Travel Medical Insurance: The Complete Guide

Travel Medical Insurance: The Complete Guide

Summary: Travel medical insurance is emergency coverage for travelers who are leaving their home country and are worried about a medical emergency while abroad.

It provides coverage for medical emergencies and evacuations. Your health insurance from home might not cover you abroad, so it is smart to have travel medical coverage.What you will find on this page

Example Story

Imagine this: You are on a bike tour in the remote countryside of Italy. Your husband takes a fall and has some minor scrapes…but more severely he also has a heart attack.

You need to find the closest good hospital. You also need an ambulance to get you there. Once at the hospital, he needs immediate care for the heart attack.

And afterwards, you need special transportation on a medically-staffed flight to get back home.

Throughout all this you are dealing with language barriers and questions about hospital bills that need to be paid.

Without travel medical coverage: You could be stuck with all hospital costs, ambulance costs, and surgery bills which could cost you tens of thousands of dollars. Plus, medical flight back home on a special flight could be $50,000+. And that’s assuming found a reputable medical facility in the first place.

With travel medical coverage: First thing you do after immediate care is call the 24/7 assistance line. They help find the best hospital near you and arrange transport if necessary. They overcome any language barriers and facilitate your care, guaranteeing payment if necessary. The bills are covered, even that huge med-flight back home.

What is travel medical insurance?

Summary: Travel medical insurance is temporary medical insurance that covers you for the length of your trip. It pays for emergency medical expenses, emergency evacuations, and provides 24/7 assistance to help you.

When you leave your home country, your insurance might not travel with you. That means once you leave, you are on your own.

And, even if your plan does include emergency medical expenses in a foreign country, they will never cover medical evacuation expenses (more below). Medical evacuations can be anything from an ambulance ride, an airlift from a remote location, or medical transport back home after a serious injury.

Plus, those relying on Medicare are definitely out of luck. Medicare does not cover you abroad.

Other names for travel medical insurance include: International Medical Insurance, International Travel Insurance, or Worldwide Medical Insurance.

Organizations that recommend travel medical insurance

  • Center for Disease Control (CDC)– “If you are planning an international trip, you should consider getting travel insurance to cover yourself against accidents or illness while you’re abroad.”
  • U.S. Department of State– “The U.S. government does not provide medical insurance for U.S. citizens overseas. We do not pay medical bills. You should purchase insurance before you travel”
  • World Health Organization– “Travelers are strongly advised to travel with comprehensive travel insurance as a matter of routine. Travelers should be aware that medical care abroad is often available only at private medical facilities and may be costly. In places where good-quality medical care is not readily available, travelers may need to be evacuated in case of accident or illness.”

In addition, there are horror stories of foreign hospitals refusing to let you go until you have paid your bill.

Bottom Line: You need travel medical coverage when you leave your home country.

How does travel medical insurance work?

  1. You plan your trip abroad
  2. You purchase a travel medical plan for the dates of your trip
  3. That’s it

You have 2 options to get travel medical coverage:

Option A: You can buy a standalone Travel Medical Insurance policy. This would just cover medical emergencies, evacuation, and assistance services.

Option B: You can buy comprehensive Trip Insurance. This covers cancelled trips, but it also covers interruptions, baggage, delays…as well as medical emergencies and evacuations.

(More about the differences between these two plans below)

What about a doctor exam?

You do not need a medical examination to buy travel insurance. Since travel medical is a temporary policy, it is issued immediately and any claims are investigated afterwards. If you have a claim, the insurance company will confirm that the issue occurred during the policy coverage period.

How is Travel Medical Insurance different from comprehensive Trip Insurance?

Many people don’t understand which type of travel insurance they need.

Your cruise line offers you a plan. The booking website offers you a plan. A travel agent offers you a plan.

Plus, there are different names for everything: Trip insurance, travel insurance, international insurance, vacation insurance, cruise insurance, travel medical insurance.

Let’s make it simple.

Your choice is between Travel Medical Insurance and Trip Insurance.

But what is the difference? We’ll make that simple too.

Difference #1: Travel Medical Insurance focuses on medical emergencies. Trip Insurance focuses on cancellation coverage.

With a Travel Medical plan, the focus is on emergency medical and evacuation costs.

If you are abroad and have an accident or become ill, it would cover medical costs for you. Emergency dental treatment is usually included and emergency transportation (ambulance, air lift) services are also covered.

Emergency medical evacuations will get you out of a remote area and transported to a place where you can receive proper medical care. If you are killed or die on your trip, the repatriation coverage will ensure your body is properly transported home or to a funeral home nearby.

