While there are many types of insurance you might buy as a digital nomad or long-term traveler, the most essential is usually travel insurance—specifically a comprehensive “travel health insurance” policy.
Some of us may also need global primary health insurance (often called expat health insurance).
To help you determine the right type of insurance for your situation, I’ve created a short, interactive quiz. No personal data or contact details required!
In short, as long as you’re covered for long-term health care in your “home country” or somewhere else where you have the legal right to live indefinitely, a travel health insurance plan that covers medical costs in case of accidents and serious illness abroad is what you’ll need. And that’s what I’ll cover in this article.
Coronavirus update 🦠
Due to the novel coronavirus and the resulting COVID-19 pandemic, I want to provide some resources related to travel, insurance coverage, and how to stay safe and avoid disruptions to your travel plans.
Insurance coverage of COVID-19:
It’s very common for insurance policies to contain general exclusions regarding epidemics and pandemics, meaning it’s not a given that expenses related to the coronavirus outbreak will be covered by your policy. Check with your insurance provider to be certain what’s covered.
SafetyWing now fully covers COVID-19 related illness as of August 1, 2020. They even cover PCR tests if deemed medically necessary by a doctor. Read more here.
World Nomads do not cover anything related to the COVID-19 (or any other) pandemic for customers from most countries (their insurance policies vary depending on where you’re from). US residents are the one exception to the rule that I spotted. Read more in their FAQ (make sure to select the same country of residence you used when signing up).
Changed travel plans
It also varies what insurance providers will cover if your travel plans were affected by the pandemic (so check with them). However, many airlines (as well as hotels, cruise companies, car rental agencies, etc) are allowing you to make changes to your reservations free of charge. In many cases, they’ll even refund tickets you no longer need, want, or can use.
- Coronavirus update
- Should you insure your stuff?
- The alternative: Self-insure for the little things
- Getting the right insurance
- Things to note when picking your policy
- The Showdown
- Common questions (FAQ)
Should you insure your stuff? 🎒
While some insurance is important, I’d recommend against getting too much insurance. Keep in mind that, on average, getting insurance doesn’t pay off financially. The insurance companies need to collect enough in premiums to cover not only claims (legit and fraudulent) but also their own staff, marketing, and profit margins.
My personal policy is to insure against the unlikely events that would ruin me financially.
Yes, it sucks having to pony up $2000 for a new MacBook Pro if it were to get stolen or destroyed. But is it worth paying $500 dollars for certain every year, just in case? Only if you cannot possibly manage to save up a few thousand dollars as a buffer or make do with a less expensive laptop for a while in case it breaks and can’t be fixed at a reasonable price.
If someone stole all the belongings that I travel with—including the clothes I was wearing and the phone in my pocket—it would cost me about $6000 to replace it all with brand new items.
While painful, I have enough of a buffer that it wouldn’t put me in debt. And the likelihood of it happening in the first place is quite slim. Hence, I won’t waste any money insuring my possessions.
The alternative: Self-insure for the little things 💰
Most people are paying way too much in insurance premiums. I can appreciate that you might value the extra peace of mind that comes with knowing that you’re covered no matter what happens.
But if you start doing even rudimentary back-of-the-envelope calculations, it becomes clear that you’re throwing money out the window.
Instead, consider this approach.
Get quotes for insuring everything you instinctively want to insure. Missed flight connections. That camera you bring along but almost never use. Your smartphone. Your laptop. Baggage delays. Petty theft. And, of course, emergency travel health insurance.
Get quotes for everything with zero deductibles if possible.
Let’s say your total yearly premium comes to $3000.
Then look at what you would be paying if you only get insurance for the stuff that would ruin you financially. In other words, probably only emergency health insurance.
Pick the highest deductible you’re comfortable with. At the very least a couple of hundred dollars per year. Remember, your goal is to never actually have to use the insurance, so it’s better to pay less every year and potentially a bit more in the year where you actually need to rely on your policy.
Say you end up with a premium of about $500 per year. As you’ll see later, that’s a very easily attainable number.
