What’s travel insurance?

Travel insurance helps ease the financial burden of issues and emergencies you may encounter during your trip. Though it’s helpful for domestic travelers, travel insurance is particularly useful for international journeys. As soon as you leave the country, your national insurance (probably) isn’t liable for claims. “ A lot of the time, people’s domestic health insurance doesn’t cover them when they travel internationally,” notes Insurance Expert Dominic Rufran. “If it does, it’s always a very small amount.”

So, good luck if your laptop gets stolen from the hotel pool or you break your arm on a hike. Without travel insurance, you’re forced to pay for any unexpected crises out of pocket.

Should you get it?

Yes! Don’t convince yourself that it’s a frivolous expense and you won’t need it anyway. It doesn’t matter if you’re leaving the country for a year, a month, or even a few days — if you’re leaving the safety and protection of your home country, it’s always a good idea to have your bases covered. Will you have to use it? Probably not. Will it save you if something unexpected happens? Absolutely. Spending a few hundred dollars on a policy is a lot better than owing thousands (or hundreds of thousands) if disaster strikes.

What are my options?

Like standard insurance, travel insurance plans offer a variety of coverage for a variety of different rates. Before researching a plan, make a list of what your ideal plan will cover. Do you want your insurance to cover medical expenses? What about theft? Do you want to be reimbursed if your baggage gets lost? From there, narrow your list to 3-5 top priorities and use these preferences as a baseline. Once you’ve honed in on your key requirements, use them to find a plan that best fits your specific needs. Most travel insurance policies fall into four distinct categories: medical, accident, evacuation, and package plans.

Medical travel insurance, as the name suggests, assists with any expenses related to illness and injury. No matter where you are in the world, a medical policy will help you pay for medicine, doctor’s visits, lab evaluations, and even surgery. Though any traveler can apply for medical travel insurance, it’s most ideal for long overseas trips for business or school. In some cases, medical travel insurance is legally required — many study abroad programs, for instance, won’t admit you unless you provide proof of a travel medical policy.

Accident insurance covers — you guessed it— accidents. Accident insurance policies focus on AD&D protection, aka accidental death and dismemberment. Yeah, it’s pretty grisly. It may be an unpleasant thought, but accidental death and severe injuries are particularly expensive. More often than not, it’s your family who will carry the financial burden. With an accident policy, though, your loved ones are protected from sudden debt. Some accident plans double as life insurance, ensuring your spouse and any dependents are taken care of.

travel insurance
Unsplash/Fas Khan

Evacuation insurance policies are some of the least popular options available. If you’re traveling to the South of France, the likelihood of evacuation is infinitesimal. If you’re heading to a politically shaky, war-torn, or otherwise unstable region, having evacuation insurance is a good idea. Typical evacuation policies cover medical and transportation costs in the event of medical evacuation (like life flight) or national security evacuations.

Package plans are the most versatile option available for travelers. Package travel insurance policies typically provide medical, accident, and evacuation coverage, as well as coverage for trip cancellations and trip interruptions. It’s your safest bet, but it’s also one of the most expensive options. If you’re traveling for short periods of time, medical, accident, or evacuation insurance (or some combination of the three) is probably enough. If you travel internationally frequently and/or for extended amounts of time, however, a package plan is a worthwhile investment.

No matter which policy you choose, some measure of protection is always better than nothing.

“I recommend getting any insurance you can, especially if you’re going to another country,” says Matt Ehmann, Insurance Representative at Kerry Phillips Shelter Insurance. “Different parts of the world can be unstable and unpredictable. Best to have something.”

How can I get travel insurance?

Getting travel insurance is easier than you may think. In many cases, travel booking sites offer a travel insurance option that you can add to your ticket or hotel purchase. All you have to do is hit “yes” when asked if you’d like to buy a policy (be sure to research the terms beforehand!) and finalize your purchase. If you’re using a travel agent, they can give you a plan, too. Agents can help steer you towards your ideal plan and, more importantly, steer you away from a bad one.

You can also get travel insurance from an independent agency. Many agencies exclusively offer travel insurance plans, so they’ll have plenty of options available for you. Some agencies, in fact, can help you draft a personal plan that’s unique to you and your needs.

Treat travel insurance as you would any other major purchase and research before you buy. Think you’ve found a good plan? Don’t just enter your card number and call it good. Be sure to compare and contrast a wide variety of plans and providers before you make a final commitment. Make sure to leave yourself plenty of time to research before your trip — this isn’t the kind of purchase you want to make in the airport terminal.

The bottom line

No matter how long you’ll be away, travel insurance is extremely valuable for any overseas trip. Accidents happen, and when they do, you’ll be grateful you’re protected. So pack your bags and get ready for adventure — your policy will protect you every step of the way.