Wondering why everyone just keeps blabbing on about the need for travel insurance?
Are you on the fence about getting insurance for your next trip?
Well, I know it can be confusing! I’ve been living a life of travel since 2012 and learned a thing or two about the need for travel insurance. The truth is that it can be a real life-saver sometimes, but there may also be situations in which it isn’t quite indispensable.
In this no-nonsense FAQ, I’ll share with you my tips and advice.
Answers in this guide
- Why should you get travel insurance?
- What isn’t covered by travel insurance?
- What’s the best travel insurance?
- Do you really need insurance for every trip?
- ‘Aren’t doctors super cheap in Thailand?’
- What if I’m broke / student / on a shoestring?
- Can’t I use the insurance I have at home?
- What if I’m a European travelling in the EU?
- Something happens — now what?
- What’s good insurance for backpacking?
- What’s good insurance for digital nomads?
- Other tips for travel insurance
Why should you get travel insurance?
Travel insurance will cover you financially for a range of eventualities. It depends on your specific policy, but some of the things it could cover include:
- Overseas emergency medical and dental expenses
- Emergency medical evacuation
- Trip delay, cancellation, or interruption due to an unforeseen event
- Delayed, damaged, or stolen gear or bags
Sounds good. Though, in my opinion, not all of these are equally important!
If you ask me, insurance is best for things that aren’t likely to happen but which, if they do, can cause considerable financial problems. Medical coverage and liability insurance fall firmly into that category. Getting hospitalized for $50,000+ is a pretty big deal, for example. But your $200 camera getting stolen is still a survivable setback.
For me, the real reason to get travel insurance is for those really big travel nightmares — but the other extras are of course also very nice to have.
What isn’t covered by travel insurance?
Travel insurance isn’t designed to cover everything. Terms, conditions, and exclusions do always apply — but simply put, it won’t insure you for carelessness.
- leaving your bags completely unattended in public
- going to a country where there’s a war or disaster (which was known at departure time)
These things understandably won’t be covered. If they were, insurers would either expose themselves to too much risk, or it would be too easy for people to commit fraud. Travel insurance is only meant for unforeseen emergencies.
Travel insurance also won’t cover you for pre-existing medical conditions (things you already had before your trip).
What’s the best travel insurance?
There are many travel insurance companies around. While it’s hard to say which is truly best, you can take a look at what different policies offer and the reputation of each company.
I like to recommend World Nomads, which I have used for the past few years. They are a leading insurer for travellers, backpackers, as well as long-term nomads. Their coverage is great and you can get insured with World Nomads no matter where you live (other insurers are only in specific countries). It also includes coverage for loads of travel activities (hiking, diving, climbing, etc.).
You can get a quote with World Nomads here.
I should mention that they have a referral program, so if you click that link and purchase a policy, I get a small kickback. It’s always worth shopping around for travel insurance. World Nomads is my preferred partner and the company I like to recommend, but there are many others out there.
Do you really need insurance for every trip?
As with so many things, it probably depends!
If you’re going on a trip that’s not that far from home, then maybe you’re not exposed to quite as much risk. For example, I’m from the Netherlands and so I probably wouldn’t get insured for a quick weekend trip to Belgium — I could just get back to the Netherlands easily (and you can get some insurance EHIC anyway). That’s just my personal opinion, of course.
But a trip to somewhere further away?
In that case, I think travel insurance is a no-brainer, as it saves you from considerable worries and financial risk.
I’ve been very relieved to be insured on a few occasions. I’ve also met many travellers for whom it was even a real life-saver when their trips took an unexpected turn, like theft, cancellation, or an personal accident.
‘Aren’t doctors super cheap in Thailand?’
I sometimes hear this argument — usually from people who haven’t travelled much. Medical care may be less cheap than you think in developing countries.