Now, buy the cheap insurance with the high deductible. Every year, put the money you saved ($2500 in this example) on a high interest savings account (or even better, a low-cost index fund or ETF) earmarked for situations where you would have relied on the expensive, all inclusive insurance.
Now sit back and watch your own personal insurance fund grow ever larger year by year. Whenever you need to pay for something that would have been covered by the more expensive insurance (including deductibles), just withdraw the money to cover it from your own insurance fund.
As an added bonus, you don’t even have to fill out lengthy claims forms, go hunting for old receipts for your valuables, and fight with claims agents that are trying their very best to find loopholes to avoid paying you what you’re rightfully owed.
Getting the right insurance
Let’s take a look at the different types of insurance you should consider getting for your trip.
Travel Health Insurance 🏥
Even if you’re covered for health expenses in your home country, it’s important to be covered for emergencies abroad.
What would happen if you’re in the US, or Japan, or Australia (or even countries where health care is cheaper), and you get a debilitating disease or end up in an accident that has to be treated locally?
You’ll very quickly end up with medical bills in the tens if not hundreds of thousands. Unless you have insurance, that is.
A good emergency medical travel insurance will take care of any costs of any life-threatening treatment you get locally.
It’s important to note that most travel health insurance policies are not “primary” health insurance policies. They rely on you being entitled to treatment somewhere and will ship you there if needed for long-term care.
So even if you get travel health insurance, it’s important that you make sure you’re covered for long-term treatment at “home”.
If that’s not the case, you should check out my upcoming article on all types of insurance for nomads, including worldwide primary health insurance. Make sure you’re subscribed to Nomad Gate to get notified when it’s ready.
SafetyWing (described below) recently launched primary health insurance for nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers, called Remote Health. If you don’t already have primary health insurance coverage in your home country, check it out!
Emergency Evacuation 🚁
Many travel health insurance policies come with built in emergency medical transportation or emergency medical evacuation as it’s often called. There are also standalone evacuation memberships, which tend to be quite a bit more expensive for similar coverage.
What exactly is covered by such policies, what limit is sufficient for your needs, and do you actually need it?
Usually, an emergency evacuation policy will kick in when the initial hospital or medical facility is not suited to provide the appropriate care for your medical emergency.
The decision to move you elsewhere will usually be made by the local doctor and your insurance company’s medical advisor.
While the policy will cover transportation to a suitable hospital, the medical costs on arrival are not covered—unless part of a travel health insurance policy. In other words, the standalone evacuation memberships usually only cover you until you’ve reached the hospital.
Due to their nature, emergency evacuation policies are most essential if you’re often hiking in remote areas, traveling or staying long-term in less developed countries, etc. If you’re spending most of your time in large cities in developed countries, it’s less important. In that case you should just make sure you’re covered for individual trips you make where it can come in handy.
The policy limits usually range from $25,000 up to millions or even unlimited. Since evacuation costs can get really high in extreme cases, I’d recommend a policy with at least a $100,000 limit. Perhaps even more if you’re traveling in very remote and underdeveloped areas.
Travel Insurance 🛫
Although all the different types of policies we have covered so far could fit under the umbrella term travel insurance, in this section I am referring to things like delayed or lost baggage, missed flight connections, car rental insurance, and so on.
If you have it included in a credit card or similar for free, then of course it’s worth having. Rental Car insurance can save you some money as well, but make sure to read the fine print.
Many travel health insurance policies include some coverage for these things as well, so if you’re anyway getting that kind of insurance (which you should) and the price differential is small, it can be worth to get it bundled. As you’ll see below, my recommended all-in-one insurance (SafetyWing) is actually cheaper than the already affordable health-only insurance from IMG.
If on the other hand you’re not covered through your credit cards or other insurance you already have, spending money on a dedicated travel insurance is usually a terrible deal bordering on pointless. There are a few reasons why this is the case:
- It’s very unlikely that anything will happen, and if it does the insurance policy probably has an exclusion
- If something happens, it will be relatively cheap to deal with on your own
- In many cases you can get compensation from airlines or others, even without insurance
Let’s take one example; missed flight connection insurance. Most policies require from two to four (!) hours in between flights to be valid.
