Whether you’re a full-time traveller or just planning out your gap year, you need long-term travel insurance. Medical help gets very expensive fast, and insurance will save you from racking up crippling debt on your trip.
I’ve prepared a detailed guide for you, which will help you figure out what kind of travel insurance you need, and help you choose the best insurance plan for you.
You can also read about the best and most affordable long-term travel insurance options here, and see which ones we recommend.
You can’t know for sure that nothing will happen to you. You might get ill, get food poisoning, trip and break a leg or discover you’re allergic to something you didn’t even know existed.
What if a natural disaster occurs right where you booked your hotel? What if a family member dies, and you have to cut your trip short and return home?
There’s a lot of things that you can’t control and that can go wrong. With travel insurance, you can have some peace of mind. At least you know you’re taken care of, if something bad happens. And that you don’t need to pay thousands of dollars for an overnight stay at the hospital.
It’s fine if you aren’t completely sure what your next destination is. But there are some things to keep in mind.
Most insurance companies offer different fees for (medical) insurance policies for the US, and for everywhere else. Which makes sense – you know how expensive healthcare is in the States.
You will usually see two fees – one that includes the States, and one that doesn’t. Consider what your plans are – don’t pay ridiculous amounts of money just because you might want to go there someday. Make a plan, and pay for that one specific month you know you’ll be there – you can save a lot of money in the process.
Another thing to note is not all insurance providers cover every single country in the world. Especially countries that are considered to be high-risk, like Cuba, Iran, North Korea etc.
If you have any plans to travel there, make sure that the insurance you are getting has coverage there. Otherwise, you might as well set your money on fire and watch it burn.
I am mostly talking about medical insurance here – it’s the one type of insurance that you really need to get if you’re a digital nomad.
You can also insure your luggage, valuables, and get insurance for delayed and missed flights. But do you really need them?
Insurance companies have all kinds of rules and restrictions regarding these – lots of little loopholes so that they can get out of paying if you actually miss a flight.
Consider this – have you ever needed this type of insurance so far? What are the chances that you will actually need insurance for delayed flights? And how likely it is that you will miss more than one flight?
Here’s the thing – oftentimes it’s simply cheaper to buy a new plane ticket than to pay insurance for a missed flight.
So, how valuable are the items you are travelling with? And would they financially cripple you, if you had to replace them out of pocket?
The thing is, if the airline is responsible for your lost suitcase, they will have to reimburse you for its contents even if you’re not insured. So, that’s not something you need to worry about too much.
But what if your bag gets stolen? That’s a scenario where insurance could save you.
It mostly depends on the value of the items in that bag. If you’re travelling with thousands of dollars worth of tech, then it could be smart to insure them. Especially if you would have to empty your account to replace those items.
But if you’re travelling with items that aren’t too valuable, you can skip this type of insurance. Or if you can easily afford to replace your MacBook Pro if it gets stolen – in the long run, it’s cheaper to pay a one-time $2000 fee, than it is to pay $500 every year just in case.
Anyway, if this is something that you think you will need, make sure to check if it is covered by the insurance policy you’re looking at. And read the fine print – SafetyWing, for example, includes your baggage in their insurance policy. However, if you look really close, you will see that their coverage does not include your laptop, phone or camera.
Worst case scenario – you’re hiking in the middle of the forest and you get bitten by a poisonous snake. You need to be transferred to the nearest hospital immediately, and that will usually involve a helicopter ride.
Another scenario where you need this kind of insurance is if a hospital is unable to properly treat your injuries, and you need to be transferred to a different hospital.
Most travel insurance policies will cover any emergency evacuations. Standalone evacuation memberships exist, but they are not a necessity for everyone. And here’s the catch – most of them cover the costs of transport, until the moment you enter the new hospital. From there, you’re on your own. Meaning that any medical expenses that ensue, after you’ve been transferred to a new hospital, are coming out of your pocket.
I’d say that you should look into getting this kind of insurance if you’re travelling to remote areas or third world countries. Especially if you plan to spend a lot of time in nature, far away from the urban areas. That’s the one scenario where having this type of insurance could save your life and thousands of dollars.
However, if you are mostly staying in urban cities in developed countries, then you don’t really need this.
Do you still have residency status in your home country? And are you insured there?
Some people give up on paying insurance at home because they rarely go back there. So, it doesn’t really make sense to pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars for something you won’t be using in the near future.
But here’s the thing – some insurance companies have rather strict policies when it comes to this. There are limits to how many times you can return home, and in most cases, they won’t insure you in your home country.
This is definitely something you need to check before opting for a specific insurance plan. Especially if you don’t have some sort of medical insurance there.
