Travel Insurance vs International Health Insurance: What's the Difference?

Posted on July 12, 2019

You have been dreaming of this trip or move, for years, and you have painstakingly planned all aspects. You have read every travel book on the area, bookmarked every blog, and you have even determined the number of socks to pack. 

You are now faced with the decision.  Should you purchase travel or international health insurance? No one likes to deal with insurance or think that their dream vacation may turn out to be anything but, however, an important part of ensuring a successful trip is to cover all the bases.

Use this 5 point guide to understand the difference and ensure that your dream trip does not end with a financial, logistical, or health nightmare. 

1. The Difference between Travel Insurance & International Health Insurance?  

Travel and international health insurance help to minimize the financial risks associated with travel or living abroad. There are plans that have components of both (travel and health insurance).  The key to choosing the correct plan is to understand what each one offers and tailor the plan you purchase to your unique needs.

Let's start with the biggest difference between Travel Insurance & International Health Insurance?  The focus. 

Travel insurance is designed for travel-related inconveniences (lost luggage, canceled trips, significant weather events) and emergencies (with the primary goal to get you healthy enough to return home) if your trip goes wrong. 

International health insurance is designed for more comprehensive coverage if you are living for an extended period of time in another country. It can be used as a substitute for your current health care policy or to augment your current policy to limit your out of pocket costs while abroad.

Other differences exist and some travelers may need both. Keep reading to learn more and determine the right coverage or combination of coverage for you.

2.  Benefits from Travel Insurance

Traveling during hurricane season? Travel Insurance is your friend, it will cover your costs if you have to cancel your trip due to Mother Nature. Depending on the policy this can include both cancellations due to Named Storms as well as evacuation from the affected area.

Are you planning a trip significantly in advance of your travel dates? That repositioning cruise a year from now sounds amazing. The cost is affordable, and the destinations ideal, but a lot can change in a year.

Travel Insurance can be used to cover the cost of your trip if you have a medical, family, job, or even house emergency BEFORE you leave home. Keep in mind documentation will be required but if your trip is expensive, insurance can help to recoup some or all of your monies if you are forced to cancel that much-needed vacation.  

Lost or stolen passport or luggage. If you feel like what can go wrong, does, at least in your world, travel insurance can help lesson worries when you travel and help cover the costs associated with these inconveniences. 

3.  Benefits from International Health Insurance

International health insurance is what it sounds like, health insurance for when you are living or working abroad for a relatively long period of time, typically longer than 180 days.  

This type of insurance covers, preventative, routine, and emergency care for the expatriate. Caution, you need to be in the know about the details of both your current health care plan and the one you are considering, before purchasing.

Your current health care plan may cover emergency treatment abroad. The catch, you may have to pay upfront for your treatment and get reimbursed once you return home.

This is especially true if you have a pre-existing medical condition, take routine prescription medications, are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.  

This is also a great time to think about your overall health.  Changes in elevation, alcohol consumption and exertion levels can all lead to cardiovascular and pulmonary related issues.  These conditions can be life-threatening and require prompt medical care, but with the correct plan, they don't have to also be a huge financial burden as well.  

4.  Is there a Benefit to Having Both?

The answer everyone hates to hear- maybe. Good news is that combined plans do exist and comparison across plans is easy.  If you think you don't need travel or international health insurance, here is a scary statistic: road traffic deaths are the 8th leading cause of death worldwide AND they are higher in less developed countries. We all think of rare illnesses as our primary problem, but the reality is they don't pose the biggest threat to international travelers. (Do check to ensure you have all the vaccinations necessary prior to your trip.)

Reasons you might consider NOT obtaining additional insurance. 

If your trip is inexpensive, or at least not a significant expense to you, you may think it might not be the best use of your money.  However, if you have significant deposits or upfront costs, you may benefit from the minimal costs of most policies.  Typically travel insurance is approximately 5-10% of the total trip costs and does provide a significant piece of mind if you have to cancel or change your trip

If you are only traveling for a short time, are in good health, and have a health care plan that covers emergencies, even when you are out of the country. Maybe you can skip the cost of additional insurance. Keep in mind, if you do require services, it may be better to have insurance versus using your next vacation fund to pay for health care expenses that occurred from this one.

You want to live abroad as a native. A word of caution here, not all local health care may be available to expats or international travelers be sure to check before you depart. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

5.  The Fine Print

Just as not all insurance plans work for all people or not all travel and international insurance work for all travelers.  

Traveling with a Family? Your needs and plans will be different than those who are traveling for adventure sports.

If you are traveling with the young or the mature, be sure to consider their unique health needs as well. They may be more susceptible to environmental conditions or may require specialty providers if something does go wrong.

If you are doing extreme sports, you may not be covered with a traditional plan and may need to seak out plans specific to your sport. Are you an avid scuba diver looking to dive the Blue Hole in Dahab (Red Sea)?  This dive site is considered by many to be the most dangerous in the world, gulp. In addition to travel and health insurance, you may want to add in sport-specific insurance to cover your extreme sport desires.

Are you traveling to parts of the world with active travel warnings?  There are instances where even if you purchase Travel Insurance, you won't be covered. Review your policy, before purchase, to ensure you understand when you are covered and when you are not. This will help you choose the best plan for you and your trip. 

Other Helpful Hints

Don't wait until the last minute to book your insurance. Prices can increase the closer you get to your trip date and some policies have waiting periods before becoming active.

Know your Trip (slow and easy OR fast and adventurous) and the itinerary before you sit down to research and purchase. This is especially important if you are visiting multiple countries.

Do your homework. You spent considerable time researching where to go, what to eat, what to see. Be sure to spend time researching what plan works for you.

Ready to Start

Now, you understand the difference between travel and international health insurance. You also have a better understanding of your individual needs and comfort level. Let us provide you a no-obligation quote to address all of your travel, health, and insurance needs. Happy and Safe Travels.



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