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Travel Insurance: 12 questions you should ask when buying travel insurance

Travel Insurance: 12 questions you should ask when buying travel insurance

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Updated June 2019

Before boarding a plane, I prefer being cautious and, while many prefer to buy just a cancellation insurance, I tend to book a health insurance that covers much more expensive items: life and health. So, I decided to make a list of all of the biggest problems you might face when buying travel insurance and how to prevent them, so you can also get the best insurance you can.

So, first things first, the most important thing you should do when buying travel insurance is to review the legal terms of it. But given how hard it is to understand them, you should ask your vendor:

1. what does your travel insurance cover?

I told you about the different things your insurance can cover before so, to summarize it, when someone talks about insurance you could have covered:

  • flight / transport cancellation or other cancellation costs
  • health appointments, emergencies and hospitalization / other health procedures
  • dental and/or eye health (most of them set a separate coverage if any)
  • repatriation and evacuation costs when you get sick and need further treatment at home
  • repatriation when a family member is hospitalized or passes away
  • legal defense and civil liability costs
  • luggage lost and/or damage
  • etc.

So when buying your travel insurance, you must know what you are buying and not only the amounts covered. For example, at Chapka you have a cancellation insurance that is called CAP Cancellation and a health travel insurance that is called CAP Assistance when you travel for less than 90 days and CAP Multi Travel for a year-round coverage.

Also, many insurance companies and vendors exclude cruise travel and “risk” sports (which might mean from driving a car to playing football to boarding a balloon…) So, if you are planning active travel, you should check these carefully.


2. The days: when does it start, when in advance… for how long?

There are usually two options: single trip insurance (that might cover different countries and trips up to 90 days long) and year-round insucrance. But:

  • Some companies have a grace period from the date you buy it to starting coverage (so you don’t buy it when you are already sick and being able to deliver the needed documents to you).
  • Some only cover you if you buy them before you leave your house and cannot buy them when you are abroad.
  • Some only cover you at destination and others also cover you when going from home to destination (while you are in your transport).
  • Some year-round insurance only cover single trips of under 90 days where you have to travel from home each time. So they are not useful for nomads or long-term travel, you should look for nomad insurance in those cases.
  • Some cancellation insurance services only cover the expenses made 24-49 hours before you bought the insurance (to avoid fraud.)

For example, Intermondial has a year-round insurance  for trips of under 90 days and another (Grand Tour 365) for sabbaticals and world-round trips, which does not cover digital nomads or volunteering. On the other hand, IATI has a long-term travel service for bakcpackers traveling over 6 months.


3. May I visit any doctor or hospital?

Most travel insurance vendors only focus on emergencies, so you will not be able to get treatment for your chronic disease or get a hip surgery, unless it is because of an emergency (and it might not cover all the money it costs).

Having said that, you might face:

A) Insurance where you have to call to tell them what happens and they tell you which doctor you should attend, so refunds go easily afterwards.

B) Insurance that lets you go to any doctor and then they review them to see it they can be covered or not.

Most of them are type A) so if you go to a doctor of your choice without being authorized, they might not refund you. BUT some like Chapka allow you to advance most of the expenses with the exception of repatriation and hospitalization costs. The only thing is that you need to provide with invoices and medical documents fast (there is a set timing)  to get them aproved. My recommendation? always call your insurance company before visiting a doctor, even if they let you choose.


4. Will I have to pay in advance or will the insurance company pay for me?

Here comes another big difference between insurance companies: even when the insurance services might allow you to choose your doctor, most of the travel health insurance that you will find online, will make you pay your medical expenses and then you claim a refund.

Some insurances, such as the several from Iati and Chapka, cover all from the start. This is much more comfortable because you don’t need to be controling your travel expenses.

*Also, you should check the procedure for refunds and payments. Let’s say that your bags are lost and you have lost luggage coverage, do you need to claim the company first? where do you need to send the documents? will you need to send a picture from the bag? Most insurance companies request so many absurd things that they end up paying nothing. So contact the insurance company as fast as you can and know all the procedures in advance.

I like Chapka for this, as it gives you the procedure when you buy (you can ask them beforehand) and they are clear about their procedures (they’ve been great with the COVID thing).


5. what countries can I visit? under which conditions?

You will have to answer this when buying: which countries will you be visiting? They ask this because some countries are super expensive and they require better coverage than others. But you will find some that offer “worldwide” coverage.

Even when travel insurers say they offer worldwide coverage, they don’t cover countries in conflict or war situations. It might seem logical, but not all of the countries you would consider “not in war” make the list. Cuba, Venezuela, Tunisia… there are many countries that will not be covered depending on the company, your country of origin or the moment you buy.

