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Is Travel Insurance necessary?… hmmm

Recently, a friend asked my advice on how to find cheap travel insurance. She’ll be on an overseas program for several months, and the program mandates she get travel insurance coverage.

Myself? I’ve gotten it three times in my life. On my last trip however, I needed to get one and I discovered searching for cheap options was a pain.

Which nationality should you avoid being, if you need travel insurance ?

American.

Europeans and Canadians may wonder why Americans don’t travel much. Do you know how much we get charged for travel insurance?  Joking aside, of the western world, Americans get charged a premium for traveling.  Recently, when I was looking for a travel insurance plan to cover my three month trip to India, I got prices which made my heart want to leap into cardiac arrest. Price quotes were more than my plane ticket, starting at $600 and rising !

But if I were a U.K. citizen,  I could find plans as low as  $25 a month!

“Cheap” and “travel insurance” doesn’t always walk hand-in-hand when you’re  American.

 

Is Travel Insurance necessary?

Life is all a bit of a gamble. It’s like deciding whether or not to buy ‘collision insurance’ on a rental car. In many cases, you probably won’t need it; but you never know…

It all depends on your health, how extreme or accident-prone you are, your comfort zone with traveling without insurance and the risk factors you feel may be involved.  It’s a personal choice.

During my three-month coverage in India:

Did I get sick?

– Yes.  I had amoebic dysentery for a month in India. (read here)

Did I get into an accident?

– I got heat exhaustion and scraped up in a motorbike collision in…India again. 

But with accommodations and medical services being extremely cheap and quite decent in large cities, like Mumbai and Delhi (where a friend of mine went to get a fractured toe examined and walked away with an x-ray and doctor’s diagnosis for under $8). I didn’t need my insurance. Filing a claim on my expenses (under $20) wouldn’t be worth the time or paperwork!

Needless to say, I didn’t extend my travel insurance. I was traveling to Thailand afterwards, which is one of my favorite medical tourism hotspots, where medical services and facilities are inexpensive and state-of-the-art.

Then again there are exceptions.

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When is travel insurance definitely necessary?

Are you traveling or training with an overseas program, where travel insurance coverage is “compulsory”?  In that case, damnit, you just have to suck it up and get it.

 

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Sometimes, you just have a feeling you should get travel insurance

I always read travel alerts and warnings about a country as well as, get an idea of its medical support before I go.  But sometimes, I just get a traveler’s sixth sense about things… along with paranoid feelings that I might get kidnapped and held at gunpoint.

Six years ago, I took a trip to Spain and Morocco with a girlfriend.  Spain felt safe enough as a European nation, but what about Morocco and Africa? We knew nothing about medical practices there or of crime and this ‘lack of knowing’, in our minds, equated a bit of danger. Getting travel insurance seemed smart and my intuition agreed.

I didn’t regret it. Our first day in Morocco, our luggage didn’t arrive with us. We were left with no option but pickup clothes and toiletries in cities along the way. Moving from city to city was stressful. We didn’t know when or where our bags would arrive and we’d even get ‘false alarm’ notifications to show up at the airport and find … no bags. Finally, two days before our leave, we got our belongings back. My bag was in tact, but my girlfriend’s  jewelry was stolen.

Thankfully, we were insured.

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Three travel insurance carriers :

Insurance comes in options, ranging from short-term trip coverage to annual coverage. For the most part, they cover the standard: medical and hospitalization, luggage loss or stolen, flight delay or cancellation, death, etc… They don’t always cover computer and camera equipment too well, so you’ll have to read the fine print. Nevertheless, here are my top three tried-and-true recommendations:

 

•  American Express (website here)

American Express has long been the credit card for travelers. Sadly, they’ve levied their charges to merchants to the point, less and less places take them. But what many Americans don’t know, is that Am-Ex offers cheap travel insurance. Several years back, they covered an entire trip if you charged your flight ticket to your Am-Ex card and paid a $24 service charge. I’ve used this once on a trip to Nepal and India (because it was so cheap) and my girlfriend used Am-Ex to cover her Moroccan trip. I’m not sure if they still offer this service, but it would be worthwhile to ask. It’s the best bargain I’ve seen so far!

American Express travel insurance still offers traditional insurance policies via a new website . They offer three plans, ranging from pointed coverage to annual full coverage. The most standard and popular plan starts at $59 and covers the she-bang. I’ve not been able to try this service yet, but it seems to offer a good deal. Con: You must be an Am-Ex card holder to get these deals. Non Am-Ex holders can get representation through their affiliate Global Travel Shield.

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• World Nomads  (website here)

World Nomads was my recent choice of insurance and one of the most trusted sources of travel insurance for backpackers. If you type in ‘cheap travel insurance” you’re likely to find Lonely Planet and Travelfish  pointing you to World Nomads Travel Insurance.  It’s because WN offers global insurance, knows what travelers need and they happen to keep up good relations with the travel community, by offering travel-study awards for budding videographers, writers and photographers. What I love about WN ? Their insurance prices aren’t biased to youth (as STA Travel is); it extends to the traveler, up to the senior citizen’s age of 67.

