Since I’ve been traveling, I’ve been continually surprised by just how many people are traveling without medical insurance. For me, medical insurance was always just something you bought, and while purchasing it is never fun (I’d rather spend that money diving or on flights somewhere new) the peace of mind I get knowing that I’m covered is really priceless.
Many people who are relocating are expecting employee health insurance to immediately cover them, and when their travel insurance lapses they’re taking the chance and choosing to not be covered. When you’re traveling in developing countries, this may seem like a smart move since often the cost of basic medical care is much cheaper than what you’d pay at home.
However, while a simple trip to the doctor may only cost you a few dollars, if you need to be admitted to hospital, see a specialist or require urgent care, you may find yourself not only feeling ill, but wondering just how you’ll pay those bills.
People who have health insurance are also far likely to go see a doctor when symptoms first start, meaning they’ll start feeling better sooner, while those who aren’t covered are more likely to wait and hope it’s “just a bug”.
Unfortunately when we first start traveling, we figure that getting seriously sick or injured abroad is something which happens to other people. However it only takes one scooter accident, bite from a mosquito, or bad meal to put you in hospital, and the last thing you’ll want to be worrying about is just how you’re going to pay your healthcare bills.
I’ve been there. Some years I’ve been fine, and never made a claim on my insurance, and then one year boom…two broken toes, a stress fracture, strep throat, and blood tests. I was traveling in the United States, and if I hadn’t had coverage I would have been in huge trouble. Huge.
While traveling through Malaysia with my mum, she had an insect bite get infected. She was flying home a few days later so figured she would leave it, but we rang the insurance company who gave us the name of a great hospital and encouraged us to get it checked out just in case. A few hours later and it had been looked at, treated, and she didn’t need to pay anything since she had no excess.
Along with small sicknesses and injuries, the main reason I have expat health insurance while traveling and living overseas is in case I get seriously injured. Most good policies will include medical evacuation insurance, which mean that if you’re somewhere rural or can’t access a good hospital you’ll be evacuated to the nearest hospital with first-world health care. Obviously this could cost thousands, and there have been stories of travellers ending up in intensive care and their parents having to remortgage their house in order to pay the hospital bills.
If you can’t afford health insurance, you can’t afford to travel or live overseas. It’s as simple as that.