How to Select an International Medical Insurance Plan

Whether it’s a vacation in Tokyo or a study opportunity in Buenos Aires, the fact of the matter is that your health insurance policy may not be valid beyond your country’s borders. And even if they are, most domestic carriers are usually poorly equipped to handle the special needs of foreign health care systems: language translation, foreign currency exchange; transportation to Western treatment centers and a variety of other cultural issues. That is why an international medical insurance policy represents valuable protection for you.

But how do you find the right International Medical Insurance policy for your needs? Deciding which International Medical Insurance plan to buy depends on you and your family’s personal needs, finances and your travel itinerary. The first step might be in answering the following questions:

What is the duration of my trip?

The longer you plan on being away from your home country the more comprehensive your International Medical Insurance policy should be.

Where am I going?

Obviously, the more remote the location, the more importance you should place on features within your International Medical Insurance plan like Emergency Evacuation and Air Ambulance coverage. However, a visitor to a Northern European country should be more interested in the maximum benefits for hospitalization as evacuation would be a less likely course of treatment.

What type of coverage does my current plan provide?

If you already have strong benefits at home, it is wise to double check what exactly is covered while you are out of the country. Most domestic US health plans limit coverage to a maximum of 30 or 60 days outside the states, and HMO’s and PPO’s will likely impose severe out of network penalties for all but the most basic emergency care. More importantly, you will want to insure that you have 24 hour access to emergency evacuation if you are sick or hurt in an area where quality care is not available. For those over 65, Medicare will not cover treatment outside the US. If you do not have any domestic coverage, travel insurance is a must.

With the answers to these questions, compare the benefits and policy provisions in a potential International Medical Insurance plan:

Short Trips ( 10 days or less)

Assuming you have solid coverage at home you may only need a small supplemental plan, with features like emergency evacuation and 24 hour worldwide assistance; along with a limited benefit for medical expenses ($10,000 to $50,000 is typical). Be wary of plans that require you to settle all bills yourself and then seek reimbursement when you return home.

Intermediate Trips (2 weeks to 6 months)

The longer you are away the less likely it is your US based plan will cover you, and therefore the more importance you should place on the medical benefits of the plan. In addition to a higher emergency evacuation benefit, your plan should cover between $100,000 to $1 million in medical expenses. Other features to look for include coverage for a family member to come to your assistance if you are hospitalized in a foreign country, and an option to include “hazardous activities” such as scuba diving, skiing and bungee jumping.

Longer Trips (6 months or more)

The travel insurance you purchase will most likely be your primary or only health insurance. Be sure that your plan includes all of the above, with higher maximum benefits ($1 million or more) as well as some provision for coverage when you return home. If you spend a year abroad but return home for a vacation, make sure you are still covered.

Multi Year or Open Ended Trips

Standard travel medical plans are usually limited to one year, with the option to renew for another. If you anticipate being abroad for longer, look into a permanent international major medical plan. This type of coverage contains all the benefits of a travel medical plan, but once you are accepted you can maintain coverage year after year simply by paying the premium. Most importantly, you are covered for medical treatment anywhere in the world. Note that these plans are medically underwritten and people with prior health problems may have trouble obtaining coverage.

Doing a little research before you depart can mean security and peace of mind while you are away, and allow you to concentrate on the exciting and fulfilling adventure that international travel can be!