Health Insurance – Travel without it at your cost!


I will be the first to admit that in my time as a traveller I have, on occasions, omitted to buy a travel insurance policy or have let current one lapse when I have been away for longer than expected.  Not particularly smart, but after years of paying up faithfully, getting sick once and having a long drawn out battle with the insurance company I lost faith.   After that I figured what the hell –  I was fit, healthy, had no pre-existing conditions and what possessions I lugged around were going to be cheaper to replace than the cost of the insurance.    Stupid I know!

However, since starting work in an acute hospital setting I’ve had to deal with many overseas visitors who’ve failed to get adequate or no health cover.  I wish I could say this was an infrequent occurrence but sadly I can’t.  Sometimes it is like the United Nations on the ward.  Being involved with these patients has certainly changed my attitude to travel insurance and now I would never travel abroad without proper cover.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, each year over 20,000 Australians who travel abroad need assistance. Of these approximately 1,400 are hospitalised, 1,000 die and 30 are evacuated – and these are just the people they are aware of.

Medical cost of treatment overseas is generally very expensive. Evacuation from the U.S.A. to Australia can cost from 75,000 – 300,000. A bout of gastro that ends in hospitalization could cost 1, 200 whilst a heart attack 12,500.   Hospital stays in Asia can run to 800 dollars a day, and should you die transfer of your remains from Europe will set your family back about 10,000 dollars.    In view of these figures is it reasonable to assume (unless you very financially well off) should something happen to you, failure to take out insurance could mean long-term financial hardship either for yourself or your family.

Facilities in many remote areas are often rudimentary and illness and injuries may require being transported to a main city or even another country.  That is very unlikely to happen without an insurance plan in place.  It is also unlikely that these medical facilities are going to speak your language and believe me, being sick in a medical facility where no one can tell you what they are doing to  you is very frightening – I’ve been there!

So before travelling get adequate health insurance.

Here are some tips;

If you plan to participate in extreme sports/activities – get insured – A severe trauma to the head could mean surgery, and a period of rehabilitation and flying home for treatment may not be an option as many will be out of the question

Make sure that the policy covers the cost of repatriation.

If your country of origin has reciprocal rights with another one, such as England and Australia, check that the health systems cover the same kind of health provision and if not get insurance for anything that is not covered.  For example medicare in Australia does not cover the cost of ambulances but the NHS does in England.  Therefore, get cover for transport  to hospital.  Likewise with dental treatment.

Ensure that your policy covers assault, accidents, illness, acts of nature and terrorism –  after all these may require some kind of medical intervention if you are involved.

Check that the policy does not have a period of time before it takes effect.  I’ve come across policies that do not provide cover for the first 4, 12, weeks of travel and patients/families have been billed because they became unwell before the insurance kicked in.  These types of policies may be cheap but are of absolutely no use in these circumstances.

Do not let your policy expire if you decide to travel for longer than expected and do not forget to change your policy to cover any new areas of the world that you plan to visit but had not insured for.

These are just suggestions, there is probably plenty more advice out on the net. But please think hard before you skip or skimp health insurance, a good insurance policy with adequate cover is worth it.

Do you have any stories or tips about this subject to share?

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13 thoughts on “Health Insurance – Travel without it at your cost!

  1. So true – the costs of an accident can be astronomical. I have, on occasion, not taken insurance, and found myself stressing during activities incase I hurt myself! Not worth it. I have taken out a 1 year plan as I plan on traveling a lot this year – better to pay and have and not need than end up in trouble.

  2. Thanks!!! I’ve been in Asia now 2 years mostly without. I do think about it constantly but then I think I’m going back to Europe soon-and end up extending for the millionth time! Definitely something to think about!!

  3. I get my travel insurance through my months rent with my home insurance and it has a fantastic world coverage.
    I wouldn’t dare to go anywhere with out a good insurance. It even covers taxi rides outside my home town. Brilliant.
    Good post and good advice.
    Have friends that had the most terrible accidents during their holidays and a couple of them have got special flights home and .. their insurances has covered everything.

  4. Never so sure about the whole insurance thing. There always seems to be some kinda small print to get them out of paying. If you’ve been drinking for example or they believe you ‘brought it on yourself’. If i’d put all the money I’ve paid in insurance into a bank account instead, I’d have enough to pay for any treatment I need.

  5. Pingback: Health Insurance – Travel without it at your cost! « A Word in Your Ear | Insurance

  6. Tip 1: do not try to get stitches in a Chinese airport at 5am.
    Tip 2: do not try to get them taken out in Laos. Although I hear that the Australian Embassy / Clinic in Vientiane (of all places!) is the only place in the country with reasonable medical services.
    Tip 3: I have never once had travel insurance. Do not be me! See below…

    http://offatthewrongstop.com/2012/01/18/ninas-travel-rule-13-same-same-but-different-never-take-a-tour-of-the-medical-clinics-of-southeast-asia/

  7. Thanks for addressing this. I’ve actually had a few friends have huge medical bills because they didn’t get insurance. You never expect something bad to happen on vacation!

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