Millions of citizens go without health insurance. People like you and me. Even travelers, particularly the digital nomads who work while they travel long-term.
But let's start from the beginning.
I have been traveling for about three years, and have worked abroad for the past thirteen. As a German citizen, I’ve had to arrange my own health insurance abroad. That’s the case in most countries.
The more I traveled, the more I met people who did not have any health insurance. Sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes out of conviction, they chose to go without.
I Had Coverage...and Nothing Happened
I, too, would have liked to save that money—especially on occasions when being insured was not compulsory. You usually need insurance, typically a local policy, when you want to settle in another country. However, you are free to choose whether to have one or not when you are merely visiting; the authorities do not care as long as you look like a tourist. As I have often been on tourist visas, my premiums to the insurance firm became a nuisance.
It did not help that I never had to rely on my insurance, either. Of course, I was glad I had been safe throughout my travels. But seeing payments go down the drain every month—while others get by just fine without a policy—was really not appealing.
All That Changed In Seconds
One day, I had an accident in the Colombian mountains. Scratches and bruises aside, I broke my elbow.
Things could have been much worse. I was very lucky. The medical attention I received was first class, and there was nothing I could complain about (a very strange thing to hear from a German, huh?).
I did have to pay about 4,000 US dollars, though. This required me to max out my credit cards, but it covered the entire procedure from admission to the emergency room through to surgery and physiotherapy to round off my recuperation.
Now, you don’t know if your insurance will reimburse you until disaster strikes. Naturally, they check twice to see whether your claims are valid. In the end, I received my money back. Winner!
Travel is Part of Life—With All the Risks
Not planning to break an arm? Neither was I. I highly encourage you to have health insurance when you travel. Traveling is fun, but having an aching tooth the morning you planned to hike up that volcano or finding all your belongings (including your prescription medication) stolen are completely realistic scenarios that can happen any time.
If you're a digital nomad, or simply traveling long-term for fun because your entrepreneurial lifestyle has given you the freedom to do so, you should take out traveler's health insurance simply because you can. If you can afford to travel at all, insurance should not be a deal breaker. If you can’t pay the premium to begin with (often less than $1 per day), how could you manage without one in case of emergency?
How to Choose a Policy to Meet Your Needs
Before you sign up with the next best travel insurance plan, check your credit card policy. Does it cover some medical expenses? It often does, but most people are not aware.
Check the health insurance policy you carry at home. Sometimes it covers some medical emergencies while traveling—but not always, and it could depend upon the length of your trip.
When looking at traveler's insurance policies, carefully consider the following:
What is covered?
Are you allowed to make home visits during the covered period?
Can you extend the duration of your coverage?
If you're already on the road and looking for health insurance, are you even qualified to sign up? Most insurance firms only grant policies before you have started your travels. Hence, you may not get insured if you are no longer in your home country.
The right insurance depends on your personal situation. Your citizenship, physical condition, financial situation, and travel plans determine what is most suitable for you. There is no single best insurance for travelers.
However, I have personally had a great experience with True Traveller, especially since they allowed me to sign up even though I was already traveling. From fellow long-term travelers I have also heard good things about World Nomads. They offer hassle-free packages combining different insurance types all into one. You pay a bit extra, but if you can afford it, it’s probably the most convenient option for long-term travelers.
Not a Long-term Traveler (Yet)?
Here’s some good news if you are only an occasional traveler: as long as you maintain your health insurance in your home country, payments for international coverage are almost negligible. Your insurance may offer simple add-ons for travelers costing less than a meal—annually.
Some people cannot afford insurance, and they need to be taken care of. Travelers, however, don’t fall into this category. International health insurance is affordable—and not having a policy is unwise given medical costs the world over.
Moritz Dressel is the author of Got the Job… Now What?: How to Master the Corporate Game from Day 1 and The Aspiring Advisor: Strategies and Tools for a Successful Consulting Career, the #1 guide for consulting career starters. He is also a management consultant specializing in post-merger integration, joint ventures and strategic alliances. He can be reached via Twitter @MoritzDressel or www.MoritzDressel.com.