To travel to some destinations abroad, some insurance is always a good idea (such as trip cancellation, for instance). To others, medical evacuation insurance may spring to mind (in countries with limited medical facilities, for instance). Be sure to consider one or more of the following possibilities and prepare accordingly.
Check your existing insurance policies before you buy travel insurance to cover trip cancellation, lost luggage, medical expenses, or car rental insurance. You're likely to have partial or complete coverage. But if you need some, ask your travel agent about a comprehensive package. The cost of travel insurance varies widely, depending on the cost and length of your trip, your age and overall health, and the type of trip you're taking. Insurance for extreme sports or adventure travel, for example, will cost more than coverage for a cruise. Some insurers provide packages for specialty vacations, such as skiing or backpacking. More dangerous activities may be excluded from basic policies.
For information, contact one of the following popular insurers, listed in alphabetical order:
- Allianz (tel. 866/884-3556; www.allianztravelinsurance.com)
- Travel Guard International (tel. 800/826-1300; www.travelguard.com)
- Travel Insured International (tel. 800/243-3174; www.travelinsured.com)
- Travelex Insurance Services (tel. 800/228-9792; www.travelexinsurance.com)
Trip-Cancellation Insurance (TCI)
There are three major types of trip-cancellation insurance -- one, in the event that you pre-pay a cruise or tour that gets canceled, and you can't get your money back; a second when you or someone in your family gets sick or dies, and you can't travel (but beware that you may not be covered for a pre-existing condition); and a third, when bad weather makes travel impossible. Some insurers provide coverage for events like jury duty; natural disasters close to home, like floods or fire; even the loss of a job. A few have added provisions for cancellations due to terrorist activities. Always check the fine print before signing on, and don't buy trip-cancellation insurance from the tour operator that may be responsible for the cancellation; buy it only from a reputable travel insurance agency. Don't overbuy. You won't be reimbursed for more than the cost of your trip.
Most health insurance policies cover you if you get sick away from home -- but check, particularly if an HMO insures you. If you travel abroad, note that with the exception of certain HMOs and Medicare/Medicaid, your medical insurance should cover medical treatment—even hospital care—overseas. However, most out-of-country hospitals make you pay your bills up front, and send you a refund after you've returned home and filed the necessary paperwork. In many cases, you pay the foreign hospital, then try to collect from your provider when you return home. Members of Blue Cross/Blue Shield can now use their cards at select hospitals in most major cities worldwide (tel. 800/810-BLUE or www.bcbs.com for a list of hospitals). If you purchase medical insurance from groups such as Access America, be warned that they pay you some or all of the difference after your primary coverage pays you first.
Under U.S. law, insurance companies are not required to cover any medical expenses incurred in countries on the State Department's Travel Advisory List, even if their policies indicate they will cover out-of-country medical expenses. Some supplemental carriers will sell travelers coverage for these areas. You can view the Travel Advisory List at http://travel.state.gov).
Some credit cards (American Express and certain gold and platinum Visa and MasterCards, for example) offer automatic flight insurance against death or dismemberment in case of an airplane crash if you charged the cost of your ticket to the card, and if you have signed up for the program in advance of our trip.
If you require additional insurance, try one of the following companies:
- MEDEX International, 9515 Deereco Rd., Timonium, MD 21093-5375 (tel. 888/MEDEX-00 or 410/453-6300; fax 410/453-6301; www.medexassist.com)
- Travel Assistance International (tel. 800/821-2828; www.travelassistance.com), 9200 Keystone Crossing, Suite 300, Indianapolis, IN 46240 (for general information on services, call the company's Worldwide Assistance Services, Inc., at tel. 800/777-8710)
- Only for diving destinations: The Divers Alert Network (DAN) (tel. 800/446-2671 or 919/684-8181; www.diversalertnetwork.org).
The cost of travel medical insurance varies widely. Check your existing policies before you buy additional coverage. Also, check to see if your medical insurance covers you for emergency medical evacuation: If you have to buy a one-way same-day ticket home and forfeit your nonrefundable roundtrip ticket, you may be out big bucks.
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 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, you may purchase "excess valuation" coverage from the airline, up to $5,000. Be sure to take any valuables or irreplaceable items with you in your carry-on luggage. If you file a lost luggage claim, be prepared to answer detailed questions about the contents of your baggage, and be sure to file a claim immediately, as most airlines enforce a 21-day deadline. Before you leave home, compile an inventory of all packed items and a rough estimate of the total value to ensure you're properly compensated if your luggage is lost. You will only be reimbursed for what you lost, no more. Once you've filed a complaint, persist in securing your reimbursement; there are no laws governing the length of time it takes for a carrier to reimburse you. If you arrive at a destination without your bags, ask the airline to forward them to your hotel or to your next destination; they will usually comply. If your bag is delayed or lost, the airline may reimburse you for reasonable expenses, such as a toothbrush or a set of clothes, but the airline is under no legal obligation to do so.
Lost luggage may also be covered by your homeowner's or renter's policy. Many platinum and gold credit cards cover you as well. If you choose to purchase additional lost-luggage insurance, be sure not to buy more than you need. Buy in advance from the insurer or a trusted agent (prices will be much higher at the airport).
Car Rental Insurance (Loss/Damage Waiver or Collision Damage Waiver)
If you hold a private auto insurance policy, you probably are covered in the U.S., but not abroad, for loss or damage to the car, and liability in case a passenger is injured. The credit card you used to rent the card also may provide some coverage.
Car rental insurance probably does not cover liability if you caused the accident. Check your own auto insurance policy, the rental company policy, and your credit card coverage for the extent of coverage: Is your destination covered? Are other drivers covered? How much liability is covered if a passenger is injured? (If you rely on your credit card for coverage, you may want to bring a second credit card with you, as damages may be charged to your card and you may find yourself stranded with no money.)
Car rental insurance costs about $25 a day and up.
What To Do If You Get Sick Away From Home
If you worry about getting sick away from home, consider purchasing medical travel insurance and carry your ID card in your purse or wallet. In most cases, your existing health plan will provide the coverage you need. See the section on insurance earlier in this chapter for more information.
If you suffer from a chronic illness, consult your doctor before your departure. For conditions like epilepsy, diabetes, or heart problems, wear a Medic Alert Identification Tag (tel. 800/825-3785; www.medicalert.org), which will immediately alert doctors to your condition and give them access to your records through Medic Alert's 24-hour hotline.
Pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage, and carry prescription medications in their original containers. Also bring along copies of your prescriptions in case you lose your pills or run out. Carry the generic name of prescription medicines, in case a local pharmacist is unfamiliar with the brand name.
And don't forget sunglasses and an extra pair of contact lenses or prescription glasses.
Contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) (tel. 716/754-4883 or 416/652-0137; www.iamat.org, e-mail email@example.com for tips on travel and health concerns in the countries you're visiting, and a free list of local, English-speaking doctors around the world. IAMAT is ahead of many governmental organizations in providing information about conditions such as malaria worldwide, and for a small donation (they suggest $25) will provide you with a set of all their publications showing where you can eat and drink the food, water and milk safely, and where not.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (tel. 800/311-3435; www.cdc.gov) provides up-to-date information on necessary vaccines and health hazards by region or country (Their booklet, Health Information for International Travel, is $25 by mail; on the Internet, it's free). 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 have walk-in clinics for emergency cases that are not life threatening. You may not get immediate attention (just as is true back home in most cases), but you won't pay the high price of an emergency room visit such as those charged in the USA (usually a minimum of $300 just for signing your name).
Do you have questions or comments regarding this column? Head over to our Health and Safety Message Boards to talk with fellow Frommer's readers and editors.