When we decided to quit our jobs and travel full-time, there was one thing that worried us above all else…What were we going to do about health insurance? It’s a problem for many travelers, but especially Americans, who mostly rely on employment for health insurance.
So, we decided to see what we could afford on our tight budget. A quick google search revealed a ton of different traveler’s health insurance options. But how to choose?
For us, selecting the right travel health insurance was an exhausting process. We shopped different plans and providers, only to have each one throw around different deductibles, durations, and coverage options. At times, despite being insured, we haven’t felt very assured.
Suffice to say, dealing with insurance companies can be a massive headache. But it doesn’t have to be! And that’s exactly why we wrote this blog post.
In this post, we’ll give you our thoughts on different coverage benefits and providers so you can make the right choice for you.
How To Choose The Right Health Insurance For Travelers
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Understanding your existing coverage (if any)
First, it’s important to understand the extent of your pre-existing coverage (if any). As the US State Department boldly notes in the “Health” section of every foreign country:
“We do not pay medical bills. Be aware that U.S. Medicare and Medicaid do not apply overseas. Most hospitals and doctors overseas do not accept U.S. health insurance and ask for upfront payment.”
Of course, citizens of other countries may have varying coverage, but generally speaking the comforts of coverage in your home country will not apply in another.
Even if your health insurance does cover you overseas, Consumer Reports notes:
“If your insurer does provide coverage for medical treatment you get in another country, the care is typically reimbursed at an out-of-network rate, which means higher out-of-pocket costs.”
Simply put, even if you’re covered, it could still be very expensive should you need medical care. This is why having health insurance why traveling is highly recommended.
Determine the coverage you need
Choosing your health insurance for travel will be based on how long you’ll be traveling for. Decide which of these fits your travel description best:
- Short-term travel (vacation or honeymoon – less than one month)
- Medium duration travel (study abroad, summer break, volunteer work – one to three months)
- Long-term travel (digital nomads, expats – more than three months)
You’ll also want to perform a little risk-assessment on yourself. This is dependent on your health, the location of your trip, and the activities you’ll be doing.
- Will you be engaging in activities which can lead to injury, or just sipping cocktails on a beach?
- Do you have pre-existing health conditions which may require a visit to a doctor?
- Will you be traveling to areas with malaria, dengue, or yellow fever?
The price you pay for your health expenses will also be dependent where you’re traveling. The International Federation of Health Plans posts a comparison between cost of healthcare by country and it’s clear that some are much more expensive than others.
Travel Health Insurance Options
If you’re traveling for just a few days to a low-risk area, and planning on doing low risk activities the entire time, then you may decide it’s best to stick with whatever existing coverage you have.
With that said, nobody ever wakes up in the morning and plans to have appendix troubles or a broken wrist!
There are quite a few different travel health insurance options, including:
What We Use
We have used SafetyWing and GeoBlue while traveling full-time, so we can speak the most on them. However, it’s best to shop around for different plans and get multiple quotes. No sense paying more than you need to!
When we started traveling full-time, we had GeoBlue. We paid $252 USD per month for the both of us. With a $2,500 deductible, preventative care was covered at 100%, a doctor’s office visit had a $10 copay, emergency room visits required us to meet the annual deductible then we were covered at 100%, scheduled surgeries and ambulances were covered at 100%.
We saved a ton of money by switching over to SafetyWing. For the age range of 10 to 39, it’s $37 USD for four weeks per person, with a $250 deductible, and covers up to $250,000. They also offer a plan for travel within the United States, which costs $68 for four weeks and the same coverage terms.
That’s why it’s important to shop around for plans. In an ideal world, you’ll never have to put it to use, but it’s good to be covered. You shouldn’t have to break the bank to have peace of mind.
Other things to consider
You’ll also want to read the fine print and see what isn’t covered. For example, things such as high-risk sports, treatment for pre-existing conditions, and cancer treatment are often excluded from coverage.
Some plans will also offer additional insurance regarding natural disaster, political instability, and other unexpected events.
For example, SafetyWing offers coverage for political evacuation up to $10,000 in a lifetime.
Paying out of pocket, should you do it?
While we absolutely recommend having health insurance in place, sometimes you may prefer to pay out of pocket. We’ve met travelers who opted to go that route instead of paying on their deductible.
We also met a man who got two wisdom teeth taken out in Thailand for about $350 USD all in.
Since travel insurance doesn’t always cover dental work (they like the term “emergency dental work” in the fine print), in an instance like this he probably made the right call.
Other forms of preventative care such as teeth cleaning, routine checkups, and things of that nature are often much more affordable in other countries and you may decide it’s better to just pay out of pocket.
Navigating COVID-19/Coronavirus coverage
Every company seems to be sending out policy updates and information regarding the Coronavirus outbreak. Generally speaking, the answer seems to be “Yes, you are covered. But….”
SafetyWing has advised we have Coronavirus coverage, but should a CDC Level 3 warning be issued for the country we are in, our coverage will expire 10 days later. Should we choose to stay (and not be covered for Coronavirus), the rest of our insurance coverage will function as normal.
GeoBlue’s website says they cover “medically necessary” testing, which leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
In a situation like this, it’s likely best to get on the phone with an agent to determine exactly what is covered, and for how long.
Choosing your travel health insurance doesn’t have to be difficult. The biggest factors are the length and location of your trip, your age and current health condition, and your desired amount of coverage.
Vacationers and honeymooners may elect to go without travel health insurance, since their home country insurance could cover them, even if it’s an out-of-network rate.
Students studying abroad, volunteers, and seasonal workers may choose a more robust plan (like our former GeoBlue one) that covers preventative care, despite the higher monthly rate. They also have the option of saving some money and going with SafetyWing.
For digital nomads and long-term travelers, unless you already have the luxury of employer provided healthcare, the best bet really is SafetyWing. At $37 for four weeks, it has a great combination of affordability and coverage.