With Trip Insurance, you are mainly concerned with losing all of your pre-paid money if you need to cancel your trip.

Trip Insurance covers cancelling for sickness of a family member, hurricanes, home fire, jury duty, job loss, etc. It covers cancellations for unexpected and unforeseen reasons.

It also covers interrupted trip where you need to come home early, lost or stolen bags, flight delays, baggage delays, medical, and evacuation.

When most people think of “travel insurance”, they think of cancellation coverage and not wanting to lose money of they need to cancel.

Travel medical insurance focuses on emergency medical and evacuation coverage, while trip insurance also covers cancellations, interruptions, baggage, and delays.

Travel medical plans often include some coverage for baggage loss or interrupted trips, but the coverage limits are much lower than with Trip Insurance so it is not considered a primary coverage.

Travel Medical can also have Accidental Death and Dismemberment (AD&D) and/or term life benefits which are paid regardless of any coverage you may have back home for a covered injury. This coverage can fill out your life insurance benefits and provide extra coverage for you or your family in the case of a serious accident.

Difference #2: Travel Medical insurance is cheaper than trip cancellation insurance

With Trip Insurance, the cost is based on the trip cost that you are insuring. If you insure a $10,000 cruise, it will cost more than insuring a $250 flight.

Since standalone Travel Medical insurance doesn’t cover cancellations, the cost is much lower.

In fact, Travel Medical insurance is so budget-friendly that when people “get it”…they realize it’s a no-brainer when going abroad.

Medical plans are priced based on age, trip length, and coverage amount.

This usually adds up to a few dollars per day, so it is a very budget-friendly way to get emergency medical coverage abroad.

Here is sample pricing to show you the difference between Travel Medical and Trip Insurance.

Sample Trip: 2 travelers, both 44, traveling abroad for 1 week. The Travel Medical plan quote is for $100,000 medical coverage. The Trip Insurance is for a $3,000 trip with medical coverage of $100,000.

Travel Medical InsuranceTrip Insurance

Both prices are the total for 2 travelers for the entire week.

The difference is the Trip Insurance quote would reimburse you for cancelled trips, cover baggage, delays, etc. Trip insurance usually costs 4-10% of the insured trip cost, so these plans can often be in the hundreds of dollars.

Bottom line: If you are getting trip insurance to cover your whole trip (cancellation, baggage, delays, etc), you will also get travel medical coverage.

If you don’t want cancellation coverage and are leaving your home country, you should get a Travel Medical insurance plan.

What does Travel Medical insurance cover?

Travel Medical insurance covers the following. This same coverages is in comprehensive Trip Insurance, but with the addition of Cancellation Coverage.

  • Reimbursement for unexpected medical costs due to emergency medical care.
  • Reimbursement for unexpected dental costs due to an accident.
  • Advance payments to medical facilities and help get emergency medical transportation when you are injured.
  • Coordination of and payment for emergency medical evacuation services, including medical care providers to attend to you until you reach an appropriate medical care facility.
  • Travel accident benefits like Accidental Death & Dismemberment (AD&D) to help take care of you or your family if you are seriously injured or killed while traveling.
  • Emergency travel assistance services to help you locate a local an appropriate medical facility to care for your medical needs and those of your family.

Examples of why would you need emergency medical coverage

  • You’re on a long business trip and get food poisoning.
  • You trip on a cobblestone street and break a tooth.
  • You are traveling ahead of your church missionary group to organize housing and get in a traffic accident.
  • You are traveling in a foreign country with your children and get injured in a fall.
  • You want the assurance of having travel medical assistance services to help you in an emergency.

Examples of travelers that might buy it

Travelers like these should purchase travel medical insurance:

  • US Citizens going abroad. A typical health insurance plan doesn’t extend outside the U.S. borders, so if you’re traveling abroad, you’ll want travel medical coverage for accidental illnesses and injuries that occur outside your health insurance coverage zone.
  • Visitors to the US. When family members visit from abroad and stay a few days or even a year, they should have coverage for their stay.
  • Business travelers working overseas. If your health insurance plan doesn’t extend outside the U.S. (and most don’t), you’ll need some medical and evacuation coverage if you’re working overseas.
  • Expats and long-term travelers. Not only does your own health insurance (even Medicare) fail to cover you outside the U.S., if you are visiting multiple countries, you’ll want to ensure you have the same coverage no matter where you travel.
  • Missionaries and foreign aid workers. Just because you are traveling to make a difference in someone else’s life doesn’t mean something bad can’t happen to you. Be sure you are protected in case you have a medical emergency or need to be evacuated to safety.

