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International Travel Health Insurance -  What is it?   Do I need to have this?

If you are taking a trip, studying, working, visiting or living outside of your home country, is there a need to have international travel health insurance or permanent international health insurance?

First, travel insurance and travel health insurance are not the same thing.   The purpose of travel insurance is to protect your trip in case something happens that causes you to either not be able the take the trip or the trip is cut short.   For example, you have booked and paid for a cruise and the cruise employees go on strike.   The travel plan would pay you the cost you paid for your trip. There are many other situations that could cause you to miss your trip.  Travel insurance is important, but it the health coverage is only incidental.   It is trip protection.  This type of insurance is typically offered by travel agents.

Travel health insurance is international health insurance with some trip coverage, but it is primarily health insurance.    Travel health insurance is only sold by licensed insurance agents.   It is a specialty in the insurance industry and so it is best to work with an agent who has a lot of experience in this area. 

Some International travel health insurance plans are only offered to US citizens or have benefits that only apply to US citizens.   There are plans that are offered only to non US citizens and only covering them in the US.   There are restrictions on these plans as to who qualifies based on citizenship, countries being visited, length of coverage and age of the insured.

 In general, travel health insurance plans do not cover existing or pre-existing health conditions.  There is coverage for US citizens that do have coverage for the acute onset of a pre-existing condition.     If you have a health condition it is important to know how your plan handles pre-existing conditions.  There are plans for US citizens that will cover all pre-existing conditions if you have a US primary health insurance plan. This includes individual health insurance, group health insurance and Medicare.  These plans are available for trips up to 6 months and must to be taken out prior to leaving the US.

So, you have your US health insurance plan, why would you need something else?   If you check your US health insurance plan you will mostly likely see that if you are out of the country then your plan has emergency only or maybe no coverage at all.   Domestic, meaning US health insurance plans, are setup with US healthcare providers.   They are not setup internationally.   Customer service for US health insurance plans usually is open from 8 or 9 to 5 Monday thru Friday in whatever time zone your are in.   International travel health insurance customer service is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week and they handle situations in many languages.   Their business is international and they are used to working in many countries.  

If you are sick or injured in another country, you may find yourself in a very uncomfortable position.  This is not because there is any issue with their healthcare.  It may be due to your not speaking the language.   Each country has a different system.  In some countries they want payment immediately, in fact, in the worst circumstances; people are not allowed to leave without payment being made.   International insurance companies have relationships with foreign hospitals and providers.   They can talk with them.   They can wire money to the hospital.   They have customer assistance.

Does this mean that every claim will be paid for you to the provider just by showing your ID card?  Not necessarily and doctors and clinics tend not to want to deal with insurance from other countries.   You do have the option of calling the insurance company and asking them for advice and guidance.   Sometimes they have provider relationships established that you can use.   In case they do not and the bill is relatively small, under $1000, you would pay the bill and submit a claim.

 One of the great things about travel health insurance is that you can have deductibles as low as $0 or no deductible.   Letís say you need to see a doctor because you are sick.   The sickness is new and not connected to any existing condition.   The visit costs $50 and the medication is another $50.  You would pay for that, keep copies of the bill and submit them.   If the country where you saw the doctor is not an English speaking country, the bills are in the language of the country.   Imagine submitting that to your US insurance company.  

If you have a $0 deductible on your travel health insurance, then you would be reimbursed from the first dollar spent.    Most US plans today do not have out of network deductibles less than $1000.   Instead of quickly being reimbursed, you would be under your deductible, so no reimbursement and they would have to translate your bills which they may not be able to do.

Some countries require that you show proof of insurance to visit there.   European countries have this requirement.  Plans have to meet the Schengen Treaty requirements.   Some countries such as Italy and France also require special letters that verify insurance.  These have to written as the consulates require.   Proof of qualifying insurance is provided by the international carriers at no cost and immediately.

International travel health insurance costs a lot less than most people expect.  There are some reasons why.  The plans are for a certain period of time, not indefinitely.   Healthcare costs outside the US are less than in the US and can be considerably less.   When the claims amounts for services are less, then premium cost is also less.  

Most international travel health insurance plans can be done right online over the internet.   International insurance companies have been leaders in the use of the internet.  It makes sense as business is happening globally all the time and what better place than online.  ID cards are issued immediately after the online application is completed.    The ID card will have the personís name and all contact information.    It can be printed out from your computer.  

So, as part of any trip of any length, international health insurance needs to be on list.  Pack yours pants, shirts, underwear, socks and other items and keep your insurance card in with your other valuables like passport and ID.