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FAQ About Travel Insurance

by Edward Hasbrouck, author of "The Practical Nomad"

Types of travel insurance

Travel insurance policies provide at least six types of coverage, intended for different types of travellers and trips:

  1. Comprehensive travel medical insurance is for people who don't have any other medical insurance, even at home. Since most people who can afford it have health care coverage in their home country, often through their employer, comprehensive travel medical insurance is mainly of interest to long-term travelers who've left their jobs and lost their insurance coverage at home, or to those living and working outside their country of citizenship or permanent residence.
  2. Emergency travel medical insurance is for people who have medical coverage at home, but whose health plan at home doesn't cover them while they are travelling. Emergency travel medical insurance only covers emergency services abroad; once you get home, you're on your own (or presumably, back under your regular home coverage) for any necessary follow-up treatment or continuing care. Most health insurance plans and health maintenance organizations in the USA include their own provisions for emergency care while abroad, at least for trips of less than 30 days. Check with your current insurer or HMO before you waste money on an emergency travel medical plan that duplicates your existing coverage.
  3. Medical evacuation (medevac) insurance covers the cost of an air ambulance, attending physician and nurse, etc. if you are so badly injured, or become so ill, that you can't come home (or get to a suitable medical facility) on a scheduled commercial passenger flight. Medical evacuations can cost tens of thousands of dollars, but are rarely necessary. Even very badly injured travellers usually can come home on regular flights after no more than a couple of weeks of emergency treatment and stabilization abroad. Some of the activities most likely to lead to a need for medical evacuation, such as scuba diving and extreme sports, are often excluded from medevac coverage. Read the fine print.
  4. Trip cancellation and interruption insurance covers the cancellation or refund penalties and the cost of getting home if you have to cancel your trip, or cut it short, for specified reasons. The covered reasons vary (read the fine print), but typically include injury or illness to you, a travelling companion, or a member of your immediate family. War and terrorism may or may not be included, or may be covered only at additional charge.
  5. Supplier default insurance covers any money you lose because of the bankruptcy of an airline, cruise line, tour operator, or other provider of travel services. Supplier default coverage has been drastically cut back since 11 September 2001. Some travel insurance companies no longer offer it at all, while others pick and choose which travel suppliers they will insure. Read the fine print.
  6. Rental car insurance covers damage or theft to a vehicle you rent (usually referred to as "collision" insurance) and/or liability to other people or vehicles you injure or damage. Many credit cards include rental car collision insurance, but not liability insurance. If you own a vehicle, your insurance may or may not provide liability coverage when you are driving a rented vehicle. Read the fine print. Your liability if someone is killed or injured in an accident can be much greater than the value of the vehicle. If liability insurance isn't available as part of a "travel insurance" package, see if you can add a third-party liability or "umbrella" rider to your homeowner's or renter's insurance.

Source of travel insurance

Where do you find this sort of insurance?

Some travel agencies and travel suppliers offer travel insurance as an option along with travels services you buy from them. For example, Hotwire.com -- as a result of a suggestion I made to their president -- began offering trip cancellation and interruption and supplier default insurance for four percent of the cost of tickets purchased from Hotwire, with a US$12 per ticket minimum. Airtreks.com, with whom I am affiliated, offers links to a selection of travel insurance policies chosen to suit the needs of long-term, independent international travelers.

Some regular insurance agents handle travel insurance, especially long-term comprehensive travel medical insurance. If you're travelling for six months or more, or if you plan to travel regularly throughout the year, it may be cheaper to include travel coverage with your regular health coverage. Check with your regular insurance agent to see what they can offer.

You can also get travel insurance from specialists in the field. These include travel insurance companies, direct providers of medevac and travel emergency services, and independent travel insurance brokers and agencies that can help you compare the offerings of different insurers. Following are some of those I know of, with the types of coverage or services they offer.

These listings are not intended as endorsements. I've heard good and bad things about almost all of these companies. This is just a list to help you get strated on your own research, in case you have difficulty finding companies that offer this sort of coverage at all.

  1. Travel insurance companies and travel service providers

  2. Independent travel insurance brokers

    Each of these brokers offers a selection of travel insurance policies from multiple insurers. Note that none of these brokers offers any policies I can find that include coverage for supplier default.

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