Planning a trip and not sure about insurance? Travel insurance for Americans can be especially tricky to decide, depending on your coverage at home and what your credit cards might cover. Plus you are probably already paying premiums at home and think you can probably tough out any illnesses until you get home, and you’ll be extra careful not to get hurt.
Being daring in travel and adventurous around the world comes with its risks, but planning for those risks is how you get around them. Here’s a guide to deciding if insurance is right for you (spoiler alert: it is) and how to choose the right plan.
Travel insurance for Americans
Without getting into the debate about healthcare in the US, it is important to note that our system is different than the rest of the world. Meaning that individual coverage will be much different than many of your traveler friends from other countries, or sources you find online. And we tend to get a lot more benefits from our credit card companies than the rest of the world (see below), so the coverage needed might be different.
Personally, I traveled for over a year of this trip, and many trips before, without it. But as I was about to head in for elective surgery in Turkey, I thought I really ought to have it, in case anything goes wrong. Since then, I can’t imagine not having it. I have purchased all of my plans through World Nomads, and so they are the only experience that I can speak to personally.
Important note: everything included in this article is based on my personal experience with travel insurance, and that of friends. It is not legal advice and is not a substitute for consulting your providers and reading the plan documents. Be sure to consult your own insurance provider and travel insurance provider for all details of your plans and choose a plan that is right for you.
Consideration factors for Americans choosing travel insurance
Before you start looking for which plan is right for you, the first thing you need to know is what is already covered. Find out from your health insurance provider what is covered for illnesses that start while traveling (they will likely NOT cover anything while you are away). Find out from your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance if they cover anything while you are traveling (many policies still cover your physical stuff when you’re traveling, but no medical). And lastly and most importantly, find out from your credit card providers what benefits you have. Once you know all of this, you know better what type of coverage you will need.
Check if you have travel insurance from credit card benefits
Your credit card provider likely does not explicitly include travel insurance. But many of the best travel cards do offer benefits that you can use while traveling. This is pretty unique to American credit cards to offer such great benefits, so it’s worth knowing what you can use while traveling.
Personally, I use the Chase Sapphire card and Capital One‘s Venture card for Visa, and Barclaycard for Mastercard. Most Visa Signature cards offer coverage such as rental car insurance (you decline the insurance from the car company and they’ll cover claims), delayed baggage benefits and trip cancellation or delay benefits. Talk directly with your credit card provider about the benefits that they offer and what’s right for you.
Types of claims covered by travel insurance
As one of the clumsiest people I know, I would expect that I’d be using my travel insurance mostly for medical claims. But I don’t really get sick all that often, so I didn’t think I would use my travel insurance much because all I thought about insurance was medical. And while I definitely have done that, here are a few other personal incidents in which I’ve used my travel insurance:
Ear, nose, throat and eye infection (medical)
This definitely falls under medical claims. In Croatia last year, I got very sick. It was an infection from my chest to my ear to my eyes and it was gross. This also meant I had to see someone from urgent care, an eye specialist and countless ear specialists. Plus prescriptions. All of that? Covered.
Stolen bag (twice)
On two separate occasions on two separate trips, my purse or backpack was stolen, of course, with cameras inside. I learned my lesson after the first time though because I originally had the per item limit at $500; next time I got a plan, I moved that up to $1500, knowing that I am moving around with valuable equipment (camera, drone, laptop, etc.).
I had connecting flights and gave myself a generous 5.5 hours in Mumbai to catch the connection. After delays and air traffic control keeping us circling, it wasn’t enough. Neither the airline that caused the delay (and the subsequent missed flight) nor the airline I missed the connection with helped at all and at 3:00 am in India, I had to buy a new onward flight. Covered.
Other benefits I haven’t used
There are two other important benefits that give me peace of mind to have, but I am happy to never have to use. One covers costs if I have to go home for a family emergency, and the other covers costs if I have to go home and I’m not alive to do so. It is important to me that those costs wouldn’t fall on my family.
Are there specialized insurance plans that I might need?
All insurance plans have their limits (and this is why reading the plan documents is so important). The most common ones that travelers will need to be aware of are equipment (e.g. camera and laptops), jewelry and adventure activities that might not be covered (like diving). World Nomads do offer a plan that covers scuba diving and you can adjust other plans based on activity (like snow sports).
If you want specialized diving insurance, DAN (Divers Alert Network) has several options.
For gear and jewelry, this is where it’s important to first understand the coverage you may already have from homeowner or renter insurance. From there, you can look for the right type of insurance based on what you’re bringing with you. But know that most travel insurance does not cover equipment failure or expensive single items. I repeat – read the plan documents carefully. The last thing you want is to think you are covered for something, only to find out you aren’t, when it’s already lost or stolen.
Long-term travel and the ACA (Obamacare)
When the ACA was passed, it required US citizens to either have insurance in the US or pay a penalty. But if you are traveling long-term outside of the United States, this may seem like a raw deal. There are exemptions to the health coverage requirement and the most pertinent for long-term travelers is that you are not “lawfully present.” The details are here but basically, if you are out of the country for 330 days or more in the year, or are a bona fide resident of another country, you are exempt.
Additionally, travel insurance does not count as health insurance (and know that most travel insurance plans end when you get home, even if you have time remaining). Obviously, talk to tax and insurance experts about your situation (aka not me).
Can you get travel insurance if you’ve already left?
Short answer, yes. But it severely limits your choices. If you are like me and you didn’t have insurance high on your list before leaving, or are a procrastinator, you may be considering buying travel insurance after departure. Most travel insurance companies do not allow you to purchase travel insurance plans if you are already traveling. This is actually the primary reason that I purchase mine through World Nomads – because you can buy it before or during your trip. This will also vary by nationality.
Is travel insurance for Americans expensive?
Travel insurance rates are based on a variety of factors. I’ve heard that insurance plans seem to be more expensive for Americans, but as I have only looked for myself, that is all I know. When I first looked at travel insurance, I expected it to be incredibly expensive. Especially considering how much as I was paying for my monthly premiums on my healthcare through work.
But I was completely surprised at how affordable it is. And now that I have had several plans, and had to make claims on all of them, the price is even more reasonable.
If you want to get a feel for insurance prices, you can use this widget to get a quote:
TLDR: Why I chose World Nomads for travel insurance: simple & flexible
You can buy and claim online, even after you’ve left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travelers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
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Note: This post contains affiliate links. My opinions and advice remain my own. I personally have only ever used World Nomads and cannot speak to experiences with any other brands. For more information on affiliates and sponsors of How Dare She, click here.