It’s always a good idea to purchase travel health insurance when venturing outside the United States. Why? Because, without it, travelers may find that they only have coverage for medical emergencies, and those can be both very costly and a huge hassle. 

The reason is, even though most individual and group health plans provide emergency coverage while traveling in other countries, people normally have to pay the bill, get the receipt, translate it into English, and then file a claim when they return home. Their insurer then needs to verify the claim, which can be time-consuming, before considering reimbursing for a portion of the cost. Even with the reimbursement, members are still responsible for their cost-sharing requirements.

The importance of travel insurance has been highlighted in recent years by a number of attention-grabbing headlines. For example:

  • In 2019, People Magazine reported on an Atlanta couple that was being held “hostage” in a Mexican hospital over a $14,000 medical bill after seeking treatment while on a cruise vacation.
  • Similarly, ChronicleLive reported in 2018 about a 74-year-old grandma that had to be airlifted from a luxury cruise ship to a Mexican hospital for an emergency heart operation. While the doctors saved her life, she was stuck with a $72,000 medical bill that wasn’t covered by her health insurance plan.

While travel medical insurance may have been a need in the past, it’s actually a requirement now—at least for unvaccinated travelers, and sometimes for anyone traveling from the United States.

AARP explains that, “As the world begins to reopen to tourism, Americans are finding that some countries, including many Caribbean nations, now require arriving passengers to document that they have medical coverage” that includes coverage for COVID-19. AARP goes on to say that “If a country requires special health insurance, you must bring written proof, sometimes specifically mentioning coverage for COVID-19, which the insurer can provide. Without it, airlines may not let you board and some countries may not admit you.”

A quick reminder that AHCP does offer travel medical insurance through IMG that may help your clients meet these requirements.

There are some countries, like Costa Rica for instance, whose travel restrictions may require you to purchase coverage through a local insurer. The site details the requirements: travelers must have a policy that $50,000 of coverage for medical expenses, including COVID-19 disease, and “$2,000 for lodging expenses in case of COVID-19 quarantine.” Their site lists three Costa Rican insurers that sell policies meeting the requirement, which is helpful since many US-based insurers do not include the lodging coverage.

The website points out, though, that, as of August 1, 2021, “all tourists under 18 years of age” and “all tourists who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19…can enter the country without a travel policy.”

This is a trend we may begin to see more and more: an insurance requirement for unvaccinated travelers with no similar requirement for those who are vaccinated. For example, a recent report by WXYZ in Detroit explains that “Royal Caribbean International is requiring unvaccinated passengers on Florida cruises to get travel insurance” – enough “to cover COVID-19 related medical expenses including quarantine and evacuation.” 

Carnival has a similar requirement. Business Insurance Magazine reports that, effective July 31, 2021, “Carnival Cruise Line is requiring all unvaccinated guests to purchase a travel insurance policy worth at least $10,000 before they can come aboard.” The policy must also include “$30,000 coverage for emergency medical evacuation” with no COVID-19 exclusions.

Of course, we are currently in the middle of another surge due to the highly transmissible Delta variant, but hopefully that will be over soon. And, as the pandemic starts to ease, people will begin traveling again. You might be able to help your clients before they leave for vacation by making sure they’re aware of some of the possible restrictions, especially for those who are not fully vaccinated, and know what solutions you can offer to help meet these requirements so clients can travel with the peace of mind that comes with knowing they’re covered if something unexpected happens.