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Insurance

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

The cost of travel insurance varies widely, depending on the cost and length of your trip, your age and health, and the type of trip you're taking, but expect to pay between 5% and 8% of the vacation itself.

Trip-Cancellation Insurance -- Trip-cancellation insurance helps you get your money back if you have to back out of a trip, if you have to go home early, or if your travel supplier goes bankrupt. Allowed reasons for cancellation can range from sickness to natural disasters to the Department of State declaring your destination unsafe for travel. (Insurers usually won't cover vague fears, though, as many travelers discovered who tried to cancel their trips in Oct 2001 because they were wary of flying.) In this unstable world, trip-cancellation insurance is a good buy if you're getting tickets well in advance -- who knows what the state of the world, or of your airline, will be in 9 months? Insurance policy details vary, so read the fine print and make sure that your airline or cruise line is on the list of carriers covered in case of bankruptcy. A good resource is "Travel Guard Alerts," a service that provides a list of companies considered high-risk by Travel Guard International. Protect yourself further by paying for the insurance with a credit card -- by law, consumers can get their money back on goods and services not received, if they report the loss within 60 days after the charge is listed on their credit card statement.

For more information, contact one of the following recommended insurers: Access America (tel. 866/807-3982; www.accessamerica.com); Travel Guard International (tel. 800/826-4919; www.travelguard.com); Travel Insured International (tel. 800/243-3174; www.travelinsured.com); and Travelex Insurance Services (tel. 888/457-4602; www.travelex-insurance.com).

Medical Insurance -- For travel overseas, most health plans (including Medicare and Medicaid) do not provide coverage, and the ones that do often require you to pay for services upfront and reimburse you only after you return home. Even if your plan does cover overseas treatment, most out-of-country hospitals make you pay your bills upfront, and send you a refund only after you've returned home and filed the necessary paperwork with your insurance company. As a safety net, you may want to buy travel medical insurance. If you require additional medical insurance, try MEDEX Assistance (tel. 410/453-6300; www.medexassist.com) or Travel Assistance International (tel. 800/821-2828; www.travelassistance.com; for general information on services, call the company's Worldwide Assistance Services, Inc., at tel. 800/777-8710).

Lost-Luggage Insurance -- On domestic flights, checked baggage is covered up to $2,500 per ticketed passenger. On international flights (including U.S. portions of international trips), baggage coverage is limited to approximately $9.07 per pound, up to approximately $635 per checked bag. If you plan to check items more valuable than the standard liability, see if your valuables are covered by your homeowner's policy, get baggage insurance as part of your comprehensive travel-insurance package, or buy Travel Guard's "BagTrak" product. Don't buy insurance at the airport, as it's usually overpriced. Be sure to take any valuables or irreplaceable items with you in your carry-on luggage, as many valuables (including books, money, and electronics) aren't covered by airline policies.

If your luggage is lost, immediately file a lost-luggage claim at the airport, detailing the luggage contents. For most airlines, you must report delayed, damaged, or lost baggage within 4 hours of arrival. The airlines are required to deliver luggage, once found, directly to your house or destination free of charge.

Staying Healthy

Argentina requires no vaccinations to enter the country, except for passengers coming from countries where cholera and yellow fever are endemic.

Some people who have allergies can be affected by the pollution in Buenos Aires's crowded MicroCentro, where cars and buses remain mired in traffic jams, belching out pollution. The beautiful spring blossoms also bring with them pollen, and even people not usually affected by plants might be thrown off seasonally and by species of plants different from those in North America and Europe. It's a good idea to pack a decongestant with you, or asthma medicine if you require it. With the new anti-smoking laws, you will not find indoor smoke to be the hazard it once was.

Because motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injury among travelers, walk and drive defensively. Do not expect buses and taxis to stop for you when crossing the street. Always use a seat belt, which has now become the law in Buenos Aires, even in taxis.

Most visitors find that Argentine food and water are generally easy on the stomach. Water and ice are considered safe to drink in Buenos Aires. You should avoid street food and drinks served out of canisters by roving salespeople at the ubiquitous festivals all over the city. Vegetarians should take note that food that seems vegetarian often is not. With all those cows slaughtered for meat, there's plenty of cow fat finding its way as cooking oil for bread and biscuits. Read ingredients carefully and ask if in doubt.

Buenos Aires's streets and sidewalks can be disgustingly unsanitary. While there is a pooper-scooper law on the books, dog owners seem to take delight in letting their pets relieve themselves in the middle of the sidewalk. The rule of thumb also seems to be the better the neighborhood, the more poop there is, making Recoleta an obstacle course. Watch your step!

Drugs & Prescriptions -- Many drugs requiring a prescription in the United States do not necessarily need one in Argentina. Hence, if you lose or run out of a medicine, it might not be necessary to schedule a doctor's appointment to get your prescription. The same goes if you become ill and are sure you know what you need. Many of the pharmacies in the MicroCentro have staff members who speak English. Not all medicines, however, are a bargain in Argentina.

Austral Sun -- The summer sun is hot and strong in Buenos Aires. It's best to bring sunblock, though it is available in stores and pharmacies throughout the city. There are no beaches within the city proper, but many people go tanning in the Palermo and Recoleta parks or in the Ecological Preserve.

Malaria & Other Tropical Ailments -- Malaria is not an issue in most of Argentina. However, the humid summer months of January and February mean you will sometimes find swarms of mosquitoes wherever you go. Bring repellent to avoid bites. To get shots or advice for various illnesses if you are traveling from Buenos Aires to the jungle for long periods of time, contact Vacunar, a chain of clinics specializing in vaccinations and preventing illness, with locations all over Buenos Aires (www.vacunar.com.ar). Keep in mind that many shots require a period of time before they become effective. They will also explain, country by country, what is required if you are traveling to other parts of South America.

What to Do If You Get Sick away from Home -- Any foreign consulate can provide a list of area doctors who speak English. If you get sick, consider asking your hotel concierge to recommend a local doctor -- even his or her own. You can also try the emergency room at a local hospital. Many hospitals also have walk-in clinics for emergency cases that are not life-threatening; you may not get immediate attention, but you won't pay the high price of an emergency room visit.

If you suffer from a chronic illness, consult your doctor before your departure. For such conditions as epilepsy, diabetes, or heart problems, wear a MedicAlert identification tag (tel. 888/633-4298; www.medicalert.org), which will immediately alert doctors to your condition and give them access to your records through MedicAlert's 24-hour hot line.

The medical facilities and personnel in Buenos Aires and other urban areas in Argentina are very professional. Argentina has a system of socialized medicine, where basic services are free and doctors are well trained, but the facilities are poorly maintained due to lack of funding. There are many private clinics in every city, and they are inexpensive by Western standards. For an English-speaking hospital, call the Hospital Británico (tel. 11/4304-1081), established over 150 years ago during the British Empire's heyday. If you worry about getting sick away from home, you may want to consider medical travel insurance. In most cases, however, your existing health plan will provide all the coverage you need, but call to make sure. Be sure to carry your identification card in your wallet. You should also ask for receipts or notes from the doctors, which you might need for your claim.

Safety

Petty crime has increased significantly in Buenos Aires and other cities as a result of Argentina's economic crisis. Travelers should be especially alert to pickpockets and purse snatchers on the streets and on buses and trains. Tourists should take care not to be overly conspicuous, walking in pairs or groups when possible. Never walk around with your passport, as to lose it is a major headache. In Buenos Aires, do not take taxis off the street. You should call for a radio-taxi instead. Take similar precautions when traveling in Argentina's other big cities.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.