What are the types of Travel Medical plans?

Travel medical plans come in three types:

  1. Single trip travel medical (the most commonly purchased) – this is coverage for a single trip up to six months. It covers the length of the vacation and is paid for up front.
  2. Multi-trip travel medical – this coverage is for multiple trips and often purchased in 3, 6, and 12-month segments.
  3. Long-term major medical – this is continuous medical coverage for the long term traveler and typically paid on a monthly basis. You can renew these plans.

For most trips, you would need single-trip Travel Medical insurance.

How much does Travel Medical Insurance cost?

Since travel medical insurance does not provide trip cancellation and other package-like benefits, the cost of the plan is often quite economical.

A typical single trip travel medical plan can range from $40-$80 for a relatively short overseas trip. In general, the premium amount for a travel medical plan is based on:

  • The length of the trip
  • The age of the traveler
  • The medical and evacuation coverage limits

While some travel medical plans will cover a few package-like benefits, the typical travel medical plan does not cover trip cancellation, trip interruption, baggage loss, travel delays and other benefits typically associated with package plans. Travel medical plans are meant for the overseas traveler seeking medical insurance protection outside their home coverage network.

Compare travel medical insurance plans

You have two options for buying travel insurance – the best option is to compare plans from all companies, get quotes, and purchase your travel insurance plan online:

  1. Compare plans from all companies: Compare travel insurance plans from all companies, get quotes, and buy online.
  2. Quote and buy direct: Review the travel insurance companies and plans and purchase directly from the company.

All travel insurance companies include a free look period with a refund that lets you review the plan documentation. If you decide you need something a little different, you can make changes to your policy or cancel it for a refund (minus a small fee).

What is the best company for Travel Medical insurance?

I recommend Seven Corners for travel medical insurance.

Seven corners medical insurance logo

Seven Corners has been specializing in the international medical insurance business since 1993. They were a pioneer in first developing travel medical insurance and have lead the market for decades.

Key advantages of Seven Corners include:

  • Variety of plans so you can get just the right coverage
  • In-house 24/7 assistance through Seven Corners Assist
  • Robust enough to administer US government plans, but personal customer service for “the regular traveler”
  • Competitive pricing

Visit Seven Corners website for Travel Medical Insurance

Travel Medical Insurance FAQs

What is Primary vs Secondary coverage with travel medical insurance?

Primary Coverage pays first before any other coverage you might have. This means you claim directly with the insurance company, and they handle it from there.

Secondary coverage pays after any other insurance has been used. So, if you did have some coverage from your home health insurance, that would be used first, then travel medical would cover after that.

If you have secondary coverage and no other insurance provides coverage, your secondary coverage essentially becomes primary coverage.

The main benefit to Primary is the ease of claims as there are fewer companies to deal with.

What is the difference between Travel Medical and Trip Insurance?

Travel medical insurance covers medical emergencies, evacuations, and a few other things like baggage.

Trip insurance (also called Trip Cancellation or simply Travel Insurance) covers cancellations, interruptions, baggage, delays, medical, evacuation, and more.

Is travel medical insurance worth it?

If you are leaving your home country, absolutely! Your insurance from home might not cover you abroad (Medicare never does), and even if it does it would not cover evacuations.

If you are leaving your home country, get travel medical insurance by itself with a Travel Medical Insurance policy, or as part of a comprehensive Trip Cancellation Insurance policy.

When should I buy travel medical insurance?

Anytime you leave your home country you should have travel medical coverage…either through a Travel Medical plan of a Trip Insurance plan.

When can I buy travel medical insurance?

You can purchase travel medical insurance right up until your trip departure, and as soon as when you make your first trip plans.

Can I buy travel medical insurance after departure?

Yes, but keep in mind it only covers new incidents. If you are on your trip and have an emergency, you cannot buy travel insurance and expect it to be covered.

What should I do if I need emergency medical care?

If possible, seek any immediate care you need to prevent further injury. Once reasonably possible, contact the insurance company’s 24/7 assistance line for further help.

How do I file a claim for travel medical insurance?

You should contact the claims number as soon as reasonably possible and they will advise about any special procedures you need to do.Add question


  • Travel medical plans are focused on medical and evacuation coverage
  • Because this type of plan doesn’t include many package plan benefits, it’s usually very affordable
  • This type of coverage is crucial for those traveling abroad to protect against financial losses due to an illness or injury
Damian Tysdal

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and he believes travel insurance should be easier to understand. He started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and he believes travel insurance should be easier to understand. He started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.