Insurance Tips: Protect Yourself When Traveling Abroad

Whether one travels for personal pleasure, work or for an academic experience, it is critical that insurance be part of the planning process.  There are 2 main types of insurance to consider: emergency/health insurance and trip cancellation insurance.

Emergency/health insurance is invaluable when leaving the U.S., even if just for a brief vacation. Most people in the U.S. don’t realize that their domestic health insurance policies may not cover illness or accidents abroad. If they do, they often require more lengthy paperwork to determine if and how to reimburse the traveler. Your regular health plan typically will not cover extreme emergencies such as medical evacuation to the region’s best medical facility.

Many international health insurance policies are designed to cover international emergencies, some including a policy provision that reimburses a family member for the cost of flying to the host country to be at the bedside of a seriously ill child or spouse.  While we don’t like to talk about the subject of death abroad, an international health/emergency policy also typically covers repatriation of remains to the home country.

The cost of the policy ranges depending on the age of the traveler and the length of time abroad.  Some companies allow insurance to be purchased by the week, while others only offer a monthly insurance option. I’ve seen prices range from as low as $12 a week to $35, and even $135 a month.  The cost will depend on age, with younger travelers being able to buy coverage more inexpensively.

If you are traveling for your job, remember to talk with your human resources office to determine what policy provisions are in place for international travel. What would the process be should you fall seriously ill or have an accident abroad? In many cases, having your company purchase a “one off” travel policy for you is well worth the expense. Note that under U.S. employment law, any injury that takes place while traveling for work is overed under worker’s compensation guidelines.  Should you be injured while abroad – whether it be tripping while walking on a street or being in a car accident – you should file workman’s compensation paperwork as quickly as possible.  Talk with your human resources office to determine how the process is handled at your job.

For student travelers, many programs abroad include traveler’s insurance.  You should ask for the complete policy prior to departure to determine if you require supplemental insurance. Many student programs include the ISIC (International Student ID card.) This card carries basic medical and accident insurance.

Reputable student programs, whether they be for academic credit, volunteer work or internships abroad, should have clear guidelines on their insurance requirements and policies.  With many students traveling to “non-traditional” locations around the work, many organizations have a risk management office to write and tweak policy and guidelines around these issues.  You should feel free to speak with the risk management officer when researching programs abroad.

The second type of insurance is trip cancellation insurance. This is key to avoiding financial loss should you suddenly have to cancel your trip abroad due to a true emergency. While each policy varies, most will cover reimbursement of trip expenses related to medical emergencies that take place prior to departure. these policies typically have a pre-existing condition clause, so be sure to read the fine print.

Note that these policies typically do not cover issues such as having a friend plan her wedding the week you are departing. Sorry, but the insurance companies cannot help you in these cases. Be sure to get your social calendar in order before you make your travel plans.

Safe travels!