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. You can get estimates from various providers through InsureMyTrip.com. Enter your trip cost and dates, your age, and other information for prices from more than a dozen companies.
For U.K. citizens, insurance is always advisable when traveling in the States. Travelers who make more than one trip abroad per year may find an annual travel insurance policy works out to be cheaper. Check www.moneysupermarket.com, which compares prices across a wide range of providers for single- and multi-trip policies.
Most big travel agents offer their own insurance and may try to sell you their package when you book a holiday. Think before you sign. Britain's Consumers' Association recommends that you insist on seeing the policy and reading the fine print before buying travel insurance. The Association of British Insurers (tel. 020/7600-3333; www.abi.org.uk) gives advice by phone and publishes Holiday Insurance, a free guide to policy provisions and prices. You might also shop around for better deals: Try Columbus Direct (tel. 0870/033-9988; www.columbusdirect.net).
Trip-Cancellation Insurance -- Trip-cancellation insurance will help retrieve your money if you have to cancel a trip or depart early, or if your travel supplier goes bankrupt. Trip cancellation traditionally covers such events as sickness, natural disasters, and State Department advisories. The latest in trip-cancellation insurance is expanded hurricane coverage and "any-reason" cancellation coverage; they cost more but cover cancellations made for any reason. You won't get back 100% of your prepaid trip cost, but you'll be refunded a substantial portion. TravelSafe (tel. 888/885-7233; www.travelsafe.com) offers both types of coverage. Expedia also offers any-reason cancellation coverage for its air-hotel packages.
For details, 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 -- Although it's not required of travelers, health insurance is highly recommended. Most health insurance policies cover you if you get sick away from home -- but check your coverage before you leave.
International visitors should note that unlike many European countries, the United States does not usually offer free or low-cost medical care to its citizens or visitors. Doctors and hospitals are expensive, and in most cases will require advance payment or proof of coverage before they render their services. Good policies will cover the costs of an accident, repatriation, or death. Packages such as Europ Assistance's "Worldwide Healthcare Plan" are sold by European automobile clubs and travel agencies at attractive rates. Worldwide Assistance Services, Inc. (tel. 800/777-8710; www.worldwideassistance.com) is the agent for Europ Assistance in the United States.
Though lack of health insurance may prevent you from being admitted to a hospital in nonemergencies, don't worry about being left on a street corner to die: The American way is to fix you now and bill the living daylights out of you later.
If you're ever hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, MedjetAssist (tel. 800/527-7478; www.medjetassistance.com) will pick you up and fly you to the hospital of your choice in a medically equipped and staffed aircraft 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Annual memberships are $225 individual, $350 family; you can also purchase short-term memberships.
Canadians should check with their provincial health plan offices or call Health Canada (tel. 866/225-0709; www.hc-sc.gc.ca) to find out the extent of their coverage and what documentation and receipts they must take home in case they are treated in the United States.
Lost-Luggage Insurance -- On flights within the U.S., checked baggage is covered up to $2,500 per ticketed passenger. On flights outside the U.S. (and on 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 what's covered by the standard liability, see if your homeowner's policy covers your valuables, get baggage insurance as part of your comprehensive travel-insurance package, or buy Travel Guard's "BagTrak" product.
If your luggage is lost, immediately file a lost-luggage claim at the airport, detailing the luggage contents. Most airlines require that you 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.
What to Do If You Get Sick Away from Home -- If you get sick, consider asking your hotel concierge to recommend a local doctor -- even his or her own. You can also try an urgent-care facility or a local hospital, many of which 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 leaving. Pack prescription medications in your carry-on, and carry them in their original containers, with pharmacy labels -- otherwise they won't make it through airport security. Visitors from outside the U.S. should carry generic names of prescription drugs. For U.S. travelers, most reliable health-care plans provide coverage if you get sick away from home. Foreign visitors may have to pay medical costs upfront and be reimbursed later.
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.