Ask yourself, how often are you traveling with connecting flights on separate tickets? Perhaps some times, but likely not that often.
And how many flights are more than two to four hours delayed? Only about 0.1% to 1.5% of flights, depending on airlines (US airlines generally coming out behind).
Assuming you mostly fly on through tickets and only have a handful of risky connections on separate airlines per year, that’s a very slim chance (perhaps 1-2%) that you will miss a flight connection on separate tickets in a given year. And even if you did, the expected cost of an average replacement ticket is only a few hundred dollars.
That means, even with as much travel as most nomads do, the expected financial loss of missed connections is only a few dollars per year. So skip the insurance, and put the money saved into your own self-insurance fund.
Things to note when picking your policy
- Usually whenever you extend your policy (technically, when you enter a new period of coverage) any things that happened before the extension will now be treated as pre-existing conditions, and will often no longer be covered.
- Most traditional travel insurance policies offered by insurance companies in your home country will only cover you if:
- You’re a legal (tax) resident of that country. If you’re traveling long term you might not be.
- For trips of a certain length (often 30 or 60 days, but I’ve also seen 90 days) before you have to return to your home country. Many even require you to have purchased round trip flight tickets before embarking on your trip for your coverage to kick in.
- If it’s a credit card policy, if at least 50% or even 100% of the trip costs have been pre-paid with the card in question.
- Many insurance policies (even some of the ones included in this article) limits the number of visits you might make to your home country during the lifetime of the policy. Say you purchase a typical one-year policy, and you happen to visit your home country for any reason more than once in that period, the rest of your policy will be canceled with no refund given.
- When it comes to deductibles, look out for if the deductible is per incident or per policy period (which can typically extend to a year). The latter is clearly better, since if you already had to pay the deductible once, you don’t have to pay it for the rest of the period/year.
The Showdown 🥊
In the rest of this article I will compare some of the most popular and well-suited insurance policies for digital nomads and long-term travelers who already have some sort of primary health insurance cover at home.
I’ve included policies that meet these basic requirements:
- It should be possible to buy and renew the insurance while already traveling.
- They should be available to the residents of many if not most or all countries.
- There should not be any upper limit for how long you can travel before returning home.
Note that all prices are rounded to the nearest dollar.
This relative newcomer is my personal top choice, and what I’m personally using. And while SafetyWing is still a startup (launching about two years ago), their insurance policy is backed by Tokio Marine, one of the most solid insurance companies in the world. So in the unlikely event that something were to happen to SafetyWing, you would still be taken care of by Tokio Marine.
Their long term goal is to offer a complete suite of products to build a country-independent social safety net for freelancers and digital nomads, which I think is really cool! In addition to the travel health insurance described here, they also recently launched a complete worldwide primary health insurance called Remote Health, so if you don’t have health coverage in your home country, check that out! However, their first product (which is what I describe in this article) is marketed as a “digital nomad travel insurance”.
And compared to the alternatives, it is both a really good value and offering some genuinely useful features that I know many of you will appreciate.
In many ways it’s even more comprehensive than the competitors, but still only a fraction of the price.
- Recurring billing. Pay monthly just like you would for Spotify or Netflix without having to decide upfront for how long you need the policy. Why other companies don’t offer this is to me a complete mystery.
- The lowest cost of any company in this comparison. For a worldwide excluding the US policy you’ll pay about $37 per month, while most comparable companies charge over $100 for a less convenient product.
- A yearly deductible. While most companies charge a deductible for each claim, SafetyWing will cap your deductible at $250 per policy period (which—as long as you keep your subscription running—equals 364 days).
- No deductible at all for many types of claims, including emergency dental, emergency medical evacuation, repatriation of remains, crisis response, emergency reunion, bedside visit, trip interruption, accidental death and dismemberment, lost checked luggage, travel delays, personal liability and a bunch more.