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• STA Travel

STA Travel has always offered cheap travel services for young adults and the college crowd. I’ve used them for my Morocco trip. Their International insurance offers cheap prices for the under 35 crowd, but if you’re older than that, you’ve “missed the boat” on youth’s discounts. Expect the prices to jump to pricier. Prices for the over 35 crowd run a little higher than World Nomads.

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Filing a travel insurance claim: Is it worth the pain?

I won’t sugar coat it, it’s not fun to file claims with an insurance company . The paperwork and wait can drag out for months.  If you buy travel insurance and actually get into a situation where you’ll be using it, remember to always :

• Get an authorized complaint forms  (ie. baggage loss complaint form at the airlines, police report for theft, doctor’s report for medical services.)

• Keep your flight tickets and itinerary

• Collect store receipts

• Baggage tags for lost luggage

• Keep records of your expenses (some countries are cash-based and may not offer receipts. Keep a hand-written list of purchased items.)

• Basically, collect everything that can be used as proof

When I got home from Morocco, I downloaded the insurance forms from my insurance site and spoke with an agent. I filled out forms, faxed everything that was required. In the end, both my girlfriend and I got small compensation from our insurance agencies so that it wasn’t a completely loss. But it took over six months to get.

Is travel insurance worth its claim?

Depends on the case and your specific losses. In many cases, having gotten back something feels better than just experiencing a trip’s loss.

Any tips or recommendations for backpacking travel insurance?  Do you think travel insurance is necessary?

 

This post has an affiliate link to World Nomads which I used and recommend. If you buy through that link, I’ll receive a small referral commission, at no extra cost to you. This will help me maintain my site and continue sharing information and I’d be very grateful!

27 Comments

  1. kittenzero says:

    If you are travelling get insurance for sure. It might be expensive but you never know what could happen. Last year two family members were on holiday in Turkey and rented a quad bike, crashed and one of them sadly died. Her aunt who was also with her broke her pelvis and was hospitalised. Neither had travel insurance and so their families had to crowd fund in order to get them both home and to pay for the aunt’s hospital.

    It’s just not worth the risk!

  2. Linda says:

    Great blog … this describes affordable travel insurance…and travel coverage insurance…. this is so useful information…. 🙂

  3. Thanks for sharing excellent informations. I’m impressed by the details that you have on the blog. Looking for your future post.Bangladesh 24

  4. Heidi19 says:

    Hi Christine! providing us this useful information on how to get a cheap travel insurance is really a big help. I know a lot of traveler will benefit from this and i will surely follow all the advice that you’ve shared with us here. Thank for the post and keep up the good work.

  5. tinafreysd says:

    Check your existing insurance policies and credit card coverage before you buy travel insurance. You may already be covered for medical expenses, canceled tickets or lost luggage.

  6. Chris Noble says:

    Great article, but I’d have to disagree on “Not every trip needs travel insurance. It all depends on your health, how extreme or accident-prone you are and the risk factors you feel may be involved.”

    Certainly the more you put yourself at risk, the more likely you are to run into a disaster. That being said, you only have control over what you do, not what can happen to you.

    Just this year we’ve had 3 very major repatriations ( $200,000k plus) due to events outside of the travellers control. One disease based event that caused paralysis and two road traffic accidents where they were not at fault. Add to this skiing accidents, more RTA’s in Asia, burst appendix….the list goes on.

    I would never travel without insurance, regardless of what you feel the level of care you’ll receive in a country might be, when something serious happens, that’s when you’ll be stuck with your parents or friends having to come up with hundreds of thousands of dollars to get you home.

    You might be thinking “oh he’s just saying that because he runs an insurance company, its just a scare tactic!”. I wouldn’t be saying it if we didn’t see these cases week in week out.

    I had a similar conversation with Wade at Vagabond Journey – http://www.vagabondjourney.com/travelogue/travel-insurance-for-long-term-travelers/. Check out my comments and make up your own mind.

    At the end of the day, way up the cost of not having travel insurance should something serious happen, then choose an insurance company that covers you for what you need and the types of activities you’re going to undertake.

    Safe Travelling.

