Look, no one ever wants things to go so very, very wrong that they need medical attention. Some travelers are so optimistic about this that they travel for months or years without any sort of medical insurance, just dealing with any actual issues that come up as the arise. I am not going to say that’s wrong (though it is a bit risky), but there are also a lot of people who don’t travel because of their concerns over health and health care while on the road.
I am not going to say health care all over the world is fine. In fact, in parts of the world it’s pretty sketchy. If you are concerned about sketchy health care, then don’t go to those places. In the rest of the world, which really is most of it, health care ranges from acceptable to as good as it gets. Most of what I am going to write about applies to those places where there is at least some level of health care to interact with.
So, assuming you are going to take the safe route and have health insurance while you are traveling, there are three types of insurance you should be considering. These are a home country medical plan, traveler’s insurance, and extradition and repatriation insurance (which is usually called evac or flight insurance).
Home Medical Insurance – This is a vague, broad sort of category for any sort of health insurance maintained in your home country while you are traveling. What sort of coverage you have will depend on your home country and the rules and polices you have available. Since you want to keep costs down and (hopefully) won’t be using it much, this plan can have a low monthly premium and high deductible – but you definitely want it to have total coverage once the deductible has been met. If something major happens, that full coverage may be the difference in getting back on the road or spending 30 years paying off medical bills.
Traveler’s Insurance – This is either a policy paid for outright, or a rider on your other, home medical insurance policy. How it generally works (plans vary) is that you are either covered outright at medical facilities in the country you are traveling in, or you have to pay the medical bill and the insurance reimburses you when you return home and/or provide documentation. These plans aren’t usually expensive, even as a stand alone policy, and provide a good security blanket – though there are some countries where the cost of medical care will be less than the policy, or where there is no charge for medical care – so the policy won’t actually provide any benefit. Make sure you check before spending travel money.
Evacuation Insurance – For a lot of travelers, this is the big one. If something happens somewhere, something bad enough that you want or need to come home for medical care, this will cover those costs (something the other insurances will not do, unless you can convince them you couldn’t get the care you needed without being transported). Trust me when I say this sort of transport is expensive, Usually, you (or someone else nearby) calls an 800 number. Then a medical team is flow to your location, gets you back to the airport, and back to a hospital of your choice back home. The cost varies some, depending on where you are traveling, and you generally have to pay for 12 or 24 months coverage up front. Still, it’s not very expensive and for a small upcharge they’ll even bring the bike back. If you have this plan, make sure you have health insurance at home to cover the rest of your medical care.
And that’s it. When I was traveling my insurance back at home was about $100 a month, and the evac insurance was $375 for a year (in the Americas). I didn’t have traveler’s insurance, and planned to just pay out-of-pocket for any medical expenses that came up. That was risky on my part, but if something espically bad happened I planned to be flown home. I guess it all worked out. The point is that you should be looking at these three types of insurance if you want to have the best blanket of coverage while you are on the road.