Should you buy travel insurance for your next trip abroad?

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International travel can be expensive, but the one cost many people forget about in the midst of scheduling flights and packing luggage is a travel insurance plan. Unless you have phenomenal health care coverage here in the U.S. that also guarantees a decent level of coverage while you're overseas, you may be required to purchase a supplemental travel insurance plan to use during your next trip abroad.

If you're traveling with a tour company, then they can probably guide you through the ins and outs of travel insurance recommendations and requirements for your destination country. However, if you're planning your own trip and debating whether to buy travel insurance, then this guide is for you:

What Travel Insurance Do I Need and How Much Will It Cost?

The type of travel insurance you need depends on where you're traveling and which incidents you want to protection for. When searching for travel insurance online, you'll be asked to provide the following information:
  • Destination country
  • Length of your trip (date to date)
  • The cost of your trip (and whether you've completed payments on it)
  • Your country of citizenship (or residency, in some cases)
  • Your age
  • Additional travelers to be included in your plan and their ages
All of these factors play a role in deciding what type of travel insurance coverage you will be offered and how much it will cost. Coverage availability and prices vary so widely that instead of providing you a ballpark figure, it's best to visit travel insurance comparison websites such as Insure My Trip or SquareMouth to personalize your options.

Types of Coverage Available

The most basic form of travel insurance is medical coverage, which will financially protect you against any costly health care costs incurred while you're overseas. There are both single trip and multi-trip options available.

If you are traveling internationally more than once this year, the multi-trip option can help you save money instead of buying separate, single-trip plans for each trip. The single trip plans can cover you for up to 12 months, and coverage usually includes medical evacuation, trip cancellation, and accidental death expenses.

Although there are now federal laws protecting folks with pre-existing conditions in the domestic health care industry, it's important to check for pre-existing condition waivers with your international travel insurance provider before purchasing a plan.

Comprehensive travel insurance is also pretty popular. This type of coverage includes medical, dental, emergency evacuation, trip cancellation, baggage loss, 24-hour travel assistance, and accidental death coverage.

Some plans are offered exclusively to business travelers, but there are several comprehensive travel plans offered to leisure travelers and families as well. Sometimes, a comprehensive family travel plan will include free coverage for children!

Comprehensive is preferable to just medical coverage because it will cover some or all of the costs incurred by baggage loss or flight cancelations, in addition to trip cancelations for a number of reasons (e.g., you become seriously ill before departure, a family member passes away, etc.).

Other forms of travel insurance coverage include major medical (better for long-term travelers seeking coverage for medical emergencies and regular wellness; not available online), medical evacuation (protects you in the event of serious illness or injury during your trip), and accidental death/dismemberment (covers the cost of getting you home safely).

Which Countries Require Proof of Health Insurance?

Before you finalize the details of your trip in hopes of relying solely on your domestic health care plan to cover you abroad, it's important to research which countries require insurance and ask your health insurance company if they cover you overseas. Even if you're one of the lucky few whose American health insurance provider offers some modicum of coverage in other countries, you likely won't have access to benefits such as emergency medical evacuation.

This alone makes travel insurance an important consideration, and if your destination country requires proof of coverage, then you won't really have a choice but to acquire travel insurance before arriving.

Some countries – such as Cuba – will make you buy health insurance right away if you arrive without proof of coverage. In rare cases, you could be denied entry for not having appropriate insurance coverage, though this usually correlates with other factors, such as having insufficient funds and/or visa problems upon arrival.

According to Visitors Coverage, more and more countries are starting to require travel insurance for incoming foreigners. The current list includes: Schengen visa countries (don't confuse this with the European Union), Cuba, Russia, and United Arab Emirates.

Countries generally require their foreign visitors to have travel insurance in order to protect themselves against tourists coming in, accruing medical debt, and leaving without paying. Even if travel insurance is recommended instead of required by your destination country, the peace-of-mind that comes with medical and trip coverage may be worth the comparatively small expense.

Finding a Quality Travel Insurance Plan

To find a travel insurance plan suitable for your trip, using the aforementioned comparison sites SquareMouth and Insure My Trip are key to getting the best coverage at a price right for you. There are hundreds of travel insurance providers online, but not all plans are created equally.

Things to look closely at while browsing insurance plans include:
  • Customer reviews
  • Refund policies (usually there's a "review period")
  • A.M. Best rating (unaffiliated, third-party insurance ratings company with rigorous standards for providers)
  • "Cancel for Any Reason" coverage
  • Coverage minimums and limits for medical, emergency evacuation, trip delay/cancelation, and accidental death
  • Additional benefits (e.g., 24-hour emergency assistance, rental car protection add-on, identity theft protection, etc.)
Although many countries do not require foreigners to come with travel insurance, it's still a good idea to have some level of coverage during your international travels. Although it may seem unlikely that you'll have to cancel your trip or that you'll experience any illness or injury while abroad, the old adage of "better safe than sorry" holds true here.

Take a look at your options before departing. You may find that adding a travel insurance policy to your vacation budget is a small price to pay compared to the potential of massive medical bills later on if anything unfortunate happens.

Have you ever purchased travel insurance? Is it worth your time and money?
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