you’re shopping online, you’ll need to fill out some basic information and wait for a quote. Be honest about pre-existing conditions, insurance companies share records.

You can also contact your favorite insurance agent, the one who deals with your home or life insurance policies and ask for their advice. They may offer travel health insurance or know a professional contact that can help.

And finally, remember to bring your travel medical insurance policy with you when you go. Here in the US, we’re accustomed to, and dependent upon, reliable internet access. But there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to access policy documents online when you’re travelling abroad.


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