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If you have a big trip planned in the U.S. or abroad, chances are you’ve considered travel insurance. However, many find the concept a bit confusing. For example, does travel insurance cover medical expenses? If so, how does it work? Is there a difference between the insurance offered with your travel credit card versus a policy that’s purchased separately?
We’ll break it down for you so you can travel with less worry.
What types of travel insurance are available?
Travel insurance policies vary widely depending on your age, destination, trip length and the type of coverage needed. And whether travel insurance is worth the cost can vary greatly depending on your situation.
Nevertheless, it is critical not to get mixed up between trip cancellation and travel medical insurance as they don’t offer the same benefits and protections. Generally, these two coverage types fall under the “travel insurance” umbrella.
Trip cancellation insurance protects you financially if the trip is canceled due to an extraordinary circumstance.
Travel medical insurance is a stand-alone policy that protects you financially in the case of illness or injury during your trip by providing reimbursement for emergency medical expenses, including medical evacuations.
Trip cancellation insurance is widely available — some airlines even offer you the option to purchase coverage during booking. Travel medical insurance can be purchased as a stand-alone policy.
» Learn more: What to know before buying travel insurance
What does travel insurance generally cover?
Travel insurance typically covers a range of situations and scenarios related to your financial investment in the trip itself. This can include flight cancellation, lost or delayed luggage, and even theft or damage.
But maybe, more importantly, it may also cover medical expenses abroad. So, for example, if you need emergency medical or dental care while traveling or an emergency evacuation to the nearest hospital or back home, travel insurance can cover the costs.
The types of medical expenses usually covered are:
Outpatient services for medical emergencies.
X-rays and laboratory tests.
Transportation home if deemed medically necessary.
Expenses usually not covered include:
Drug or alcohol-related incidents.
Injuries sustained from reckless behavior.
Some plans also won’t cover accidents that happen while participating in adventure activities or expenses connected to pre-existing conditions, so if either of those applies to you, look for a plan that does include them. Also, check to see if your current health insurance covers medical expenses while traveling and, if so, what’s included.
» Learn more: The best travel insurance companies
Does travel insurance cover COVID?
Typically, you won’t be covered for medical claims made when traveling to known high-risk regions. This includes locations that involve travel advisories and foreseeable or expected events, like epidemics. But some travel insurance providers have expanded their offerings to include epidemic-related coverage.
Suppose your plan does include this type of coverage. In that case, it will likely provide emergency medical care if you get COVID-19 while traveling, plus trip cancellation and interruption coverage if you or a travel companion gets sick before or during travel.
Just make sure to verify whether your coverage includes disease outbreaks at your intended destinations and what restrictions, if any, are relevant.
» Learn more: Does my travel insurance cover coronavirus?
The one travel credit card with travel medical insurance
Certain travel credit cards offer travel insurance to cardholders (provided you pay for all travel expenses with that credit card). The actual coverage will vary from card to card. Still, it can include compensation for trip delay, lost luggage, rental car coverage and even travel accident coverage (in the case of death and dismemberment while traveling). However, most cards don’t specifically offer assistance with medical travel expenses or medical coverage, except:
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Of the different travel credit cards with travel insurance protections, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® may offer the most comprehensive coverage, as it includes medical costs and emergency evacuation while traveling internationally. The card covers both emergency medical and dental expenses up to $2,500 (with a $50 deductible).
What’s more, if your doctor deems it necessary for you to rest and recover for a few days before traveling home, you may be eligible for an additional $75 a day to be used for hotel expenses for up to five days.
» Learn more: The best travel credit cards
How travel insurance claims work
Understanding how travel insurance claims work can be tricky since different providers may use different systems. In most cases, you’ll pay for medical expenses out of pocket, then file a claim afterward. There is usually a window of time you have to file a claim, from either the date of care received or the date of your return. Check the benefits associated with your card for timelines and specific instructions, which can vary.
For example, with the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you have 90 days from the time you received medical care to contact your card’s benefit administrator. They will ask you to answer some questions, fill out some paperwork and send in receipts within 180 days of the medical care you received. If the care is covered, you’ll be reimbursed for up to the maximum coverage allowance.
» Learn more: Does travel insurance cover award flights?
What costs should I expect?
Naturally, insurance for travel medical expenses isn’t free, but it’s also not usually prohibitively expensive. Some policies only cost a few dollars a day, while others may cost more for older travelers or more extensive benefits. You can use a site such as SquareMouth to compare the costs from different insurance providers.
Travel medical insurance doesn’t work like most traditional medical insurance, where you visit the doctor, maybe pay a deductible and then the remainder after the claim is filed. Instead, with travel insurance, you typically file a claim after you’ve paid the entire expense out of pocket. Then, if the claim is approved, you’ll be reimbursed. That said, in some emergency circumstances with certain providers, your expenses might be covered upfront.
Be sure to read the terms and conditions of your coverage carefully, so you know what is covered, what is required when paying medical fees, how to file a claim and provide receipts.
Pick a plan with 24/7 assistance. If a medical crisis does happen, you can reach out with questions at any time.
Does travel insurance cover medical costs?
And can you claim medical travel expenses you incur abroad? In short, yes — as long you’ve purchased travel medical insurance instead of only trip protection or cancellation insurance. But no matter what type of travel insurance you buy, make sure to read through all the details and keep the company’s support number handy. Then travel with confidence, knowing you’re covered.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card