- Home country coverage. While most of the competitors might even void the rest of your policy if you visit your home country, SafetyWing’s policy will even cover you in your home country for up to 30 days per 90 days of insurance.
- The same low daily price no matter how short cover you buy. Perfect for nomads who have other health coverage in the countries they spend most of their time (e.g. EU/EEA residents spending a lot of time in Europe), and only need cover for part of the year while traveling elsewhere.
- Covers private health care. No need to go to a public hospital or doctor in a third world country when there’s a much better private one available.
- They support direct billing to most hospitals and clinics in their extensive, worldwide network (searchable on your online account page). You can still opt for a different medical provider, but you’d generally have to pay out of pocket and be reimbursed later.
Some things to note:
- A bit high price if you order their US inclusive policy for a long time. If you are planning on visiting the US, you’re better off getting the US cover only while you’re in the country and switch back to the non-US cover as soon as you leave.
- After 364 days of coverage, the insurance will lapse if you don’t actively renew it. Luckily that’s as simple as clicking a link in an email that will be sent to you before your current policy expires.
Pricing for a 35 year old nomad who’s already traveling:
|Worldwide ex US||Worldwide|
For recurring policies longer than 28 days, payment is only due every 4 weeks, so you don’t have to pay for a long policy in advance, unlike virtually any other insurance company.
They might have been innovative a decade ago, but today I sincerely believe most bloggers are only recommending them due to financial incentives (they pay bloggers—including me—for referrals) or plain ignorance. Or perhaps a combination of both?
What they offer might have been revolutionary 10 years ago (travel insurance that could be purchased and renewed while already traveling), but today there are better alternatives available.
I’m really not sure what World Nomads offer that can justify the more than triple price, but my hunch is that it’s mostly due to brand recognition rather than any tangible benefits to you as a customer.
If you get their most expensive package, you do get pretty good extreme sports cover, although they have recently become much more restrictive here than before—without that being reflected in the price.
- They support direct billing, at least in some circumstances. In my only experience being hospitalized while covered by their Explore plan, I still had to pay the hospital myself and got the settlement about 6 weeks later. But they do claim that they can arrange direct billing, so I assume they would help out if the claim was a bit bigger (mine was only about $1300).
- Decent extreme sports cover in their most expensive package (although not as good as it used to be).
Things to note:
- Since World Nomads use different insurance providers depending on your country of residence the insurance price, terms, limits and benefits vary from one country to another. Be extra careful to read the full policy wording for your country of residence.
- Extensions are expensive. Say you take out and pre-pay for a long-term policy, you would pay about $75 to extend your policy with a mere week (assuming you’re from the US and on the Explorer plan).
- You’re only allowed return home once during the entire duration of your policy. If you’re a nomad with a home base, or you tend to return home to visit friends or family on occasion, you’re effectively not able to buy a long term policy to save money. Instead you’ll have to buy a series of short and expensive policies.
I’ve used World Nomads a bit in the past (with BUPA Global as the insurance provider) and while the claims involved lots of paperwork they usually were handled fairly. Payouts aren’t super quick, and I had to send them a few reminders before the claims were settled.
The only time I had an issue (which was at least partly my fault) was when I waited until only a few days before the expiry of my current insurance policy before extending it. In that brief time window a close relative first got very ill and later passed away. Since the relative became ill before I had ordered the extension (even though I was unaware of it until a few days after and she only passed away into my new policy period, since it was no longer “unexpected”), they refused to cover my round trip tickets back to Europe so I could attend the funeral.
According to the policy wording they were of course in the right, although someone more understanding could have used their discretion to decide otherwise. Anyway, with the auto-renewal feature that SafetyWing offers this would have been a non-issue.
Note that pricing for World Nomads depend on your country of residence. To get the long term discounts you have to order and pay for the whole period in advance. Extensions are charged at non-discounted prices and will start a new policy period. If you’re at all unsure about how long you need your policy, you’re much better off using SafetyWing’s subscription feature or another insurance provider with cheap extensions (also like SafetyWing, and IMG below).
