Press enter to see results or esc to cancel.

Travel Insurance Vs. Health Insurance: What’s the Difference?

travel insurance

It’s important to be insured while away from your home country. (See our article on travel insurance for more on this). But, travel insurance and health insurance aren’t the same thing – in fact, they’re very different. Which one should you buy before starting your journey? Read on to find out more.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance – which is not the same as health insurance you use abroad – offers financial protection from the potential pitfalls of traveling: lost luggage, travel delays, and valuable items stolen while on holiday. If your non-refundable flight is cancelled, a travel insurance plan will put that money back in your pocket; if your baggage is delayed, buy clothes and toiletries on travel insurance’s dime; and if your camera is damaged due to rough handling at the airport, travel insurance can help you buy a new one.

Individual health insurance banner

Although travel insurance and health insurance aren’t the same, travel insurance does offer a number of medical coverage benefits. An international travel insurance plan from global insurance experts Bupa, for instance, offers beneficiaries non-medical coverage (for baggage loss or theft, missed flight connection and replacement of travel documents) as well as health care benefits including hospital treatment for illness or injury, prescription medication, specialist outpatient treatment and more.

Other travel insurance plans may be more basic, and appeal to travelers who are going abroad for a short time who don’t expect to encounter any serious accidents. A basic travel insurance plan from Allianz offers luggage and trip cancellation protection, and emergency medical coverage up to $10,000 – making it a good choice for families headed to the French Riviera for a week, but perhaps not comprehensive enough for a gap-year adventurer headed to Southeast Asia to try her hand at kayaking, skydiving and rock climbing.

Health Insurance for Expats and Frequent Travelers

First-time buyers must keep in mind that travel insurance is always sold as a one-time policy, offering coverage for a set period of time. Rather than paying a monthly premium, the travel insurance customer will traditionally pay a one-time purchase price and receive coverage for the duration of their trip, usually a few months to one year.

Health insurance for expats and frequent travelers, on the other hand, is different. A coverage policy for this group is more like a normal insurance policy, charging monthly premiums and varying deductibles for medical services, at home and abroad. Extra travel coverage, such as protection against theft of personal documents, is not traditionally included in a health insurance plan for expats.

GeoBlue, a Blue Cross Blue Shield associate, offers an Expat Worldwide Coverage Plan with preventative and general health services; inpatient and outpatient care; and access to a network of English-speaking doctors around the world. As a plan specifically designed for expats, GeoBlue Worldwide policies also offer emergency repatriation, co-insurance for spouses and family members, and the ability to extend or change benefits based on changes in employment and living situation. Most importantly, this expat-specific plan applies to hospitals and health care professionals in many parts of the globe, making it easy for those who live internationally or travel often for business to receive medical services, hassle free, wherever they happen to be.

Unlike travel insurance, health insurance for expats covers routine care and care for pre-existing conditions – health care necessary to our everyday lives rather than necessary to our current travel plans. Bupa’s Worldwide Medical Plus plan provide coverage for maternity services, speech therapy and a visit to the psychologist – none of which are traditionally covered with a standard travel insurance plan. Like the GeoBlue expat plan, Bupa’s Worldwide Medical Plus policy offers its coverage around the globe, making it a good option for those living abroad or taking regular trips to foreign countries.

Travel insurance plans don’t normally provide coverage for pre-existing conditions: you can’t rely on travel insurance to pay for your heart medication, insulin or kidney dialysis, even if you need these things while abroad. Travelers and expats with pre-existing conditions must have an internationally-recognized insurance policy in order to receive care for these conditions when away from their home country, and an expat-friendly plan such as those from Bupa and GeoBlue is a good choice for anyone living an expat lifestyle.

Which Coverage Should I Buy?

If you primarily reside in your country of birth and occasionally take trips abroad, stick with temporary travel insurance: it will provide all the coverage you need to access emergency health care services during your vacation, with added bonus such as protection against theft and the ability to recoup costs in the case of travel cancellations.

On the other hand, if you live abroad as an expat or travel so frequently that you need constant, running travel insurance, an expat-specific health insurance plan is your best option: giving you general as well as emergency coverage abroad, and offering administrative support for health care needs outside your home country. Many expats are given a health care plan as part of their employment package, but beware: not all of these plans cover medical expenses outside the country of expatriation. If you travel often or would like protection when returning home to visit friends and family, it’s important to have an individual health insurance plan with worldwide coverage.

Still unsure as to whether you need travel insurance? Contact us to find out more!

Health insurance quote banner