International health insurance is not exactly a topic people get easily excited about. However, it is absolutely essential for every long-term traveler or digital nomad. There are countless different insurance companies out there with even more different policies. So where should you start? Will normal travel insurance be enough? And how do you find the right option for you and your situation?
Your confusion is totally understandable. But don’t worry. The following post will help you understand and learn everything you need to know about international health insurance for digital nomads.
Do Digital Nomads Need International Health Insurance At All?
It always astonishes me how many people travel around the world without any kind of insurance coverage. Their usual arguments are:
- Insurances are too expensive.
- I’m going to be careful and don’t do anything dangerous.
- I’ve never had an accident in my entire life, so why should something happen now?
While I do understand the first point, international health insurance can indeed be expensive, the other two arguments are almost ridiculous.
“I’m going to be careful!”
Even if you are going to be careful and won’t take any risks, something bad could still happen to you. You could simply walk down the stairs, stumble and break your ankle. Sounds silly, but happens so easily.
Or you could cut veggies in your kitchen and cut your finger so unfortunate, that you need surgery because you happen to cut through a nerve (happened to a friend of mine).
Or you are on your way to the airport and your taxi happened to end up in a car crash.
You can be as careful as you want, it doesn’t even need to be your fault, but little accidents happen all the time and anywhere in the world.
“I have always been fine!”
Don’t assume that only because you have been safe your entire life, means you are going to be ok forever. Seriously? That’s like saying “I’ve never had a car accident in my 30 years of life, so I can do whatever I want because there is no reason I will ever have one.” It’s clear to see that there’s a bit of logic missing behind this argument.
That’s why they are called emergencies and accidents. You can’t predict them. Have you ever met a person who knew that he was going to have a heart attack a week before it happened? Have you ever heard someone saying that he will have a terrible car accident this afternoon?
These things can happen to anyone at any time and any place. So, in my opinion, decent international health insurance is absolutely necessary.
What Type of International Health Insurance Do I Need?
For many people, this is the most confusing part. As a long-term traveler or digital nomad you have three main options of insurance:
- Travel Insurance
- International Health Insurance
- Local Insurance
1. Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is a great option for everyone who is still a resident in their home country, and only wants to go on trips every once in a while.
They usually cover you for trips up to three or six months. After that you have to return home, otherwise, you won’t be covered anymore.
You also need to have a residency somewhere. In case you want to do a short break from your travel and go home for a few days or weeks, this insurance won’t cover you during your home visit.
Furthermore, travel insurance is mostly emergency insurance. In case you have to go to the hospital after an accident or need medical treatment for sudden stomach flu, they will pay for it.
They don’t pay for things like check-ups or chronic or ongoing diseases, e.g. when you are diagnosed with cancer during your trip.
If you want to give the digital nomad life a test run and want to return home after a few months or if you “only” want to go on vacation, travel insurance is the best choice for you.
2. International Health Insurance
International health insurance usually doesn’t require you to have a residency in any country. You can even sign up for it once you are on the way.
If you decide to go back to your old home (which would be the country of your citizenship) for a while to visit your family and friends, it often covers you for a few weeks.
With this type of insurance, you are not only protected in case of emergencies and accidents, but it also reimburses you for certain check-ups and in case of ongoing diseases, like cancer.
This is the perfect insurance for “true” digital nomads, people who move places frequently and don’t have a home base.
3. Local Health Insurance
If you know that you are going to stay in a particular country for a while, it might be worth checking out local insurance companies. They offer plans for international visitors, too, and often have better conditions than the other two options. It covers your emergencies and regular health costs.
In case you are an expat, slow-traveler, or digital nomad, who is slowly moving from one place to another, this could be the perfect choice for you.
It usually makes sense to look into this if you are planning to stay for more than three or four months. Otherwise, the paperwork and costs are more trouble than what it is worth.
What Should My Insurance Cover?
