Health insurance for travelers

Getting sick is a biggie for travelers. What do you do when you are sick? Or get in an accident? What if you are far from home and need help?

There really is no stock answer to that question – it all depends on the individual situation and we can’t predict what the situation will be like. Sometimes we’ll move on anyway, other times we’ll take time off. Sometimes we will need a hospital, other times we won’t. When it happens, we look at the individual circumstances and make a decision.

sick with pneumonia

I got really sick while cycling through Argentina. It turned out to be pneumonia, and I spent a week in the hospital, then another two weeks recuperating before I could get back on my bike.

Health insurance for travelers

What I can say, however, is that we would never travel without health insurance. I understand that different travelers have varying takes on this one, but I can’t imagine going without. When we planned for our journey, we planned for insurance just like we planned for our fixed rate bonds,  how we would store our belongings, and how we would communicate with our families. Health insurance, as far as we’re concerned, is an essential for the traveler.

I cycled around Asia for a year without insurance many years ago. Although nothing bad happened, I look back on that time now and realize how dumb I was. I won’t make that mistake again.

in burma sick on couch

While traveling Burma, John and both boys got sick. We spent a few days unable to do anything except hang out.

It is true that medical costs in most countries around the world are reasonable, unlike in the USA. It is very true that it’s very unlikely that you will need to place a claim with your insurance company because you’ll be able to simply pay the bill. But what if something big happens and you want to come back to the USA to recover? You will not get care in America and will be stuck overseas for, possibly, the remainder of your life. Is that a risk you are willing to accept?

While on the road, we opted for a high-deductible travelers’ policy through IMG. The stipulations were that we were outside of the USA for at least six months each year, and we could not pick it up until the day we planned to leave the country. They have different plans to choose from, but we chose one that would cover us if/when we returned to the US on vacation.

We look at insurance as exactly that – insurance. We didn’t use it on a regular basis, but knowing it was there in case something went drastically wrong was comforting. We opted for a $5000 deductible, and never needed to use it while on our journey. All the small stuff we paid for out of our own pocket – but in Latin America health care was quite reasonable.

There are lots of insurance companies out there that can provide insurance for you, and you will have to read the fine print on them all. We went with IMG, and didn’t need to file a claim until John had an appendectomy once we arrived back home.

Evacuation Insurance

The other type of insurance that I would recommend to any traveler visiting foreign countries is evacuation insurance. I wrote about John’s evacuation from Ethiopia to Israel here and I can’t encourage you enough to read that story. I know I don’t want my international bank account drained because of a simple accident or health issue, and I somehow doubt you do either. One medical evacuation could wipe out your life savings in a heart beat.

Read John’s story, and you’ll never travel without evac insurance again. It’s cheap, so get it.

hospital in Malaysia

In Malaysia, Daryl broke his arm, then came down with a mystery illness. For six weeks, he had very high fevers that two rounds of antibiotics didn’t help. We finally got him to a different hospital where he was diagnosed with pneumonia and given the proper antibiotics.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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One Response to Health insurance for travelers

  1. Kate @30Traveler March 19, 2013 at 4:42 am #

    This is really useful info Nancy. I actually far prefer these types of blog posts with info on the practical aspects of travel vs. posts about things people have seen and done.

    I know the US health insurance system is problematic but I would love to be able to find a similar policy available to NZers that would mean I wouldn’t have to take out a new travel health policy each time I come back to NZ for short periods. It’s great you were able to find a policy that offered this option.

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