Most companies are not too keen on ensuring people who are into extreme sports. Which makes perfect sense.
If you have some sort of an adventure planned, make sure to check if it’s covered by the plan you’re getting. Sure, most companies won’t have an issue insuring you when you’re going rafting, but it’s a whole different story if you have skydiving in mind.
Also, the riskier the adventure, the more expensive the insurance.
How long-term are we talking about? Are you going to be on the road for the next several years, or do you plan to go back home every couple of months?
Because some insurance companies allow you to get a monthly subscription plan. SafetyWing, for example, has a subscription service – you’re paying monthly, just like you’re paying for Hulu or Amazon Prime. Staying at home for a month? Then you don’t have to pay the subscription!
This way of paying is extremely convenient because it allows you to change and adapt your insurance plan on the go. And extending your insurance is as easy as clicking a link in the email they send you. No extra fees, no hidden conditions or anything.
This is something to consider if you’re alternating between home and other countries. But if you know for sure you won’t be back home for the next year or so, then it’s ultimately cheaper to pay the yearly fee.
The price of an insurance policy depends largely on your age. The younger you are, the cheaper the insurance is. This is why the elderly usually have a hard time getting good long-term travel insurance.
And not all companies will provide it. SafetyWing, for example, does offer insurance for people that are up to 69 years old, but it’s about 5 times more expensive than insurance for a 35-year old.
Another thing to note is that most companies do not cover any pre-existing conditions. So, if you have a chronic illness that you need regular treatment for, you will most likely have to pay for those treatments out of pocket.
But I dug deep, and I managed to find some good insurance policies that are available to elderly long term travellers. Globelink International is a good option – they will ensure anyone that’s up to 89 years of age, and they cover more than 50 pre-existing conditions in their insurance policy. But, they are only for residents of the UK, EEA and EU. You can read more about them in a later section, where I will tell you about the best insurance policies you can buy.
There are several insurance companies that offer extensive medical insurance for expats. IMG is one of them, and I’ll tell you more about them later – but in general, they are definitely the best choice.
The main issue with insurance for expats is that they don’t have a home residency. So, they need really good insurance, that will cover them in case of a chronic or a long-term illness. Or in case of pregnancy – certain insurance companies will cover maternity care, and others won’t. Make sure that your coverage plan includes that if you’re an expat who’s expecting.
One thing to remember is to always call your insurance company in case you get hospitalized. When you read the fine print, you’ll see that most companies require you to call them before going to the doctor. That doesn’t apply, of course, in case you are unconscious or physically incapable of making the call. But you are obligated to notify them within 72 hours of being admitted to a hospital.
That is because most companies reserve the right to transfer you to a hospital they see fit. Or in other words, whichever hospital is the cheapest for them, since repatriation does not apply to you as an expat.
It’s important to know what is the coverage limit of insurance you’re getting. For medical insurance, that should be rather high – at least $200,00 and more if you’re travelling to third world countries.
Just consider how expensive an emergency evacuation would be. And then add the cost of treatment to all that.
The coverage limits vary a lot, and only a few insurance companies offer unlimited coverage. But the higher the coverage limit are, the higher premium you will be paying. So, unless you think it’s highly likely that you’ll wind up racking up millions of dollars in medical bills, opt for the highest premium you feel comfortable with. There’s no reason to overpay in these cases – otherwise, you might be tempted to get into an accident just to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth.
You should always choose the highest deductible that you feel comfortable with. Because, the higher your deductible, the lower your premium.
For me, it makes much more sense to pay lower premiums, and then pay more out of pocket if I need actual medical attention. But this only works if you have a cash buffer that you can use to cover that deductible.
Of course, this also kind of limits the actual coverage of your insurance. You’re less likely to go to a check-up if your deductible is really high – but how often do you go for check-ups when you’re travelling anyway?
You’re hoping that you never have to actually use your insurance. That’s the main goal – it’s not like you are hoping that your laptop will get stolen, just so you can get some value for the money you’re giving to the insurance company. Or that you’ll break a leg in the middle of a nature park.
That’s why I recommend against getting too much insurance. In the long run, you can wind up paying thousands of dollars for insurance, and not use it even once. And that hurts more than a broken collarbone in the middle of the Amazon rainforest.
This is a relatively new company but without a doubt one with the best deals.
SafetyWing can insure you anywhere in the world, except in Cuba, Iran and North Korea. This means that you can purchase their insurance as long as your home is not in one of these three countries. This is both medical and travel (baggage) insurance, with some restrictions. They don’t cover any pre-existing conditions, cancer treatments, and their travel insurance does not cover laptops, smartphones and similar expensive tech.
