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Published: Jun 06, 2023 14 min read

Life is unpredictable. You may have to cancel or postpone the trip you’ve been planning for years due to a health emergency or injury you sustain while abroad. In such cases, international travel insurance could provide you with some financial protection.

Travel insurance can reimburse you — up to your coverage limits — for covered events that take place after you purchase your policy. Keep reading to learn what travel insurance generally covers, how much it costs and other information you should know before purchasing a plan.

Table of contents

What is international travel insurance?

International travel insurance is a type of insurance policy that can reimburse you for certain covered losses, up to your coverage limits. It affords a measure of financial protection against medical emergencies and other costly travel disruptions that can happen before your scheduled departure date and while you're traveling abroad.

Coverage options and limits vary by insurance company. Some insurance providers also allow travelers to customize their policies with add-ons such as rental car damage, the ability to cancel a trip for reasons other than those listed as covered under your policy (known as cancel-for-any-reason travel insurance or CFAR), and coverage for high-risk sports and activities.

What international travel insurance covers

International travel insurance can cover a variety of trip-related complications. Here are three of the most common types of coverage available.

Medical emergencies and medical evacuation

Most travel insurance policies include coverage for medical emergencies. Some also cover medical transportation and evacuation in the event you need to be transported home or to a different facility to receive necessary medical treatment.

However, limitations and coverage can vary by provider, so read your plan details carefully. Travel medical insurance affords coverage for health emergencies and related expenses. It typically doesn't reimburse you for the cost of routine medical screenings and physical exams.

Trip cancellation and interruption

Another common coverage option is trip cancellation or interruption. Note, however, that while some companies offer both of these, some offer one or the other.

Trip cancellation coverage allows you to cancel your trip before your scheduled departure date for any of the reasons covered under your policy. These often include illness, job loss, jury duty, severe weather and the death of a close relative or traveling companion.

On the other hand, trip interruption coverage allows you to interrupt a trip that's already started for many of the same reasons (job loss, death in the family, illness, etc.).

Some travel insurance companies also offer CFAR coverage. This option is generally sold as an add-on, meaning it costs extra. You must also comply with other purchase requirements, which vary by company and may include buying the coverage within a certain number of days after paying your initial trip deposit and insuring 100% of your pre-paid non-refundable trip costs.

As mentioned before, CFAR coverage allows you to cancel your trip for reasons other than those allowed under your policy. So, for example, if you needed to cancel your trip a few days before your scheduled departure date due to anxiety over flying, CFAR coverage would reimburse you for a percentage (typically 50% to 75%) of your pre-paid non-refundable expenses.

Baggage loss and delay

Yet another common travel insurance option is baggage loss or delay coverage. Again, some insurers offer both baggage loss and delay while others offer one or the other.

Baggage delay coverage can reimburse you for essentials you must purchase if your bags have been deleted for a certain number of hours. The coverage may last until your bags arrive or you exceed your policy's maximum.

Similarly, baggage loss coverage can reimburse you for the cost of your items (up to your policy limits) if your bags are lost or stolen. Requirements and exclusions apply. For example, you must take reasonable steps to protect and retrieve your baggage once it's lost. And many items are excluded from coverage, including medication, passports, money and credit cards.

While airlines provide baggage liability coverage, they are only required to compensate U.S. passengers up to $1,700 for lost and delayed baggage on international trips. If you’re traveling with more value than this in your suitcase, baggage loss and delay could help you cover the overage.

What international travel insurance doesn't cover

International travel insurance provides coverage for many unexpected circumstances you may experience while abroad. But it doesn’t cover everything.

Here are some examples of what your plan may not cover:

  • Pre-existing medical conditions (unless you're eligible for a pre-existing conditions waiver)
  • Routine dental care (some plans offer emergency dental coverage, but not all do)
  • Criminal acts that result in conviction (unless you or your companion are the victim)
  • Pregnancy or childbirth, elective abortion or fertility treatments
  • High-risk activities, such as skydiving, climbing and snowboarding (although some companies may offer coverage for these)
  • Alcohol or drug use or abuse

Your travel insurance policy will provide a detailed breakdown of its coverage and exclusions. If the policy doesn't list coverage for a specific circumstance or event, it's safe to assume it's not covered. Contact your insurance provider if you have questions or want additional coverage.

It’s also important to note that documentation is very important when filing a claim for reimbursement. If you fail to provide concrete evidence of the expenses you've incurred — such as medical bills and purchase receipts — the insurance company will likely deny your claim.

How to choose an international travel insurance plan

To choose the right plan and avoid paying for coverage you don't need, consider your risks and budget.

Take into account, for example, the types of activities you plan to participate in and whether they're covered under a standard policy. If they're not, you may want to consider augmenting your coverage through an add-on, if available. This could be the case if you plan to participate in high-risk activities like skiing or snowboarding.