As just mentioned, the different types of insurance cover different aspects of your life. In general, you could probably categorize it as followed:
- Check-up and routine treatment, e.g. You go and see a gynecologist every six months.
- Emergency, e.g. You have an allergic reaction to certain food and need to consult a doctor.
- Accident, e.g. You get hit by a motorbike in a busy Asian city.
- Search, Rescue & Transport, e.g. You fall during a hike in the Swiss Alps, break your leg, and need a helicopter to fly you down.
Of course, it is up to you what you want to be covered. But even if you are fairly wealthy and have enough savings, I’d still advise you to go for at least an accident and search, rescue & transport coverage.
You can probably pay for check-ups and routine treatments yourself. In many countries, these might be even cheaper than in your home country.
With emergencies, it strongly depends on what type of emergency. You might be able to pay for them, too. But if the worst comes to the worst, this can end up very expensive. So consider getting this covered, as well.
What Is Not Covered?
Be aware that hardly any international health insurance will cover preexisting conditions, such as diabetes or physiotherapy for something that happened while you were still at home unless your condition has been stable for at least 6 months. In this case, you will very likely have to do some medical tests and need certificates, etc.
Accidents that happen under the influence of alcohol or drugs are also not covered.
The same goes for intentional accidents or illegal acts. That also includes driving a motorbike without a license (I guess most of us have done that before in Asia).
Extreme adventures and sports, e.g. paragliding, zip-lining, or bungee jumping are not covered either unless you pay extra for this cover.
What Else Should I Know?
Since medical services in North America are very expensive, many insurance companies won’t cover them in their basic plan. You have to pay extra if you want to visit the USA and Canada.
To the surprise of many, countries like Thailand and Malaysia have first-class medical services for very little money. I have heard of quite a few people who flew from Europe to Bangkok to get their teeth fixed. Even with the flights and everything the dental treatment was still way cheaper than in the UK or Germany.
Don’t always trust the sales representatives of an insurance company. I’m not saying that they lie to you on purpose, but there have been many incidents where they gave out the wrong information. Make sure you read the policy as closely as you can before you sign up.
If you have expenses that qualify for reimbursements, make sure to collect and save every single invoice, bill, prescription, or proof of payment. If possible, get the doctor or whoever put your name and date of birth on it.
Some insurance companies are known to be very tight-fisted and try their best to avoid payments.
My Personal Must-Have Coverage
I know it sounds scary, but I always make sure that my international health insurance covers the return transport of my body in case something happens.
A few years ago a distant relative of mine went to Russia with his wife, just for a few weeks’ holidays. Halfway through he started feeling ill. Two hours later he passed out and died on the way to the hospital.
Turned out that he had a spontaneous cerebral hemorrhage that caused his death. He was in his early 40s, absolutely healthy. There was no indication that something like this would ever happen to him.
You can only imagine how his wife and kids must have felt. Later she said that she was so glad that their insurance company jumped in. They paid for the emergency treatment and the transport of the dead body back home. They even paid for her flight back home and organized the entire procedure and paperwork.
It is hard enough for your family to find out something that happened to you. Just imagine dealing with authorities in a country you don’t speak the language and somehow figure out how to get the body of your child back home. What an absolute nightmare! And I’m sure the costs of transport will be humongous.
I personally wouldn’t want my parents to go through this.
Of course, I try my best to stay safe. But I’m very sure my relative didn’t expect the hemorrhage either. People who had a deadly accident didn’t know that this was going to happen. You never know when it will end (sounding very melodramatic here).
But in case it does, I want to make sure that my family has as little trouble with it as possible. Anything else would be very selfish.
What Company Should I Choose?
Now it’s going to be interesting. There are so many insurance companies out there, it’s hard to decide on the right one. As mentioned before it strongly depends on what kind of international health insurance you need. Here are some of the most popular providers out there:
Believe it or not, there is finally a travel medical insurance tailored to the needs of digital nomads! SafetyWing is the perfect solution for online freelancers and entrepreneurs who like to travel around the world while working. These guys are digital nomads themselves so they definitely know what they are doing.
