I know that the topic of travel insurance isn’t terribly sexy compared to stories about visiting Angkor Wat or the Serengeti. But it is actually really important, so I am going to talk a little bit about why and where you should buy it.
First of all, for any of you who don’t think travel insurance is worth buying, here are some words about medical insurance directly from the U.S. State Department’s website:
“You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out before you leave. You should ask your insurance company two questions:
(1) Does my policy apply when I’m outside the United States?
(2) Will it cover emergencies like a trip to a foreign hospital or an evacuation?
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. You can’t simply give them your insurance card and expect it will go through. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to purchase a separate policy for your trip.
The Social Security Medicare Program does not provide coverage for hospital or medical costs outside the United States.”
I oftentimes think the State Department gets a little too overly cautious when they talk about countries to avoid when traveling, but when it comes to the need for supplemental medical insurance while traveling abroad I think they are spot on.
So unless your medical insurance covers you while you are abroad (most policies don’t), then the need for medical insurance coverage alone should make you seriously consider purchasing travel insurance. This is especially true if you will be traveling in the third world where medical infrastructure can be extremely limited, i.e. freaking dangerous for you to use in an extreme emergency.
If you DO by chance have a terrible accident or become horribly ill in a country with inadequate medical services, then a good travel insurance plan will provide you and emergency evacuation (an EXTREMELY expensive endeavor) from that country to another one that does have good medical services, and it will likewise cover medical services rendered. And having insurance that covers you for lost or stolen items, trip delays, and trip cancelations is also nice to have, and these things are usually packaged all together with medical coverage.
So where should you buy your travel insurance? Well, you can purchase it via a travel agent, but quite frankly you will most likely pay more money than necessary if you do it this way. Travel insurance is a relatively high margin item for travel agents. If you just don’t want to mess with buying it yourself, then that’s perfectly fine to pay more for that extra service. But if you don’t mind using a website to purchase it on your own, then there are two websites in particular that I always tell people to use. And fwiw, I always use them to purchase my own travel insurance.
The first site is SquareMouth. I know that’s kind of a silly name for a website dedicated to something as important as insurance, but the site comes highly recommended by many, many major publications such as NBC Today, Fodors guide books, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, etc. etc. They use only reputable insurance companies, and their website makes it incredibly easy to shop for the best rates available. I tend to use SquareMouth when I am taking shorter trips that tend to cost more money per day.
If I am traveling longer term I always use World Nomads. Their policies are also from very reputable insurance companies, but they tend to be more focused on backpackers who will be traveling for several months at a time or even years at a time. Their coverages typically aren’t as rich as those you find in SquareMouth, but their policies are also usually less expensive on a per day basis. As usual it’s a tradeoff, and you just have to decide what makes the most sense for your particular circumstances.
So again, even though you might want to forego buying travel insurance to save a little money, in reality it’s a pretty big risk to do so, one that may at the very least cost you a lot of money and at worst your life. And if you buy your travel insurance through one of these websites you should get the best coverages for the least amount of money.