For example, most Spanish travel insurance companies cover travels in Tunisia, it is safe to travel according to the Spanish government and there are no restrictions to travel there, so insurance covers it. But Brits are not allowed to travel there and the brittish companies don’t cover it.

Also, you should consider that if you live in the European Union, many insurance companies have set a condition to use your European Health Insurance Card first and only cover extra expenses (it is still worth buying for all the other coverage they offer). And not always cover your trip home to your destination abroad.

And if you are traveling TO the European Union, there are some Schenghen oriented insurances that cover all of the EU as one (Chapka has one.)


6. If I get sick abroad, will my mother/partner be able to stay with me or visit?

You get sick with an appendicitis in Indonesia and you cannot take your flight back home for a few days… not that weird. So many insurance companies provide with specific coverage including:

  • having your parents/partner/other to stay with you
  • having your parents/partner/other to travel to stay with you

There are many restrictions to this and not every insurance covers each, so better ask before buying. Specially who will be entitled to be with you, how much they pay and under which conditions. Your fiancée might not be eligible because he/she is not married to you, for example.

And whay they cover might not be enough to pay for what that costs. For example, many insurance providers cover up to “x” euros per hotel night, but those “x” might not be enough to pay for a decent room there.


7. I have to return home before time, will they pay my flight?

Sometimes they do but the insurance company is the one that decides here. Also, some insurance brings you home if someone from your direct family gets really sick, dies, etc. Some even cover when you get fired at work…

With COVID-19 many insurance companies have helped their clients return to their home country through these coverages, so choose wisely.


8. I am traveling with my family, if one gets sick, how does it affect the rest of us?

Some companies offer “family” or “group” insurance to cover these situations. They allow to cancel the trip for all when one gets sick or advance/delay transport for all.

In some cases, even when your travel insurance is not “family”, if you bought together the insurance for all, they provide with similar coverage. It is not very common, so better ask before buying, you might end up having your fiancée going home because her/his mother is sick and you have to stick to your travel in India just because you aren’t married yet.

Also, some companies as Chapka give you a discount when traveling with your family (3 or more) or in group (10 or more).


9. HOw much should it cover?

That’s a very important question when traveling to Japan or the US, for example. While most independent travel insurance companies do the math for you and allow you to raise the amount covered if you wish, most airline and cruise insurance does not, so be wise with this.

Your insurance company should be able to tell you how much it is to be in the hospital for 2 or three days in your destination, but luckily enough you can browse the internet for “cost of a doctor visit in xxx country” or use expat forums for tips and average costs.

As for me, I would always add a little from the base amount, it will be a bit more expensive but you will be safer if something happens.


10. If my teeth hurt, will it be covered?

IMHO, most medical issues I’ve had to date have been some cold, food poisoning, jetlag or teeth ache. The first two are covered by any insurance, the second one is a matter of time, hydration and vitamins, and the fourth is now included among the emergency items in my travel insurance, but wasn’t covered by my former insurance.

If you can, have something covered, dentists have some of the higher bills and having an issue with your teeth can ruin your trip. At least cover the emergency treatment so you can get it fixed when you go back home.

At Chapka they cover emergency treatments for dental care but also eye care, physiotherapy and psychological care when you have an accident (needs to be insurance approved, but it’s good to have it).


11. What if I have a chronic or previous disease? diabetes, heart issues, allergies…

Most insurance take from the equation what is called pre-existing conditions. Others only cover the first emergency visit (in less than 24 hours) and then everything else goes on your side.  And some, as the one I use, cover everything as long as you haven’t been hospitalized (day or continous) for this in the last 6 months and your current issue is not a worsening or a symptom of what you have.

While the insurance will cover all that is not related to that pre-existing condition (you break a bone but have diabetes), some people choose not to tell the insurance company those things (you might not know you had diabetes, and therefore they would have to cover it) but if they prove you knew it, it’s insurance fraud and you might go to prison in many countries for that.

Some insurance companies allow you to have those pre-existing conditions covered for an extra. I would use that if available (my insurance does not allow it) so you get a better coverage. If you don’t see that option, ask for it, they might have it.


12. Can I buy any insurance in any part of the world?

No. You’d think that travel insurance is a combination of probability and your travels but many request that you have a certain residence in order to insurance your travels. The only exception I know are insurances for nomad travelers (most of them are based in the US), the insurance for foreigners from Intermundial and the Schenghen Visa Insurance from the european company Chapka, which you can buy from abroad to visit Europe.


and once you buy it…

Check all of the terms and conditions, review the FAQs from their web (and screenshot them if you can) to make sure you are getting covered as you wish. You usually have a short period to ask for a refund (usually 24 hours after buying, but depends on the company and country you live in).

And make sure you save a copy to your GDrive or Dropbox with the conditions, insurance keys and procedures, in case you need them.

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