Base price of a Standard/Explorer plan for a 35 year old traveler from the UK (prices converted from GBP at the time of writing):
|Worldwide ex US||Worldwide|
Base price of a Standard/Explorer plan for a 35 year old traveler from the US:
|Worldwide ex US|
The policy wording varies depending on your country of residence. To see the full policy wording, you have to request a quote where you enter your country of residence. On the next page look for the section “View full description of coverage,” and click the View button under the heading of the plan you are interested in.
This is a popular provider, particularly in the UK. Their insurance is only available to residents of the UK and other countries in the EEA.
Their cheaper plans are quite affordable—especially if you pre-pay for a year or more—but they are also quite limited and restrictive in what they cover. Adding various extras will quickly increase your premium.
- No limit on home visits, however you are not covered while in your home country.
- They have lots of good reviews on Trustpilot, for what that’s worth.
- They will strive to arrange direct billing for covered medical treatment surpassing £500. Below this you’ll generally pay out of pocket and be reimbursed once your claim is processed.
Things to note:
- Extensions cost a lot. E.g. if you had a 52-week policy (costing $462 with no extras) you would pay a whopping $50 to extend your policy by a mere week.
- Only available to current EEA residents. If you are a full-time nomad or have a base outside of the EEA, you likely won’t qualify even if you’re from the EEA.
- Does not cover private medical treatment unless no public treatment is available. Personally, I was really happy that my insurance covered private hospital stays when I got hospitalized in India a few years ago. Just saying. Update: True Traveller responded below, clarifying what this policy means in practice.
Base price* for a 35 year old nomad who is already traveling (prices converted from GBP at the time of writing):
|Worldwide ex US & Canada||Worldwide|
*Their pricing changes massively depending on which extras you include. A 7 day policy ranges from £34 to £361 depending on your selections. A 52 week plan can get as pricy as £1511 with all extras selected. In this table I’ve included their mid-range package (“Traveller”), with zero extras and a £75 deductible per claim.
This is an affordable travel health insurance, which does not include any non-health related benefits (unlike the previous options).
IMG is a financially solid company, with some of the best prices out there. For a reasonable health-only policy it’s a popular budget option, but be aware that they have a reputation for slow claims handling and sticking to the letter of the policy wording beyond what some people would find reasonable.
- Flexible deductibles, so you can select a high one and reduce your premiums.
- The deductible is only payable once per 12 months of continuous coverage (like SafetyWing).
- Extending and renewing your policy is a lot cheaper than e.g. World Nomads and True Traveller, so if you find yourself needing your policy a bit longer than expected, it won’t break the bank. Extending this way will start a new policy period, however, (unlike SafetyWing’s subscription) which means issues that already arose while traveling will be treated as pre-existing and no longer covered.
Things to note:
- This is a travel health only policy, and will not cover things like trip interruption, travel delays, lost luggage, etc. It is still more expensive than the SafetyWing insurance, which includes those things. Also note that it’s still not primary health insurance, so you still need to be covered in your home country.
- Your insurance will be terminated if you return to your home country for more than 14 days, or at all if your home country is the United States or you returned home for medical reasons.
- They generally don’t support direct billing (i.e. the hospital or doctor billing them directly), which mean you might have to pay pretty hefty medical bills out of pocket and then wait for your claim to be processed before you will be reimbursed.
- The plan which includes travel in the US is not available to US residents.
Pricing for a 35 year old single traveler (travel health only, $500,000 limit, $250 deductible):
|Worldwide ex US||Worldwide|
Other insurance providers worth looking into
While not available everywhere, Allianz is an insurance company with a good reputation and (sadly also) premium prices. They tend to be a bit pricier than the options we’ve looked at so far.
Click here to see if they offer their travel insurance product in your home country.
Note that they often require you to purchase your insurance before departing on your trip, making it a poor choice for most nomads.
Common questions (FAQ)
- Q: Will airlines compensate me for lost or delayed luggage?
