But what if I actually get SICK!?!?
February 7, 2010 8:55 AM   Subscribe

I’m going to travel for the next year or so, I have some questions about travel/medical insurance.

I quit my job and will spend some time traveling in the coming months. I will mainly be in India and SE Asia. I seem to be overthinking the insurance purchasing process, but obviously would prefer to make an informed decision in case something does happen.

I am looking at Access America, Highway to Health (HTH), IMG Global, World Nomads and International Student Insurance. Can anyone recommend other companies? – ones that insure prolonged and multi-country travel? I know the World Nomads has been mentioned here multiple times, but did anyone ever have to file a claim with them?

Does the travel insurance work like an HMO? If I get sick, do I need to call the company for a list of approved doctors? Do I pay out of pocket and then file for reimbursement, or is the doctor/hospital paid directly by the company?

What if I get ill with something chronic and need prolonged treatments even after (if?) I come back? Will the company cover it beyond the one year or so that I paid for the insurance?

Finally, is scuba diving considered an extreme sport for t.i. purposes? I was thinking of taking some courses along the way. (Most of the fine print mentions mountaineering and white water rafting as examples of extreme sports, which seem in a completely different league as far as potential for injury goes, so I’m thinking not).

I'm in the US, early 30s, insurance would be for one person.

Thanks in advance for your help!
posted by Dotty to Travel & Transportation (4 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you plan on scuba diving, consider joining DAN. Decompression chambers (plus transport) are really expensive.
posted by j at 9:04 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I looked into this quite a bit last year when I was contemplating a similar trip. I was leaning towards IMG Global, largely for the included end-of-trip home country coverage. I heard (mostly) good things about World Nomads, but am not that familiar with the other companies you mentioned.

I could be mistaken, but my understanding was that you usually pay out-of-pocket and then file for reimbursement. I'm sure it depends on the provider, so I'd strongly suggest asking.

Regarding scuba diving, I had the same questions when I looked into IMG. Again, I would ask your provider. I also second j's suggestion to check into DAN, particularly if you're fairly serious about diving.
posted by photo guy at 11:25 AM on February 7, 2010

American Express has an international travel insurance that you can sign up for if you have one of their cards. It's $10 a month. It's mostly emergency medical insurance, ie they'll pay for an airlift, hospitalizations, etc...
posted by stratastar at 8:42 PM on February 7, 2010

I was leaning towards IMG Global, largely for the included end-of-trip home country coverage.

Ditto. I've used both IMG and World Nomads during my two around-the-world trips but never claimed on either. The times I went to the doctor were less than $25 and it didn't seem worth it. I really see this type of insurance as catastrophic insurance.

Every company will have different policies for how claims work but assume that most will require you to pay locally, get detailed receipts (hard sometimes, especially in developing countries) and send them in for reimbursement. World Nomads is based in Australia and at the time I used them (2004-2005) you had to send things by snail mail to Australia which added time to processing. I'm not sure if that's still the case.

One other thing about World Nomads—when I was planning trips I always saw people complaining about WN not reimbursing them for stolen bags, cameras, etc. In the past (I haven't read their policies in a few years) there were very specific rules for your belongings being covered. It was so detailed that you pretty much had to have your things ripped from your hands and then get an accurate police report in English in order to claim. I also found the coverage limits too low for my electronics and decided to put a rider on my mother's home insurance.

You've searched for all of the companies on Boots 'n All and Lonely Planet, right? There will be plenty of claim stories on those forums.

I get insurance questions a lot from my travel site and although I don't have a great guide posted at the moment I can probably answer any detailed questions you have with the understanding that policies between companies will be different and you need to read the fine print.

Does the travel insurance work like an HMO?
Probably not. Most of these companies have services that you can call to get a doctor recommended but depending on where you're traveling you probably won't be able to find an "in-network" doctor. I've had a hard enough time finding English-speaking doctors in some places and had to contact the US Embassy. I didn't think about contacting my insurance company until months later.

What if I get ill with something chronic and need prolonged treatments even after (if?) I come back? Will the company cover it beyond the one year or so that I paid for the insurance?
No. This is a big deal and there's no way I see around it. If I got sick I might just stay in Thailand or somewhere where I could afford medical care.

That naturally leads to the dreaded "pre-existing condition" issue. If you had something happen that caused you to need future treatment in the US you'd be pretty screwed. Even if you came back to the US and got a job with a good group health insurance policy there would probably be at least a waiting period where you wouldn't be covered for it (6 months, a year, who knows?). This is because you will have a gap in coverage.

I was gone for 14 months and wanted to keep my US health insurance even though it didn't cover me outside the US for more than 90 consecutive days but it wasn't possible. I've met people who haven't had this problem—perhaps its easier to get in different states. I believe, but am not sure, that the IMG policy I had was considered "credible coverage" and could be counted as continuing coverage so if you got another policy within 60-something days of the IMG policy ending you wouldn't have that gap in coverage.

You say you're traveling for "some time" but if its reasonable to hang onto your US insurance I would think about it. As a female trying to get individual health insurance at 32+ its going to be hard even without any serious pre-existing conditions. I went through a very lengthy interview to get a policy when I got back and the fact that I'd been to Asia, let alone Africa, was a red flag from them. I'm not trying to scare you, just keep these issues in mind when making decisions.

Finally, is scuba diving considered an extreme sport for t.i. purposes?
Maybe. You have to look at each policy and read the fine print. If its not clear make sure you ask someone and get the answer in writing. My IMG policy was kind of vague on "hiking" and I got clarification that as long as I wasn't using ropes etc. I was covered.

Hope that helps, feel free to ask me if you have more questions.
posted by Bunglegirl at 10:05 AM on February 8, 2010

« Older What they heck is Tukan?   |   Good, cheap digital SLR? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.