    • @Chris: Your comment is valued as an insurance authority, who’s seen a range of freakishly extreme accidents that World Nomads insurance has covered.
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      I’ve read the comments you’ve left on Wade’s site and I still stand by what I said. I agree with Wade’s response.
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      The cases you’ve mentioned factual, but I feel are the ‘exception more than the rule’. To not offer fair statistics of “unclaimed vs. claimed” insurance claims, makes it feel biased. And I know for a fact, there are many travelers who travel without insurance and do just fine.
      .
      Are you saying that travelers should be afraid to travel without travel insurance? Better yet, should we not travel, if we can’t afford it?
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      It would disappoint me to know that was a WN philosophy, because many travelers can’t afford insurance and it’s mostly the western world that has the luxury of affording it. World Nomads has decent price tags on its insurance, but no way I can afford it on a regular basis. Should I ‘live in fear‘ if I’m without it?
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      LIFE is a gamble. That’s the cost of living. Each day you wake up you’re accepting its challenge and risks. I’ve experienced more life threatening situations living in the U.S.A., than I have abroad (and in my 2 years in Asia). Watts Riots in L.A., 9-11 in NYC, having an ex-con sex pervert stalk me, nearly mugged, pneumonia… all on my home turf! I was not insured for any of these.
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      Furthermore, had I lived my life investing in every ‘what if’ situation, I would’ve NEVER:
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      • Left my apartment,
      • Become a solo traveler
      • Left my country
      • Took the risk to live abroad
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      Is living in constant paranoia and fear worth my entire life? Definitely not. Instead, it’s forced me to be resourceful when I travel and it’s pushed me to live a remarkable life.
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      Last year I took over 5 trips in Asia. None were covered by insurance and nothing happened. Also, I purposely plan ‘medical tourism’ trips in Asia. What I’ve experienced was state-of-the-art, cheap and in many cases, surprisingly more advanced than the U.S. medical centers. Of course, it helps to research your countries and know where your top notch medical facilities are…
      .
      In the end, it’s every individual’s right to choose. Some travelers need and can afford every trip covered; others may feel they can manage fine without it. The only person who knows the best choice for their life is the person living it.

  7. Born27 says:

    I’m not much of a traveler but I wish and hoping I’ll be someday. I want to travel the globe before I get married and hoping it’ll happen. And thanks to these information. At least I learned something when traveling. More cheap it is, more travel I could do. 🙂

  8. Ida Morgan says:

    Recently, I just fell of the the boat we are into while on our way on an island somewhere in Hawaii. It really sucks for my dslr got broke and I drowned. Seem funny but will that be a valid reason for me to get my travel insurance? Thanks. 🙂

  9. Dave says:

    One of the reasons I enjoy Grrrltraveler so much is because you are not afraid to say things like it’s okay to travel without travel insurance (personal circumstances aside).

    It’s true, travel insurance is very expensive. As is health insurance in many places around the world. I know of one Nepalese agent who knows of hospitals who know enjoy the idea of getting a foreigner with a travel insurance. The rates suddenly all go up. The problem is, everyone benefits except for the person paying the premiums.

    • @Dave: Well it’s not a sponsored post, is why… ha ha Just kidding. I remember what you wrote about the Nepalese hiking up the bills with travel insurance! Scary expensive prices.

      You, yourself, know that insurance in most cases, isn’t necessary. I think the more you travel outside of your comfort zone and for longer periods, you begin to realize most situations are more manageable than it appears (that’s what I admire about your journey). But coming from a sheltered upbringing, self-trust is what I’ve been learning through travel. But I respect the fear and uncertainty, which makes travelers reluctant. American society makes us doubt ourselves and our survival skills too much. It takes advantage of our vulnerabilities. We need to trust ourselves more.

  10. Gray says:

    So glad you wrote about this, Christine! I’m not a backpacker, but I have purchased trip insurance for my overseas trips from companies recommended by my airline or cruise (for upcoming trip), but their names are forgettable and it gives me little peace of mind. Why? Because it’s a crap shoot. Last spring, when my flight to Madrid got cancelled due to mechanical failure and I was too late to cancel my first night’s hotel (which you have to do within 48 hours if you don’t want to have to pay for it), I thought “No problem. I’ve got trip insurance.” I filed my claim and guess what? It was denied, because mechanical failure wasn’t covered. I wound up having to eat the cost of the hotel night I missed because of Continental. Argh. That’s the problem with insurance companies; there’s always a loophole that enables them to deny your claim.

    • @Gray: Actually, you have a point and I probably should’ve really stressed reading the fine print of the plan, so you know the trap doors of your coverage. Are you talking about those ‘travel insurance plans’ they offer for a little extra more as you’re booking your flight? Airlines always push that “cancellation insurance” and if that’s how they handle cancellations, then those policies are worthless.

      I know in the U.S., airlines have gotten more smug about trip cancellations. They will not claim responsibility for delays/cancellations “due to weather.” In that sense, you’re screwed. But “mechanical failure” is clearly the fault of the airlines and should be under their responsibility(although there may be a sneaky trap door I don’t know). Did you try to get reimbursed from Continental itself? Either way, that’s a raw deal. Next time, I’ll remember to read the fine print of that too.

  11. Cathy Ly says:

    I contemplated for a long time if I should have purchased Travel Insurance. I’ve been on the road for 4 months now and I used my traveler’s instincts. You’re right- if you just have that sixth sense about things, go with it – 99% that sixth sense is telling you something.

    Why do you think it’s SO expensive for an American to get travelers insurance? It’s not cool. Great post , super helpful!!!

    Cathy Trails

    • @Cathy : I know medical care and standard health insurance isn’t cheap or FREE in the U.S., like it is in the European nations and Canada? I suspect some of that might play into it; that and being a capitalist society?

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