Insurance. It's the thing we purchase, yet hope to never use. Anyone who has read an insurance policy or pamphlet knows that insurance companies use a language unto themselves. It can be confusing enough navigating through all of the options for regular insurance. While auto, health and homeowner's insurance are certainly important, purchasing the right travel insurance is equal or greater in importance. A wrong choice in a travel insurance policy can leave you stranded in a foreign country or left to the mercy of medical care that barely covers basic first aid, let alone a life-threatening injury. It is crucial that you understand both the limitations of your regular medical policy and the benefits and exclusions of the multiple travel plans available. The right decision could literally save your life; at the least it will protect the time and finances you have invested into your trip.
Why should you buy travel insurance?
Depending upon your destination and planned activities, your regular insurance - if you even have health insurance - may not cover you. Some regular insurance companies don't provide coverage in other countries. Even if they provide a reimbursement, they most likely don't have an emergency network ready to evacuate you in event of an emergency. Nor would your health policy cover things like trip cancellation or rescue evacuation.
Understanding various types of coverage:
Total trip or Comprehensive plans: These plans will include multiple coverages such as trip cancellation, interruption or delay due to a variety of causes including political evacuation; common air carrier cancellations or delays; accidental death or dismemberment; or work reasons. Additional coverages may include lost baggage coverage, medical treatment and evacuation and repatriation of remains.
Medical Evacuation: Important if you are injured or become ill in an area that has sub-standard levels of care. This coverage covers evacuation to an acceptable medical facility.
Medical Expense: Covers illnesses and injuries incurred during normal activities. Most companies do not include injuries inflicted during extreme or adventure sports. Nor do they cover injuries due to rioting or acts of war. Contact a customer service representative to confirm that your planned activities will be covered.
Extreme/Adventure Sports Vacations or Global Rescue Evacuation Coverage: If your bucket list includes a vacation filled with climbing Kilimanjaro, scuba diving off the coast of Australia, para-sailing along the coast of Ecuador, skiing, rock climbing and spelunking, you will need to add a special insurance that covers those types of activities to assure that you don't end up footing that $100K+ bill for evacuating you from the summit of that Grade VI or ED 4 that just proved it could kick your butt.
Active Plans: Plans falling under this category may include sporting vacations where you are transporting expensive equipment (like golf clubs) or have heavy fees for things like equipment rental, greens fees, or reservations.
Trip Cancellation Insurance: You are required to purchase this insurance within a certain number of days from the date you initially made a down payment on your trip. Read the fine print carefully and make sure the coverage you buy will cover potential causes of cancellation. Also read what percentage of the trip cost is reimbursed for each covered reason.
Specialty Insurances: Going Skydiving? Enjoy BMX, skiing or snowboarding? Participate in Mixed Martial Arts? Envision hanging ten in the Hawaiian Islands? There is a special policy just for you!
Vacation Insurance: This can cover group travel, family travel or individual travel and may include both domestic and international vacations either by land, air or sea. Your specific agenda or vacation type will determine what your insurance needs will be.
What you should know
Read all of the fine print. Some policies don't cover things like airline delays due to volcanic ash clouds or airline strikes. Some offer a partial coverage at the basic level and a full coverage for an additional fee.
Although you can get quotes and purchase policies directly on most travel insurance agency websites, when in doubt, call. It's better to speak with a live representative who can address all of your concerns versus misunderstanding the wording of a plan or package and find out too late that you aren't actually covered for a specific activity or loss.
Deadlines are very specific and often are listed as 12:01 a.m. on a certain day or date. Remember, realistically that means you need to meet whatever their requirement is on the day before...
The burden of proof is on You. Keep copies of all receipts for travel payments, equipment, etc. Coverage for a particular item of equipment or luggage may be withheld if you don't have copies of receipts to prove ownership and value. Take photos of any valuables, your luggage, equipment and electronics, and even your travel wardrobe. While the dollar amount may vary from one company to another, there is usually a figure at which coverage for anything greater than that requires the original receipt or other acceptable proof.
In many cases you may have to pay expenses up front and apply for reimbursement. Make provision in advance by having a payment method that you can fall back on in event of emergency.
Carry a couple copies of your policy with you as you travel. Keep one with your travel documents and one in a separate location. It is advisable to scan and email a copy to yourself and a family member or friend back home.
Carry copies of your prescription medications, eyeglasses, contacts or other medical device that may need to be purchased in event of loss or trip interruption. Keep a copy of your medical history with your travel documents and make fellow travelers aware of its location in the event that you become incapacitated.