Tips for decisions around international medical and travel insurance

Despite living in three countries since 2012, my total spend with travel insurance has been less than usual typical insurance that would cost about $1000 per year (well, based on the criteria that I have added). How was I able to keep my costs down? Below are some tips that I have to keep the costs down.  Please note that these tips may not apply to your situation since it’s completely dependent on factors like your situation or circumstance, your nationality, your employer, your current country of residence, and your travel plans.

Another thing to note is that the requirements of someone on a holiday or short-term travel is going to be different to my own requirements.

Research reciprocal health care agreements

On my first move (the UK), I didn’t purchase travel insurance knowing that as an Australian, I am under the reciprocal health care agreement.  I was living in the UK under the Tier 5 Youth Mobility, so I would be under this agreement throughout the duration of my visa.

Australians are covered under these reciprocal health care agreements for Belgium, Finland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Republic of Ireland, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, Channel Islands).  More details are found here.

Now, the details in the reciprocal health care agreements will vary.  For example, in Belgium you are covered for medical treatment by GPs and specialists but you’ll need to pay between 25% to 40% of the cost.  However, in Ireland your visits to the GP are not covered.  Since I’ve been to visits to the GP here in Ireland, I am able to make a claim to my travel insurance for those visits.

Are you covered by your employer?

Employer benefits can include health, medical, dental and even travel insurance.  Make sure to read the fine print – for example, one of the benefits included travel insurance but it was only relevant to permanent residents and citizens.  Therefore when I travel outside of the country, I purchase travel insurance issuing my residence as my new country.

Are you considered a resident and eligible for health care covered by the province / state / county / country?

If you have a home base to travel from, this means that you usually stay in a particular province, state, county or country for a longer period of time.  You may be considered a resident and thus you are eligible for certain benefits.  For example, if you are a resident in a province or territory for x months, you are then eligible for certain health care benefits.

Be very careful of potential crossovers with your insurance due to these health care agreements (and any other reasons that an insurance provider will deny a claim!)

As I mentioned above, as an Australian I have the reciprocal health agreement.  I am able to make a claim for GP visits in Ireland, however if those visits to the GP were in Belgium my claim may be affected.

Take into consideration any change of circumstance and do research up front

For about three months, I had triple coverage – I was covered under my 1) employer’s medical/health benefits, 2) covered under travel insurance and by that time I had stayed in a province long enough to be a resident eligible for 3) provincial health cover.

Of course, I can’t have known this in advance – I’ve had a change in travel plans which opened up new opportunities.

When it was time to renew, I decided not to renew.

If you think your circumstance is going to be like the above, you are better off purchasing insurance in smaller lots

Since I am covered under various other agreements, when I travel to a country or region that is not covered, I only purchase travel insurance in the duration the duration of the trip.

With all the avenues that you have, should you even look into travel insurance?

The thing here is that I am probably biased.  I haven’t had major issues that have ended up with me touting the benefits of travel insurance.

In additional, travel insurance should not be confused with international medical or health care insurance.

Conduct price comparisons of insurance plans

There can easily be differences in the price you pay depending on where you’re travelling to, who you are (your nationality), what you’re planning to do and what else you need insured. In the end, there is no standard insurance that’s going to apply for everyone.  Don’t rely on someone’s recommendation of a provider or a plan – take the time to read and understand the plan before committing to the insurance package.

And last but not least, before doing a final purchase, check to see what the limitations are for the travel insurance provider.  

Now let’s look at other options of minimizing your budget in travel insurance…

Build liquid reserves

Start focusing on developing a liquid safety net.  A highly liquid (ie cash in savings) is a good net to focus on.  For example, even if I am covered under various reciprocal health care agreements, the coverage still involves paying for public hospital care (in Ireland), or purchasing in advance and being reimbursed later.  Even if your passport was stolen (and even then there are conditions to be met) you still need the cash to cover accommodation and travel disruptions.

Focus on prevention

It is better to be taking preventative steps and build better situational awareness.  Similar to health and wellness, being proactive in prevention is better than dealing with a health or medical fallout.  Wear your seat belts and don’t drink and drive/swim.  Eat better, exercise, go out in the sunshine.  Don’t walk into large demonstrations.  Don’t flash expensive stuff.  Whenever I change locations (ie hotel to taxi) I do The Check which is to check that I have my phone, wallet and passport on me.

Know that travel insurance providers only have the typical traveller in mind

If you are an expat, doing long-term (ie 10+) travel or anything like that then you are not the typical traveller they have in mind.

It is also dependent on travel preferences.  Someone going on a $8000 cruise will definitely want comprehensive travel insurance.

Ultimately…insurance also depends on you.

Right now, the way that I have set up has provided me ‘just enough’ piece of mind while maintaining my current budget.  However, my life circumstance and situation may completely change.  I’ll see how things go for the time being!