International Medical Insurance

Edited by Kathy McGraw, Maria Quinney


While we don't like to think that something bad will happen during our travels, the reality is that there is always a risk that you or a family member could fall ill or become injured while you are traveling or living abroad. International medical insurance is meant to cover you should the unthinkable happen. International medical plans come in many varieties, some offering more comprehensive coverage than others. Let's look at the common types of international medical insurance and what they cover.

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What is International Medical Insurance?

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International medical insurance covers your medical costs while you are abroad. There are "traveler's policies," meant to provide coverage for short stints away from home, such as a two-week vacation, while there are others that provide long-term coverage for stays greater than six months.

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Why You Need International Medical Insurance

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Your healthcare plan back home may not cover you while you are abroad, or if it does, the coverage may be very limited. If this is the case, then buying a plan to cover you in case you get injured or become ill can save you a lot of money. If you are young and healthy and you are going to a safe region of the world, you can probably get away with a bare-bones policy that covers in-patient care and hospitalization only. Such policies are fairly cheap and offer adequate protection for your needs; however, if you are older or have a chronic medical condition, you should consider plans with comprehensive coverage.

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International Medical Insurance Costs

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The costs of international medical insurance policies are highly variable. How much you will pay depends on what is covered, with the most comprehensive plans costing more than less comprehensive ones, the age of the individual to be insured, with older people paying more than younger people, and geographic location. Plans that exclude coverage in the United States are cheaper because medical care there is much more expensive than it is anywhere else in the world. The final variable is the deductible, or the amount that you must contribute to the cost of your care before the insurance takes over payment. Plans with deductibles are cheaper than plans without them, and the higher your deductible is, the cheaper the plan becomes.

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Expatriate Medical Insurance vs. Travel Medical Insurance

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Expatriate medical insurance is meant to provide you with comprehensive healthcare coverage for a year or more. It includes benefits for preventative care, maternity care, and other day-to-day medical expenses, similar to what an insurance policy in your home country would cover. Travel medical insurance, on the other hand, is meant to provide you with basic coverage designed to protect you in the case of an emergency. It will often cover evacuation costs, as well. You can purchase additional coverage over and above this basic level, should you need it. Before you purchase an expatriate insurance plan, be sure that your health care isn't covered by your resident country's national healthcare plan. If you are a permanent resident of a nation with single-payer healthcare, you are most likely covered and don't need additional coverage. If, however, you are living in another country under a work visa or other temporary status, then you will likely need expatriate medical coverage. Here is some additional information about the two policy types:

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  • Expatriate medical insurance is renewed on an annual basis and covers you for a full year
  • Travel insurance covers you for the duration of your trip, up the limits specified in the policy
  • People with chronic or pre-existing conditions may find it difficult to obtain expatriate medical insurance

Where Can I Get International Medical Insurance?

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The first place you should go when shopping for insurance is your insurance agent. They have the knowledge to guide you to finding the best medical protection while traveling for your needs. However, you can also go online and search for companies that provide international medical coverage there. Here are a few resources you can go to:

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  • Blue Cross (
  • RBC Insurance (
  • Americans can go to the State Department to get information on companies that offer international medical insurance.

Insurance for Families

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The type of medical insurance you need depends on the general health of your family members and how much time you will spend abroad. Generally, travel insurance policies offer basic coverage and provide additional coverage through add-on riders.

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  1. 1
    For short term travel
    If you're away for less than six months, such as during a two-week family vacation abroad, you should not need more than a basic policy which will cover you in the event you or a family member requires hospitalization.
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  2. 2
    For longer trips
    For trips longer than six months, a comprehensive policy that covers more than just the costs of hospitalization is required. Doctor visits and treatment for minor illnesses as well as maternity care should be included. Discuss your needs with your insurance agent to find the most comprehensive policy at the cheapest cost.
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  3. 3
    For families with a chronically ill member
    If you or anyone in your family has a chronic condition, it may be difficult to get coverage for expenses related to treatment for that condition. Talk to your insurance agent about your situation and they will help you find a policy that covers not only treatment to stabilize the condition, but also a treatment for maintenance.
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Insurance for Seniors

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Since one of the factors that determine price is age, seniors are going to pay more for the same coverage than younger people simply because they are more likely to require medical care. Additionally, seniors with chronic medical conditions have the additional burden of finding a policy that will cover these conditions. Here are some tips to keep your costs down:

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  1. 1
    If you are healthy, opt for basic coverage only
    Especially for short trips, you will likely not need any care at all, so why pay for it? The cost of such policies, although higher than for younger people, is still affordable.
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  2. 2
    If you have a chronic condition, talk to your insurance agent
    Make sure that the policy you buy covers not only treatment to stabilize your condition, but also maintenance of it.
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  3. 3
    For longer trips, be sure to buy additional coverage beyond what the basic policy offers
    Your policy should cover checkups and minor medical care as well as hospitalization expenses.
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Insurance for Business Travelers

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Like the other groups, if your business trip is of a short duration, it's unlikely that you'll need more than a basic policy. However, if your business takes you to a location that is unstable or where life-threatening illnesses such as Ebola or malaria are endemic, make sure that your policy includes coverage for evacuation expenses and specialized treatment for such illnesses.Most basic policies do, but it never hurts to make sure.If you are going to be away for a year or more, then you should consider a comprehensive plan that covers day-to-day medical expenses, such as doctors' visits and minor emergency care.

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Insurance for Humanitarian Workers

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The chances are that you are covered under an insurance plan from your employer or the volunteer organization you are serving under with respect to the costs of an emergency evacuation and the treatment of serious diseases, such as Ebola. However, it's a good idea to ask about insurance coverage before you go to make sure that you are adequately protected.

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  • Buy only as much coverage as you need. Additional coverage raises the premium you must pay. If your risk for requiring medical care while you are abroad is low, then a basic plan will suffice.
  • If you are going to a risky region of the world, make sure that your policy covers evacuation. Most basic plans do.
  • Talk to your insurance agent about your needs. They have specialized knowledge, have access to a wide selection of plans, and can help you choose the right coverage for you.
  • Make two copies of your insurance policy and leave one with friends or family back home for safekeeping, while keeping the other one stored safely in your luggage in case you lose the original.
  • Consider a policy that covers you worldwide, except for the United States to keep costs down. International medical insurance that includes coverage in the United States costs more because of the high costs of medical care in the U.S.
  • Know whether or not your insurer will pay your medical bills to the provider directly or whether it will reimburse you after you pay the provider up front. Try to find a policy that offers direct billing to the provider

If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.


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Article Info

Categories : Travel & Leisure

Recent edits by: Kathy McGraw

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