Travel Insurance 101

By Dan Drennen, Director, Travel

  • Originally published May 19, 2010 , last updated February 4, 2016
Travel Insurance 101

Travelers have a number of different insurance options at their disposal to protect them while abroad. The trick is knowing which ones are the best fit. A hint: When looking for the right option to protect you and your trip investment, read the fine print.

1. Comprehensive Travel Medical Insurance is for people who don't have any other medical insurance. It is mainly for long-term travelers or to those living and working outside their country of citizenship.

2. Emergency Travel Medical Insurance is for people whose medical coverage at home doesn't cover them while they are travelling. Emergency travel medical insurance only covers emergency services abroad. Once you get home, you're on your own — or, presumably, back under your regular coverage—for any follow-up treatment or continuing care. Most health insurance plans and health maintenance organizations include their own provisions for emergency care while abroad, at least for trips of less than 30 days. Check with your insurer or HMO before you purchase an emergency travel medical plan.

3. Medical Evacuation (Medevac) Insurance covers the cost of an air ambulance, attending physician and nurse, etc. if you are so badly injured, or become so ill, that you can't come home (or get to a suitable medical facility) on a scheduled commercial passenger flight. Medical evacuations can cost tens of thousands of dollars, but are rarely necessary. Even very badly injured travelers usually can come home on regular flights after no more than a couple of weeks of emergency treatment and stabilization abroad. Some of the activities most likely to lead to a need for medical evacuation, such as scuba diving and extreme sports, are often excluded from Medevac coverage. Read the fine print.

4. Trip Cancellation and Interruption Insurance covers the cancellation or refund penalties and the cost of getting home if you have to cancel your trip, or cut it short, for specified reasons. The covered reasons vary (read the fine print), but typically include injury or illness to you, a travelling companion, or a member of your immediate family.

5. Supplier Default Insurance covers any money you lose because of the bankruptcy of an airline, cruise line, tour operator, or other travel service provider. Some of the lower-cost travel insurance plans do not offer this benefit at all, while others pick and choose which travel suppliers they will insure. Read the fine print.

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