Consider these situations:
- You fall and break your leg while visiting Croatia. You must fly home, yet cannot bend your left knee.
- Two days before you are due to fly to New Zealand, you come down with this year’s strain of influenza.
- Your cruise ship cannot leave on time because a hurricane is bearing down on your departure city.
If you buy the right kind of travel insurance before your trip starts, you can recover most of the cost of your canceled trip or the extra expense of flying home while disabled. Consider purchasing travel insurance to prevent unexpected problems from ruining your dream vacation.
Is Travel Insurance Necessary?
Although some travel experts claim that travel insurance is not worth the money, senior travelers should research this issue carefully for several reasons.
If your only medical insurance is Medicare or Medicaid and you plan to travel to another country, you should buy travel medical insurance. Medicare only pays for expenses incurred within the US. If you get sick or become injured while abroad, you will be expected to pay for your medical care up front, whether or not you have travel medical insurance. Emergency medical care can be expensive, and medical evacuation (flying home while ill or injured) costs thousands of dollars.
If you are insured through an HMO, check to see if you can get emergency medical care outside of the HMO’s service area. Some HMOs will not cover out-of-region or overseas medical expenses. Travel medical insurance could be a good way to add to your healthcare coverage if your HMO’s service area is limited.
If you book a trip or cruise and must prepay, you may face a penalty from your tour operator or cruise line if you need to cancel your trip. This penalty may be more than the cost of trip cancellation insurance. If so, trip cancellation insurance could shield you from a larger loss.
If you travel often, consider an annual membership in an emergency evacuation program such as MedjetAssist. For a few hundred dollars per year, you will receive emergency medical transportation to your chosen hospital if you should get sick or become injured.
Types of Travel Insurance
Shopping for travel insurance can be confusing. There are many types of travel insurance plans. Some offer only one type of coverage, while others are comprehensive policies.
According to the US Travel Insurance Association (UStiA), there are three basic kinds of travel insurance coverage:
Trip Cancellation / Delay / Interruption Coverage
This type of policy covers the cost of your prepaid expenses if you need to cancel your trip. Trip cancellation insurance will reimburse you if you cannot make your trip because you or a family member becomes ill or if weather problems prevent you from traveling. It will also reimburse you for lost luggage. Some policies cover financial default of your travel supplier or pay for lodging and meals during delays that begin after your trip starts.
Emergency Medical Assistance and Evacuation Coverage
This pays for medical care and the cost of emergency return travel. This coverage is especially useful for senior travelers because it pays for medical expenses incurred outside of your home country.
24-hour Telephone Assistance
This coverage provides travelers with an easy way to locate doctors and get emergency help. It is especially helpful if you are in an area where English is not commonly spoken.
Where to Find Travel Insurance Information
Call your insurance company and ask if they sell travel insurance.
Contact the US Travel Insurance Association, the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada or a similar trade association in your country. Ask for a list of travel insurance agents in your area. These professional associations also provide travel insurance information.
Ask around. If you participate in social media, you can post a question about travel insurance and read about other travelers’ experiences. Contact friends and ask whether they have purchased travel insurance.
How to Shop for Travel Insurance
Look for a policy that covers pre-existing conditions; some do not. Others will cover pre-existing conditions only if you purchase your policy within a specified time period after paying your trip deposit.
If you are taking a sports-related or adventure trip, look for a policy that covers adventure travel and sports injuries. Many travel insurance policies will not pay for high adventure injuries.
Read the entire policy. Do not rely on someone else's description of coverage. If you don't understand what is covered and what is not, ask questions before you buy.
While travel insurance is not cheap – it can add as much as ten percent to the cost of your trip – it can give you peace of mind and provide financial assistance if something bad happens.