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Before You Go: Protect Yourself with Travel Insurance

Don’t you want to protect this vacation?

Travel insurance is the least exciting purchase you’ll make while planning your next trip, but it’s also the most important.

Don’t believe me? A few years ago, in a rare instance of my legal and travel worlds colliding, I had a client who had to be medevac’d home from the Caribbean. The bill for her flight was $20,000.

And that was actually a bargain. The average international medical evacuation costs closer to $100,000.

Of course, an evacuation is the worst-case scenario. You might just get mildly sick while you’re traveling or, say, sprain your ankle. Even though health care costs in most other countries are lower than in the US, you could still be faced with some large health care bills.

Fortunately, there’s insurance for all that. Unfortunately, it’s not the health insurance you currently have. Your US-issued health insurance generally will not cover any medical expenses you incur in other countries or the costs of a medical flight from another country back to the US.

A travel insurance policy – at least, a good one – will cover emergency medical expenses you incur while traveling and costs associated with emergency evacuations or (heaven forbid) return of remains. Policies usually also include cancellation coverage, meaning they’ll reimburse some or all of your trip costs if you have to cancel the trip, along with other little perks like costs associated with delayed flights, missed connections, and lost baggage.

Another big perk of travel insurance is having someone to call when you run into trouble. I don’t know about you, but I don’t keep the numbers of medevac companies in my phone. The large insurance companies have support networks spanning the globe, so if you need an airlift home, they’ll help you set it up.

There’s also a bigger picture reason for travel insurance. Part of traveling sustainably means not putting a burden on the countries we visit. The health systems of many countries are strained, and we don’t want to tax them further by using – without being able to pay for – their limited health resources. In fact, Ecuador recently passed a law that will require all visitors to have health insurance; its Ministry of Tourism cited the “wellbeing of everyone” in announcing the new rule. At Mockingbird, we already require all of our travelers to purchase travel insurance. It makes you a responsible traveler, and really, it’s just good sense.

Now that I’ve made you a travel insurance convert, a few practical things to know:

  • Before you object on budgetary grounds: the costs of most travel insurance policies are quite reasonable. The premium is based on the cost of your trip, your age, and of course, the level of coverage you choose.

  • If you don’t want cancellation coverage or any of the other little perks, you can get a policy just with evacuation and medical coverage. These policies are straight-up cheap.

  • Choose emergency evacuation coverage worth $100,000 or more, unless you’re traveling really close to home.

  • It’s better to purchase a policy from an independent insurance company, rather than a policy offered by the travel supplier (i.e., the airline or cruise line). If you purchase the supplier’s insurance, and the supplier goes bankrupt, guess what? The insurance benefits have disappeared along with your trip.

  • You will generally buy a separate policy for each trip you take. But if you travel a lot – particularly if you take a lot of small trips – you might consider purchasing an annual policy. These policies will cover you anytime you travel more than 90 miles or so from your home.

  • Travel insurance isn’t just for international travel! Though you probably won’t need the medical coverage on a domestic trip, having the cancellation benefits is worthwhile. You can also get policies that include rental car coverage, so you don’t have to worry about figuring out the rental company’s incomprehensible insurance options.

  • You should purchase your policy within two weeks of making your first payment on the trip, so that your preexisting medical conditions will be covered.

  • Read the fine print. Like all insurance policies, not everything will be covered, and conditions apply. Call the insurance companies directly if you have any questions about whether something will be covered. I’ve found them to be quite friendly!

  • You can compare policies at, or better yet, ask your favorite travel agent (ahem) to help you find a policy.

Travel is an investment, and it should be protected like one. Do it for your health, do it for your wallet, do it for your peace of mind: go ahead and buy that insurance policy, then move on to the fun parts of travel.

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