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Travel Health Insurance 101: Getting the most of your policy

Planning to buy travel health insurance or already have coverage? Ask yourself: Is it the right coverage for me?

Not all travel health insurance policies are the same – providers offer varying degrees of coverage at different price points. Always take the time to read the full terms and conditions of your policy to make sure you know what is and what is not covered. You may discover that your existing coverage or the plan that you’re thinking of buying is not the right one for you. Not knowing the exclusions and limitations of your policy may put you at risk or end up costing you thousands.

To help find a policy that’s right for you, check out:

Understanding Travel Health Insurance

Guide to Travel Health Insurance


Need help getting started?

Navigating the world of travel insurance can be a daunting task. At IAMAT, we believe all travellers should be able to see the world without limitation.

To help, we’ve put together some key pointers on travel health insurance from IAMAT’s Guide to Travel Health Insurance.

What is travel health insurance and why do I need it?

Travel health insurance provides coverage for unexpected emergencies abroad. If you travel without travel health insurance, you may be responsible for the full cost of all expenses related to an unexpected event, accident, or medical emergency abroad.

What type of coverage can I get?

Having a clear understanding of the type of travel you’ll be doing and being aware of the risks you may encounter abroad can take the anxiety out of choosing the right policy.

Travel health insurance policies come in two forms – a travel health plan or trip insurance package.

  • Travel health plan: Also known as a travel medical plan. These stand-alone policies only cover you for medical emergencies abroad and usually cost a few dollars per day. Depending on the policy you buy, it typically covers you for the cost of emergency treatment or surgery, diagnostic services, outpatient care, medical equipment, hospital stay, or emergency transportation.
  • Trip insurance package: Also known as vacation package. This coverage is made up of bundled products that cover you for medical emergencies and trip cancellation, trip interruption, baggage damage or loss, and flight cancellations. These packages are typically 5-7% of your total trip cost.

How can I choose the right policy for me?

Your travel health insurance policy is a legal contract. In return for coverage, you have to adhere to the terms and conditions in your policy. Read your policy from A to Z, including all the fine print, to understand what is included.

Before you buy, consider the following:

  • The type of travel and activities: Did you know that activities such as zip lining, bungee jumping, scuba diving, camel riding, or hot air ballooning are typically not covered under standard travel health insurance policies? You may have to think twice about taking up a last-minute invitation to do these or other sporting activities such as skiing, skydiving, rock climbing, backcountry backpacking, white water rafting, parasailing, or paragliding. If your insurer doesn’t have this type of coverage, look elsewhere.
  • Your health status: You may consider yourself healthy, but an insurer may beg to differ. From the outset, some insurance providers automatically exclude pre-existing conditions from their coverage. For an additional cost, it is possible to get a pre-existing medical condition rider or waiver, typically available with a trip insurance package. Not all companies offer waivers or their coverage could be limited for pre-existing conditions. Note that pregnancy complications or child birth, injuries resulting from alcohol use, or psychological disorders like anxiety or depression are not covered by standard insurance plans.
  • Maximum benefit amounts: Find out the maximum amount of medical costs covered by the insurer. If you’re considering getting the cheapest plan or package available, for example, you may only be covered for $10,000 worth of medical expenses. Some insurers determine payout limits based on age and health status.
  • Pre-approved care: Some insurers have rules about where you can seek medical care. This is because they have a network of preferred healthcare providers. If you require emergency assistance during your trip, call your plan administrator right away. Failure to get pre-approval – even during an emergency – or seeking medical care outside the insurer’s network may result in you paying a portion of the medical expenses.
  • Your age: If you’re over 60, your coverage may be limited and the policy premium or deductible may be higher. In most cases, you’ll have to fill out a medical questionnaire since insurers consider you at greater risk of illness. Many insurers will not cover travellers over the age of 80.

For more information on how to choose a policy that’s right for you, check out our resources:

Understanding Travel Health Insurance: Terms You Need to Know is a free resource that includes definitions of common insurance terms, helpful advice and examples, and questions to ask before you buy.

Understanding Travel Health Insurance

Download IAMAT's Guide to Travel Health Insurance for tips on what to look for in travel insurance packages to ensure that you’re fully covered, including information on pre-existing condition waivers and medical questionnaires. It’s free for members.

Guide to Travel Health Insurance

Have a quick peek! Here's an excerpt on Making Sense of Your Medical Coverage.


Last reviewed and updated: December 11, 2018

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