Why you need travel health insurance and which one is the best for you

If “no risk, no fun” is your life’s motto, you should seriously reconsider this attitude when it comes to your health. Life is just too short to play with it.

Although we all just want to have a great time on vacation, we should not ignore the possibility of injury or illness. Whenever I’m traveling, I hear a lot of chatter about the value of travel health insurance and which one is best. So, I decided to do some research and find out the facts.

Why should you get travel health insurance?

Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of travel health insurance.

Yes, it costs money. And depending on where you go and how long you stay, it can be somewhat expensive. But compared to the overall cost of a vacation it’s a relatively small investment with a potentially huge payoff.

I meet a lot of people who tell me that they never get a cold at home, so why should they worry about being sick on a two-week holiday? Especially when their travel plans involve a stay at a high-end, all-inclusive resort. But they don’t think about all the microbes and diseases that exist in other parts of the globe that your body has no resistance to. Also, even in a “safe” resort, many of us partake in relatively unusual and therefore risky activities when on vacation. And since your home policy usually doesn’t cover travel, you’re essentially without any form of health care coverage. Would you cancel your medical policy at home for two weeks even if you were not going abroad? Probably not.

Many also feel that even if they purchased health insurance, there’s a level of uncertainty as to whether the policy would actually pay off, as there’s a lot of fine print and some of the language is hard to decipher. But most good companies that have been around for a while offer fairly comprehensive coverage; if they didn’t, they would not last (or bad reviews would be all over the Web).

Then there are those travelers, who just give up searching for insurance because of the wide range of options and no real guidance as to what policy fits their needs. Let’s face it: the Web is a great invention, but it has becomes so crowded with information it’s easy to get lost.

And last but not least, some travelers believe that if something does happen, it’s still cheaper to pay the costs themselves, especially in countries with a low standard of living. This might be true if you have a minor cut, but major surgery or expert medical care in a foreign country could not only cost you a bundle, but also be substandard or not even available. Most good travel health insurances don’t only pay for treatment but will evacuate you to where you can find an appropriate facility that is qualified to deal with your care.

I’m one of those who want to try (almost) everything when abroad: diving, surfing, motorbiking, driving dirt roads and crossing rivers filled with crocodiles with a 4×4, taking pictures of snakes, flying floatplanes myself (well, at least for 5 minutes), etc. Travel is adventure; if I wanted safe I would stay at home on my couch and watch Discovery Channel. I’m not reckless, but I like to enjoy life without being afraid all the time. But I would reconsider a lot of this if I knew that I didn’t have good health insurance. Therefore, I’d rather pay EUR 90/USD 110 per month (that’s about where the rates start for a good insurance) and have my fun and my peace of mind.

Luckily I only had one little accident so far when traveling: I was on the back of a motorbike when we slid off a trail between some rice fields in Cambodia (at 8 km/5 mi per hour). The accident was serious enough to put me in a lot of pain and send me to the hospital to have an x-ray. Nothing was broken, thank god. Without insurance I probably would have skipped the hospital to avoid the expense. Why waste a couple of hundred bucks of my own money just to have the doctor tell me it’s sprained? But if I hadn’t gotten it checked out, I would have worried about it for the rest of the trip.

I bring up this minor example because sometimes it’s these little things that can ruin your trip, and it’s nice to know you can swing into a clinic and get a little peace of mind (and some treatment). With big injuries, it’s not just about peace of mind, it’s about huge medical bills and possibly your life.
When Eric was living in Cambodia in the 90s, a friend developed appendicitis and the only place that could treat her was in Thailand. Time was of the essence, but she had great insurance and without delay was flown to Bangkok and had the surgery. Without proper and timely treatment, she could have died. Another one of Eric’s acquaintances got malaria in Indonesia, didn’t have insurance, and didn’t make it. Both true stories, both good reasons to be insured.

I think the lesson is clear: get travel health insurance, stay safe, and don’t worry when traveling!

Costa Rica River Crossing

Crossing a river in Costa Rica by 4×4

What you need to know when selecting travel health insurance

How long do you want to go?

Rates for travel insurance are based on the length of your stay. If you’re not sure how long you want to stay, many policies will let you extend, and will even refund you money if you cut your trip short. Important to note: some insurance companies require you to sign up with them before you leave the country. Others allow you to do so when you’re already abroad. So make sure you ask all these questions before you sign up. And also confirm that it’s easy to make these changes while abroad, either using the website or a toll-free number.

Where do you want to go?

Costs for insurance may vary depending on where you travel. The premiums are usually the highest if you plan to visit the U.S. Make sure you only pay for what you really need.

What do you plan to do?

