Travel Health Insurance 101
Get the most out of your policy.
Planning to buy travel health insurance or already have coverage? Ask yourself:
Is this the right coverage for me?
Not all travel health insurance policies are the same – providers offer varying degrees of coverage at different price points. Your existing coverage or the plan that you’re thinking of buying may not be the right one for you.
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. Not knowing the exclusions and limitations of your policy may put you at risk or end up costing you thousands.
At IAMAT, we believe all travellers should be able to see the world without limitation. To help you choose the right travel health insurance policy for you, we developed the following resources:
Understanding Travel Health Insurance: Terms You Need to Know
This free resource includes definitions of common medical and legal insurance terms, helpful advice and examples, and questions to ask your insurer before you buy.
Understanding Travel Health Insurance
We do not sell insurance. IAMAT is a non-profit organization that provides health information and advocates for travellers’ health.
Need help getting started?
Navigating the world of travel insurance can be a daunting task. To help, we’ve put together some key pointers on travel health insurance:
Why do I need travel health insurance?
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 travel health insurance 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 choosing a policy that's right for you, check out:
Guide to Travel Health Insurance
Understanding Travel Health Insurance
Last reviewed and updated: March 01, 2019