Q:

Should I Buy Travel Medical Insurance?

I’m about to take a three-month trip through Asia to “find myself.” My parents want me to get medical insurance, but I don't think it's worth the money. What’s your take on medical insurance for travelers?

Don't depend on your luck.     Photo: Chalabala/Shutterstock

A:Travel medical insurance will probably cost you less than the price of the songs you add to your iTunes library this month. When you're traveling in places where clean food and water standards are a pleasant surprise and traffic signs are merely suggestions, you shouldn't ignore it. Most traditional policies aren’t valid outside the country, and in many cases you’ll find that international hospitals and doctors will require up-front payment for treatment. In short, you should be wondering how, not whether, to prepare for a potential medical emergency. Follow these tips for a healthy trip.

Check your current health insurance policy
There's a chance your (or your parents') current insurer may already cover you overseas, whether fully or partially. If so, you may not need to buy any additional insurance. Talk to a customer service rep to find out. Odds are that it won't cover you, though.

Call your credit card company
Some credit card companies offer travel medical benefits, especially if you have a gold or platinum card. One of mine will insure me for $100,000 worth of medical bills and emergency evacuation costs anywhere in the world beyond 150 miles of my home for the first 45 days of my trip. The plan’s cost: $9.50 a month, or $109 annually.

Know the difference between travel insurance and travel medical insurance
Travel insurance not only covers your medical emergencies, but also lost baggage, flight cancellations, and even the cost of a hotel room for lengthy flight delays. If you’re going overseas for the adventure of it, then you don't need all that. Instead, you want cheaper travel medical insurance, which will cover you only if you get injured or sick.

Call AAA
You’d be surprised by the benefits, including insurance, that AAA offers to members. They quoted me $131 for a $50,000 policy with no deductible for a two-month trip to Thailand.

Shop around
The U.S. State Department lists a handful of reputable travel medical insurance companies on its website. Nearly all of them will give you quotes online.

Consider emergency evacuation coverage
For a small extra fee, you can add emergency evacuation coverage to many travel insurance policies. This means that if you’re sick or injured and a doctor recommends it, you’ll be sent home in a charter jet with a medical attendant to receive treatment. Whether to choose evacuation coverage is a judgment call. If you’re going to be in a place where you wouldn’t want to find yourself going under the knife, spend the extra $30 or $40 for a little peace of mind.

Set aside some cash
Even when you’re insured, the overseas doctor or hospital is probably going to expect a cash payment up-front. You’ll then be responsible for getting reimbursed by your insurance company. Set aside a $100 or $200 stash of medical cash, and hope that you never have to use it.

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