Do you want to stay in an all-inclusive resort, lie on the beach all day long, read a book, and just go for a swim every now and then? Or are you more the adventurous kind of traveler who likes to go diving, ice-climbing, or white water rafting? Make sure your insurance covers what you plan to do. But remember: a normal travel health insurance will never cover you for stupidity (pretending to be a crocodile whisperer after having had one too many beers) or if you decide to work abroad (even if you’re just waiting tables and slip and break your leg).

Are you going to keep your residency?

This is a question only for long-term travelers. But it’s important, as most insurance companies require a resident address.

Is there a deductible?

Some insurance companies will cover all costs related to your treatment, others have some kind of co-pay or deductible. The latter ones might have cheaper rates, but make sure that you’re aware of the difference and can cover the deductible.

Are you within the covered age range?

Some insurances restrict their coverage to a certain age group. Make sure you buy one that’s right for your age.

Do you have good health coverage back home?

Most policies only cover the care you need abroad to get you ready for evacuation. Once home, your home insurance kicks in. So, even for long trips, don’t cancel your home policy, you might still need it.

Is there any other travel related insurance you need?

Would you like to get compensated for lost or late baggage or stolen gear? Or would you like to make sure you can cancel your trip last-minute without paying the full price? Then you should look into the additional benefits some travel health insurance companies offer. Some don’t have any at all, others cover pretty much anything you want.

Surfing in Bocas del Toro

Surfing in Bocas del Toro, Panama

The best travel health insurance

The best insurance is of course the one that caters specifically to your needs. It also depends on which country you live in, so here’s a quick overview.

For U.S. citizens

If you’re a resident of the U.S., your best bet for travel insurance is World Nomads. It’s designed by travelers, and therefore covers a comprehensive list of all possible medical emergency events and supplies all the essential services you’ll need. Rates are calculated in weekly intervals and start at EUR 27/USD 51 for one week (it gets cheaper the longer you need it). Here are the highlights World Nomads offer:

  • Different plans based on the activities you want to do
  • Coverage in all foreign countries (except Cuba) for up to 12 months and even domestic travels farther than 160 km/100 mi
  • Flexible purchasing, so you can buy after you leave home, extend when on the road, or cancel if you don’t leave at all or have to leave early
  • Gear coverage, so if you lose one of your modern, expensive, electronic gadgets, it’s no sweat
  • Coverage for lost or delayed baggage
  • Excellent levels of medical and evacuation coverage for almost any accident or disease you might face when traveling
  • Exceptional customer service and assistance if you need immediate care
  • Optional micro-donation to support a community project and help change lives each time you buy from World Nomads.

See more here and get a quote: Travel health insurance for U.S. Americans and the rest of the world

For Germans

German citizens don’t need an additional insurance for trips within the European Union for up to 30 days (this is covered with their obligatory national health insurance), and they can get really cheap travel insurance for up to 6 or 8 weeks through their normal health insurance. Just call your insurance provider, they work with other insurance companies that have good deals. I pay only EUR 10/USD 13 per year, and I can take as many vacations as I want, as long as I don’t stay longer than 8 weeks.

If you’re a resident of Germany and want to travel longer than 8 weeks, you should go with an “Auslandsreisekrankenversicherung” (yes, we Germans love our long words) by Hanse Merkur where rates start at EUR 12/USD 15 for one week. Here are the highlights Hanse Merkur offers:

  • No deductible
  • Excellent levels of medical and evacuation coverage so you get the best care
  • Exceptional customer service and assistance
  • Just travel health insurance, where you’re not paying for additional benefits you might not want (if you do want extras, you should try the insurance by World Nomads, see above)

See more here and get a quote: Travel health insurance for Germans.

For the rest of the world

If you are a resident from a country other than the U.S. or Germany, first check with your health insurance back home to see if your country has some special deals, like Germany. If not, we recommend getting the travel insurance by World Nomads as they offer coverage for 141 nationalities worldwide, and are simply the best in what they offer.

See more here and get a quote: Travel health insurance for U.S. Americans and the rest of the world

Next time you go on a trip, travel with a clear conscience and protect your vacation, your mind, your health, and even your life with travel health insurance.

If you’ve had an accident abroad, how did you handle it? Also, if you know the best travel health insurance for any country other than Germany or the U.S.A., please share.


In 2013 Michaela decided to quit the rat race as a Financial Manager in a multinational company to persue her passion of travel and photography full-time. She hasn't looked back since, and loves to discover places which are off-the-beaten path and not spoiled by mass-tourism. All she needs is jungle, waterfalls, beaches and elephants and she's in paradise!

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About Michaela

In 2013 Michaela decided to quit the rat race as a Financial Manager in a multinational company to persue her passion of travel and photography full-time. She hasn't looked back since, and loves to discover places which are off-the-beaten path and not spoiled by mass-tourism. All she needs is jungle, waterfalls, beaches and elephants and she's in paradise!

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