Let’s just take Thailand: a bit of research online will tell you it can cost $6k to $60k for treatment in case of a motorcycle accident. A medivac to Bangkok can cost around $10k. Even of you get dengue fever and need to recover in a hospital for a week or two, that’s still a good $2k. These figures are just for rough illustration purposes.
Keep in mind that hospitals in many developing areas of the world are also lacking in proper facilities, so for anything serious you’ll have to be taken somewhere else. This isn’t cheap if you’ll require any special care or assistance.
What if I’m broke / student / on a shoestring?
If you’re just going to travel with a bag on a stick and a bongo under your arm, then maybe it doesn’t make sense to drop like $100 a month on insurance. Of course, it’s hard to say.
I’ve had some emails from readers who were surprised at the expense involved in just getting on the road and I do sympathize. Some people have romantic ideas about backpacking but don’t anticipate needing to pay a lot for visas, vaccinations, insurance, and your flight just to travel to Asia, for instance.
You have to decide for yourself if the expense is worth it.
Can’t I use the insurance I have at home?
Unfortunately, insurance in your home country typically doesn’t cover you abroad.
So if you’re on the National Health System in the UK, for example, that’s not going to help you in Bolivia or Vietnam. Even private medical insurance is typically valid in your home country only.
What if I’m a European travelling in the EU?
If you’re an EU citizen travelling within the EU, you can get a free EHIC (European Health Insurance Card). This will give you the right to access state-provided healthcare during a trip anywhere in the EU plus Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland.
This isn’t the same as travel insurance though; it won’t cover you for (among other things) theft, cancellation, liability, medivac, or accommodation or family visit expenses should you end up stuck hospitalized abroad.
You can apply for an EHIC card here.
Something happens — now what?
You can get reimbursed for things later, as long as it’s within your coverage and you can submit the supporting documentation.
You usually just get a policy plan sent to you via email, with a policy number, and the number of a 24-hour helpline. Call this helpline if something happens, as they can then give you instructions on what to do. For medical issues, they often have their preferred doctors or hospitals.
(Some insurers have a different system for medical assistance, e.g. SafetyWings has an online database with doctors or hospitals you can go to.)
In any case, keep any receipts, and get a police report in case of theft. You can submit a claim later, or after your trip, detailing what happened and what you had to pay for. If accepted, the insurer will then reimburse you.
What’s good insurance for backpacking?
If you’re going to travel for longer than just a typical holiday, it’s worth looking at the fine print. Many travel insurance packages are limited to trips for up to 30 days.
If you’re travelling for a while then you’ll like World Nomads’ policies which extend to up to 12 months. You can also start a policy or extend one when you’ve already left your home country. Some other insurers offer such features too, but it’s pretty rare.
If you take many shorter trips throughout the year, it might be cheaper for you to get an annual travel insurance plan. But keep in mind that such annual plans often have a maximum individual trip length (usually 30 days) which is no good if you travel for a longer time.
What’s good insurance for digital nomads?
If you’re a digital nomad, I also recommend SafetyWings. You can get a policy with them that can basically continue indefinitely. Unlike some other plans, you can also start before or after you leave. They also cover visits to your home country, which is a unique feature not found with other insurers.
Any other tips for travel insurance?
Yes! There are two things you should always do.
Before you buy insurance, make sure you read the small print. There are specific conditions under which you can make claims. Some condition might come as a surprise if you don’t read them properly (for example, theft is usually covered up to a certain amount, but then there’s also a per-item limit).
Secondly, keep a paper trail. If your shit gets stolen, get a police report. If your flight is cancelled, keep the relevant details. If you need emergency medical treatment, call your insurer and keep any receipts. Your insurer will need these later for proof (otherwise, people could make fraudulent claims).
While travel insurance won’t protect you from every risk while travelling, it’s something you can easily tick off to reduce your worries. I’ve always travelled with insurance myself, which has given me real peace of mind in some of the unpredictable situations I’ve faced over the years. That’s why, unless your trip is very low-risk, I always recommend getting comprehensive coverage.
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