How to Choose Travel Insurance

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A group of hikers on a trail atop a green knoll with snowcapped peaks in the distance.

Editor’s note: This article was published prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you need to travel, check the CDC FAQ page about COVID-19 risks for travelers, which provides the latest guidance. For information about outdoor activities wherever you go (close to home is best), read Recreate Responsibly: An Activity-Specific Guide.

Getting Started

Before you purchase travel insurance, do a little research. Find out what's covered by your homeowner's insurance, credit card provider or your existing health insurance policy. Homeowner's insurance might cover lost or stolen luggage, but it won't cover other travel-related incidents such as trip cancellation. It's likely your existing health insurance won't cover medical expenses outside of the country.

Once you've determined what coverage you already have, choose travel insurance to fill in the gaps.

Tip: A student or youth identity card (available from the budget travel agency Council Travel) includes basic travel insurance.

Types of Travel Insurance

Most travel insurance policies have a deductible. Premiums are based either on the length of your trip or a percentage of your trip's cost.

Types of Travel Insurance

Four basic types of travel insurance exist:

  • Short-term or single trip covers trips up to 90 days.
  • Long-term or multi-trip covers trips up to one year.
  • Expatriate covers people living overseas.
  • Foreign national covers non-U.S. citizens.

Elements of Travel Insurance

Policies can vary widely in the types of incidents they cover and the coverage amount. Here are some common features that can be included:

  • Emergency medical care usually doesn't include routine exams or physicals.
  • Emergency dental care usually doesn't include checkups or cleaning.
  • Medical evacuation covers the cost of transporting you to the nearest hospital equipped to handle your medical emergency, which could be in another country.
  • Trip cancellation or delay covers the cost of your trip if you need to cancel or delay due to an emergency or unforeseen circumstances such as a transportation strike.
  • Lost or delayed baggage covers up to a certain dollar amount.
  • Repatriation of remains assists with the cost and red tape of returning your remains.
  • Legal aid, referral assistance, and multilingual help can be invaluable in an emergency.

Common Exclusions

Like most insurance policies, travel insurance has many exceptions. Here are some common ones:

  • prior medical conditions
  • pregnancy
  • sports activities (including scuba diving, rock climbing and organized sports)
  • self-inflicted injury
  • suicide
  • mental illness
  • claims arising from war (declared or undeclared)

Choosing a Policy

Finding Travel Insurance

Here are some tips to get your search started:

  • Research your current coverage by checking with your existing health insurance provider and your credit card provider. American Express offers travel insurance to card members.
  • Ask your travel agent.
  • Explore the web.

Access Your Needs

Several factors will determine which insurance policy is best for you:

  • the length of your trip
  • your destination
  • participation in high-risk sports (e.g., mountaineering, climbing)
  • your general health

Compare Features

Weigh your needs against the types of coverage offered. Remember to read all the fine print. Consider:

  • what's covered, and what isn't
  • the cost
  • the deductible

REI has partnered with TripAssure to offer a travel protection plan to REI members. Find out more.