August 17, 2020
We look forward to the day when this pandemic winds down, but until Covid-19 is eradicated, countries will want to guard themselves from the expense of providing medical care for visitors who haven't paid into those places' systems.
That's why there's a growing list of tourist-reliant destinations that have made proof of medical coverage a central criteria for legal entry—and because it will take time to inoculate the entire world, we expect this requirement to remain in place for months or years after the development of potential treatments or a cure.
Aruba, Costa Rica, French Polynesia (aka Tahiti), St. Maarten, Turks and Caicos, and United Arab Emirates all require incoming visitors to provide proof of medical coverage should they fall ill during a stay.
The new orders are potentially confounding for the many travelers who have never purchased travel insurance before.
No, your basic health insurance almost certainly won't cover you once you leave your own country. (Some policies don't even cover you if you leave your home state.)
Here's how to get medical coverage that will satisfy border control in another nation.
After you make your core travel arrangements (airfare, hotels, any other transportation or major expenses), you'll need to look for medical coverage. Make sure you buy your insurance within a few days after having purchased travel, though, because if you wait too long, you could be prohibited from obtaining insurance. You must secure your insurance around the same time you purchase your travel.
There's no one policy and price that we can point you to—your options and your quotes will vary according to who you are, where you're going, what you're spending on travel, and even where you live. But there are a few websites where you can plug in your information and requirements, and those sites will collect valid policy options for you.
Make sure your medical coverage is as comprehensive as possible, in case an illness requires you to remain in the hospital for days or weeks.
You'd also be wise to make sure your chosen policy comes with a "medical waiver," because without that, travel insurance will exclude preexisting conditions; Covid-19 tends to sicken people who already suffer from existing conditions, so a waiver would close that potential loophole.
Be on the lookout as well for the distinction between primary and secondary medical coverage. Primary coverage will pay you directly in the event of a claim, and secondary cleans up extra expenses after you use the medical coverage you already have—for example, if you have a supplemental Medicare policy that covers travel. Primary coverage will be the easiest to manage; you'll just submit the bills you paid and you'll be reimbursed at the coverage rate in your policy.
A few sites work like airfare search engines and canvass multiple medical travel insurers, collecting a variety of quotes on one page. Squaremouth culls options from 20 insurers, and InsureMyTrip.com looks at 21. Aardy is a relative newcomer worth tossing into the mix, too.
The border agents are looking to see if your local medical expenses are 100% covered. If you want coverage that will also evacuate you and fly you home, that's up to you. Medjet will fly you home to your local medical insurance network if you get sick—but keep in mind that aspect of coverage alone won't be enough to satisfy a border patrol officer. Complete coverage at a hospital in that country is what officials want to see.
Very few credit cards come with extensive medical coverage—most policies focus on trip cancellations and on getting you home. What's more, it may be hard to convince a border officer that your credit card coverage is all you need, even if that's true. A solid, focused, medical-only policy is much more likely to pass muster.
Keep in mind that medical insurance does not necessarily come with cancellation coverage for the rest of your expenses. You'd have to ensure that you purchase that kind of coverage separately, or that it's included in a package that comes with medical coverage. Click here to read recent advice from Frommer's about buying travel insurance during the era of Covid-19.
For our general tips on travel insurance in normal times, click here.