Your coverage includes medical problems and accidents, as well as emergency medical evacuation. On top of that, you are covered for travel delays, lost checked luggage, natural disasters, and even personal liability.
To get in touch with like-minded nomads, they organize different events and meetups worldwide.
Sounds fantastic? It gets even better: SafetyWing offers the cheapest insurance option for digital nomads on the market. Starting at 37 USD per month it is only 1/3 of what many other companies charge.
World Nomads is probably the most famous travel insurance for long-term travelers and adventurers out there. You can buy a policy when you are already out of your home country, which many insurance companies won’t allow.
What I like best about them is the fact that you can even get your gear covered. This is great for people who carry an expensive laptop, smartphone, or camera equipment with them.
If you want to learn more about World Nomads and what type of digital nomad can profit from their services, check out the linked post.
Cigna is one of the biggest international health insurance providers. They have three levels of cover, which include things like inpatient care, day case surgery, and even cancer treatment. You can get maternity care, vision, and dental if you pay extra.
They also cover a visit to your country of origin, which usually means the country of citizenship, for up to 90 days.
Bupa is another popular option when it comes to international health insurance. Their plans include the usual emergency services, cancer treatment, dental, maternity, and even health checks. It surprises me that they are still fairly reasonably priced for what they offer.
Prices can be as cheap as 300 USD a year (depending on factors like age, citizenship, or what you want to be included).
Allianz Worldwide Care
Allianz is another big player. They have international health insurance plans for digital nomads and also travel insurance for the average tourist. In addition to all of the services mentioned before, they can also cover chronic and pre-existing conditions. However, this all has its price.
Allianz is known to be very expensive and my comparison of different insurance companies confirms that. You get a lot, but you also have to pay a lot. It can easily cost you 1300 USD or more a year (depending on various factors again).
Integra is especially famous amongst expats because they offer group plans for employees on overseas assignments. Apart from that, they offer all the basics of international health insurance plans and even pay for vaccinations, preventive exams, and wellness treatments.
International Medical Group
International Medical Group, short IMG, offers various travel medical insurance plans. It is very popular with slow-travelers, who prefer to live in one country for an extended period of time because they have the option of signing up based on your geographical area.
Could I simply Use My Credit Card Insurance?
Short answer: No, you shouldn’t.
Many banks promote their credit cards with the fact that they offer travel insurance, too. And it’s even for free! Please be aware that this is probably not the type of international health insurance you are looking for.
First of all, your trip is, most of the time, limited to 90 days. After that, you have to return home for at least one day and can then start a new 90-day-trip.
Another downside is that credit card insurances are often bound to the health insurance you already have, so your normal insurance. They will only pay the difference to that.
And the biggest disadvantage: Most don’t cover business trips or in general any type of trip that is related to work. So unusable for digital nomads.
International Health Insurance for Digital Nomads is Crucial
As you can see, you definitely need to have any type of coverage during your travels, just as you would have at home.
If you are only traveling for a few weeks or months and return home after that, you are good with travel insurance.
In case you are a long-term traveler or digital nomad with no residency and coverage in your home country anymore, you should go for international health insurance.
If you plan to stay in the same country for a few months, it might be worth looking into local insurances, as they can have good options for international visitors.
Whatever plan you get, make sure that it covers at least accidents and search, rescue & transport. It’s wise to get emergencies covered, too. If you want to you can even get a policy that pays for routines and check-ups.
Always make sure that you read the policy in detail, including all the fine prints. Learn what is covered and what is not, e.g. extreme sports, driving with no license, or alcohol-related incidents.
For tips and tricks on how to stay safe while traveling, check out the linked post!
I hope this guide helped you to get a better picture of international health insurance for digital nomads and long-term travelers.
Do you have any experience with insurance companies you want to share? Tell us in the comment section below!