A: Yes, up to certain limits which depend on the route you fly. For lost luggage on international flights, usually it’s limited to about $1,600 (or 1,131 Special Drawing Rights, to be exact). The limit is $3,500 for domestic flights in the US. For delayed luggage, the practice varies a bit from airline to airline, but generally they either give you a one-off payment to cover essentials or reimburse you based on reasonable and necessary expenditures resulting from the baggage delay when seeing receipts. They will also reimburse you for damaged luggage on the same basis (on seeing receipts documenting expenses).
- Q: Why do I have to fill in my country of residence when purchasing travel insurance? I’m traveling full time, with no fixed address anywhere.
A: While each insurer’s definition of “country of residence” will differ, they generally want to know where to send you in case of serious injury or if you need long-term treatment. So you should choose a country where you have (1) a place to stay (perhaps with family or friends), (2) will be covered by either private or public health insurance to take care of your long term medical bills, and (3) somewhere you have unlimited and unrestricted access (i.e. you don’t need a visa to enter, so typically where you’re a citizen, permanent resident, or—for EU/EEA citizens—all of the EU/EEA). While most of the providers listed in this article won’t require you to be a legal resident you should still read your policy wording carefully, exceptions do occur for certain nationalities with certain providers. Note that many insurance providers offering insurances to citizens or residents of a specific country will require you to be a legal resident there, and also in some cases part of the national social security or health insurance scheme.
- Q: When should I buy the insurance? Can I wait until I depart or already traveling?
A: While the providers listed above all allow you to purchase your policy while traveling, it is better to get it ASAP—ideally as soon as you have your departure flights booked or at least know your departure date. The insurance won’t cover anything that happens until after you buy the policy. So if you for some reason (e.g. medical) you can’t depart when scheduled, and you haven’t purchased the insurance before the issue arises, you won’t be covered. Typically there are also quite a few exclusions to the insurance cover in the first few days after you buy the policy (to combat insurance fraud), so that’s another good reason not to wait.
- Q: How do I know if a plan is good enough for a visa application?
- A: Some countries require you to have travel health insurance before applying for certain visas or entering the country as a visitor. This includes Australia, Canada, the United States, Ecuador, and the entire Schengen area (most of Europe)—among others. Usually the requirements include emergency health cover with varying limits, emergency repatriation to your home country, and a few more things. The providers listed in this article should be good enough for most—if not all—visa applications around the world, but if you’re unsure you can always reach out to the insurance company to make sure. To learn about the visa and entry requirements for various countries, check out the free services listed in the visa section of my travel tools article—particularly Timatic and TravelDoc.
Tips that will make your life a lot easier in a pinch
- Get in the habit of scanning all receipts, medical docs, etc, with your smartphone, and add it all to Evernote, Google Keep or a similar application that can be accessed on both your phone and online. Also do this for any expenses you have as a result of delayed luggage or flights, plus receipts when purchasing anything you will travel with (e.g. clothes, electronics, travel gear, valuables) in case you have to submit a claim at for it at a later date.
- Keep digital (and optionally paper) copies of your essential travel and financial documents, such as passport, driver’s license, visas, entry stamps, etc. Store your debit and credit card information in an encrypted password manager (like LastPass).
- Always bring both a travel-friendly debit and credit card, plus ideally leave a backup credit card at home or with some trusted friends, which you can use to make online purchases in case the cards you bring with you are lost or stolen. Accommodation (which can include breakfast), flight tickets, etc can usually be booked and paid for online.
- Keep a paper copy of your insurance card in your wallet and/or passport. In case of an accident, it’s good to have the relevant contact and policy information on hand. You might not even be conscious yourself, so then the emergency response personnel can still find your information.
- Use the ICE (in case of emergency) feature on your smartphone. That way emergency response or medical personnel can contact your specified ICE contacts without unlocking your phone, and also see potential allergies, blood type, and any other information you have included. It’s a good idea to also include a paper copy of this information in your wallet or on the back of your insurance card.
I hope you enjoyed the article! Hopefully it can save you both money, hassle, and maybe even your life.
Feel free to add any questions and comments (particularly your own first-hand experiences with different providers) in the community thread or below.
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