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December 17, 2018 by Dr. Kyle Varner in Solutions

If you’ve booked a flight in the last few months, I’m sure you’ve gotten an offer for travel insurance along with your purchase.

We see travel insurance pushed everywhere because it’s one of the easiest ways for insurance companies to make a buck. After all, travel is filled with uncertainty and the entire insurance industry is built around people’s fear of the unknown.

So how do you make sure that you are protected while traveling or living abroad, but you’re not taken like a fool?

Read on to find out about the key things you should be looking for in an expat or travel insurance plan and the gimmicks to avoid—

Do I Want to be Able to Go Back to the US for Treatment?

While you’re not going to travel home for your annual physical, if something serious happens to you while you’re abroad, you may want to have the ability to travel to your home country for treatment. This way you can make sure that you’re in a hospital where the staff speaks your language and you can have your family and friends close by.

Thus, when looking into travel or expat health insurance, one of the key things you want to consider is if it covers repatriation. This is essentially transportation to your home country in the case of a serious medical emergency.

If you are eligible for medical benefits like Medicare back home, having repatriation benefits can give you the option to return to the US and have covered service.

During my time at medical school in Antigua, one of my friends had a very bad car accident. This resulted in bleeding in his brain and there was nothing in terms of neurosurgery on the island. Luckily, his insurance plan covered repatriation, and he was put on a plane and taken directly to Miami.

That said, repatriation coverage may not be necessary depending on the country you’re in. Contrary to popular belief, the US healthcare system is not the best in the world. If you’re planning to go to Singapore, for example, I would definitely opt to be treated there rather than be flown home.

Take some time to check out the healthcare system in the country you’re going to. If it is known for having high-quality health care you can save a bunch on your monthly premium by opting out of repatriation coverage.

Do I Need Both Inpatient and Outpatient Care?

When it comes to insurance, the main thing you want to get is inpatient care. This includes the times when you need to be treated in a hospital or medical facility. This involves the cost of potential hospital stay, specialists, surgeons, and equipment etc. All of which can be quite costly.

Furthermore, in the case of an accident it’s impossible to know how long you might be required to stay for treatment. Even at relatively cheap rates, having to stay in a hospital for days, or weeks can really add up. Thus, make sure that your plan covers all the essential aspects of emergency hospitalization.

When it comes to outpatient insurance, however, that’s a different story. There’s a reason 1.4m Americans go abroad each year for treatment. It’s because in many countries you can get high-quality medical treatment for a fraction of the cost that you would have to pay back home.

Most expats are shocked by how cheap it can be for regular checkups and doctors visits abroad. Prices are clearly listed on a menu of services at the front counter and you typically pay for everything in cash.

As a result, I’d say that in most countries it is entirely unnecessary to get outpatient insurance in your plan. More often than not, insurance companies charge significant markups for outpatient insurance simply because people don’t know how cheap these services are locally. Do a bit of research and you can save yourself a good amount of cash each month.

Do I Need Dental Insurance?

Like regular outpatient care, dental care is often much cheaper on the spot than it is in the US. I live in the United States and I don’t even get dental coverage for myself because I actually go abroad for my dental care.

When it comes to emergency care, I calculate that the amount of expenses you could have from a dental emergency are in the thousands of dollars. Unlike a medical emergency, which could land in you in the hundreds of thousands, this is manageable and won’t land you in bankruptcy.

So, when given the choice, I don’t think dental insurance is worth it. By opt-ing out of this coverage you stand to be much better off in the long run.

Is the Insurance Company Trustworthy?

As with every company you have a long-term relationship with, you’ll want to make sure the company is financially solvent and legitimate. There’s nothing worse than trusting someone with your healthcare and find they go down at the same time you’re in a life-altering accident.

One of the clues you can look for to test this is to see who underwrites the company. If a prominent institution like Lloyd’s of London are underwriting it, that’s a solid sign. You should also dig a little deeper about their network. You should look into how to file a claim and reviews on how responsive the company is to claims.

Companies may advertise associations with certain hospitals, so it’s good to check those too: It’s not just the insurance company you need to ensure is legitimate. This means if the Aetna health plan makes the claim that their clients can go to Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok, then you should look at that hospital and check for any red flags.

Conclusion

When going abroad, you want to make sure that you feel safe. But you also don’t want to be given a run for your money. With so many choices and packages available, the choice may be difficult, and the best option could differ between each person. While I can’t tell you which is the best plan for you, I give you the basic guidelines for what to look out for.

I recommend that you don’t commit to any insurance plan without getting at least three quotes. By comparing all the different bundles, you can get a good idea of what’s out there. You don’t want to look at just one, think it looks very good compared to one at home (and they usually are!) and click buy straight away. As with everything in life, it pays to be informed. Take action ahead of time to make sure you stay safe, healthy, and hopefully have a fuller wallet by going abroad.

Have you taken out travel insurance before? Were you satisfied with your experience? Let us know in the comments below.

This information is intended to help readers be more informed about their health options when speaking with a professional, but it should not be used alone to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. Be sure to speak to a qualified doctor before taking any action to make sure that your choices reflect your actual health situation.

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