The prices start at $37 per week for 19-39-year-old travellers who don’t plan on going to the US. Which is rather affordable, especially considering everything they offer.
In addition to that, extending insurance is very easy and cheap. You can just buy an additional week or two, without having to pay any huge fees. This is not the case with a lot of other insurance companies.
They charge you a yearly deductible ($250), per policy period. Which is 365 days, as long as you keep renewing your policy. This is not something you see often – most other insurance companies will charge you a deductible for each claim.
They even provide insurance for up to 30 days in your home residency (15 days if you’re residency is in the US), but it has to be incidental. Meaning that you can’t go home to be treated for an injury you sustained abroad. But if you were to go back home and suddenly fall ill, your treatment is covered by SafetyWing.
Another thing I love about SafetyWing is that you can get insurance while you are abroad, and you can change it if you need to. Let’s say you have to urge to go to the States for a week, but your insurance doesn’t cover it. SafetyWing allows you to buy insurance for that one week in the US, and then switch back to the regular plan once you’re out of the country.
And they offer insurance for the elderly. As long as you are not older than 69, you can buy SafetyWing insurance. However, the older you are, the higher the fees are. And the fees go up to $250, for 60-69-year-old travellers that want to be insured in the States.
Although they are no longer as revolutionary as they were a decade ago, World Nomads is still a good choice for long-term travel insurance.
When they first appeared on the market, they were unique because they allowed to purchase travel insurance if you were already on the road – something that no other insurance company could offer at the time.
Nowadays, they do struggle to compete for a little. They offer two insurance plans – Standard and Explorer. The Explorer is the premium plan, with a higher coverage limits and a higher premium.
The overall insurance price depends on several factors – where you’re from, your age, where you’re travelling to and the length of your trip. Here’s the funny thing – the premiums get so high, that the difference between the two plans is almost negligible. What’s another $50, when you’re paying over $500 for a 6-month trip?
You can get a quote directly on their site, and check beforehand how much you would have to pay for the trip you have in mind.
That’s what I don’t like that much about World Nomads – they leave very little room for spontaneity. And their coverage in your home country is very limited – you can only return once during your insurance period.
Additionally, they will only insure people that are up to 64 years of age.
But they do cover one thing most other insurance companies don’t, and that is emergency dental treatment. They also cover more than 150 sports activities, which is very useful if you’re an adrenaline junkie.
This is actually one of the few companies that provides annual insurance for people up to 79 years of age, and which covers pre-existing conditions. That’s the main reason I decided to include it.
Globelink Insurance also offers single-trip insurance for people that are up to 89 years of age, which is pretty great. It’s not long-term insurance, but it’s better than what most other insurance companies will give you.
Also keep in mind that this insurance is only available for residents of the UK, EU and EEA. But if you’re a resident of one of those countries, you’ll be happy to know that Globelink also covers over 100 different sports activities and adventures.
That includes some hazardous sports like skydiving, parachuting, hunting and bungee jumping. You can see a more comprehensive list of the activities their coverage includes on their website.
They offer several different plans for single trip insurance, and they have one plan for annual multi-trip insurance. The latter gives you freedom of choice, which is not the case with World Nomads. Meaning that you can just select if you’re going to Europe, Worldwide, or Worldwide excluding the US. You don’t have to list specific countries, which is great if you don’t really have a detailed plan for your trip.
Globelink allows you to purchase insurance if you’re already travelling, and they even have separate plans for backpackers. Overall, a great choice for those who are eligible to apply for it.
IMG offers only medical insurance, unlike some of the other companies I’ve told you about. But that’s why their premiums are rather low – they are actually one of the more affordable long-term insurance options.
They have three different coverage plans for global citizens, which is why I think they are the best option for expats.
You can fine-tune your policy to just how you like it, which includes selecting how high you want the deductible to be. Oh, and the deductible is only payable once in a coverage period (12 months), just like with Safety Wing.
The only downside to IMG is that extending the policy can get a bit awkward. It’s not as expensive as it is with World Nomads, but it’s also not as convenient as it is with Safety Wing. Once you extend your insurance policy, any injuries or illnesses sustained during the previous coverage period will be treated as pre-existing conditions, and will no longer be covered by your insurance.
There’s also the issue with home coverage – if you return home for more than 14 days, your coverage will be terminated. And if your home country is the US, your coverage will be terminated the second you walk through the TSA checkpoint.
I can’t name them all. I mean I could, but this post would be longer than the Bible. So, here are some other good insurance options for long-term travellers:
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!