Similarly, you may not need all types of coverage offered by travel insurance companies. For example, you probably don't need CFAR coverage if you don't have a lot of prepaid, non-refundable trip expenses and are unlikely to cancel your trip for reasons other than those covered under your plan.

Before purchasing travel insurance, it's also smart to look into whether your credit card affords you any travel insurance benefits to avoid purchasing duplicate coverage. Some of best travel credit cards include trip interruption and cancellation, baggage loss and delay, and even rental car damage coverage.

With that in mind, consider the following steps when shopping for international travel insurance:

  1. Determine the types and level of coverage you need based on your risks and prepaid non-refundable expenses.
  2. Check whether your credit card offers travel insurance.
  3. Look for reputable travel insurance companies that offer the type and level of coverage you need.
  4. Compare plans based on price, coverage limits and exclusions.
  5. Choose the plan that best meets your needs and budget.

If you don't have time to do all the legwork, our list of the best travel insurance companies can be a good place to start your search.

Benefits of purchasing international travel insurance

Insurance is an investment that can protect you against financial loss. In the case of travel insurance, you're reducing the risk of incurring out-of-pocket expenses related to illnesses, injuries and other common mishaps that can occur while traveling.

Let's review some benefits of purchasing insurance for your international travels.

Helps cover emergency medical care costs

First, a travel insurance policy with emergency medical coverage can reimburse you for some of the costs of treatment, medical transportation, hospitalization and even medication if you suffer an accident or become unexpectedly ill during your trip.

This coverage can be especially beneficial if you are traveling for an extended period and don't know how accessible medical treatment is at your destination.

Of course, coverage limits and exclusions vary by plan, so read your policy documents carefully.

Covers trip cancellations

Another major benefit of purchasing international travel insurance is the possibility of canceling your trip and still being eligible for reimbursement of certain non-refundable prepaid expenses.

Eligible expenses may include:

  • Accommodations
  • Rental cars and transportation
  • Flights, ferries and shuttles
  • Booked excursions

Keep in mind that, to be eligible for reimbursement, your reason for canceling the trip must be covered under your policy. (That is unless you've purchased CFAR coverage.)

And your plan will reimburse you only for eligible prepaid non-refundable expenses up to your policy limits.

Can reimburse you for costs related to travel delays

Most international travel insurance plans offer coverage for unexpected trip delays and lost or delayed baggage.

For example, if your flight is canceled and you're forced to book an extra night at a hotel or your baggage is delayed and you have to repurchase basic essentials, a travel insurance policy could reimburse you for those expenses.

Just remember that not all travel insurance policies offer the same types of coverage, and all have limits and exclusions. If you’re traveling with highly valuable luggage or paying for luxury accommodations, your policy may not fully reimburse you for these expenses.

What is the best international travel insurance?

Whether you're traveling domestically or internationally, the best travel insurance policy for you will depend on your budget and risk tolerance.

If you're simply looking to protect your upfront investment in the event of an unplanned delay or trip cancellation, a standard travel insurance policy with trip cancellation or interruption coverage may suit your needs.

On the other hand, if you're more concerned with the possibility of experiencing a medical emergency abroad or already have some travel insurance coverage through your credit card provider, you may only need a standalone travel medical policy.

You may only have a need for additional or specialized coverage under specific circumstances. For example, if you're participating in high-risk sports, renting a car, or want the ability to cancel your travel plans for any reason. But even in these scenarios, your travel insurance policy will have coverage restrictions and limitations.

Regardless of which travel insurance company you choose to do business with or which plan you select, read your policy details carefully to make the most of your investment.

How much does international travel medical insurance cost?

According to the U.S. Traveler’s Association, travel insurance should cost between 4% and 8% of the total cost of your trip. For example, if you spend $10,000 on a trip, a travel insurance policy should cost you between $400 and $800.

That said, a variety of factors can influence the cost of your international travel insurance plan, including:

  • The cost and length of your trip: If you need coverage for a longer or more expensive trip, expect to pay more for travel insurance.
  • Your age: Older travelers may need to pay a higher premium.
  • Whether you purchase any add-ons: Adding CFAR coverage or rental car damage to your policy, for example, will increase your price.

Does my health insurance cover international travel?

Most health insurance plans don't cover international travel. This is true for Medicare and Medicaid and many private insurance plans.

If you're traveling abroad for an extended period, you may want to consider supplementing your existing health insurance policy with a short-term travel insurance plan that provides emergency medical coverage. However, these short-term plans usually don't cover routine care or prescription refills.

For U.S. citizens living abroad long-term, expat health insurance plans are a good option, as they're designed to cover ongoing and routine care in another country.

Summary of Money's international travel insurance

Having international travel insurance can bring you peace of mind during your next trip abroad. You can find plans that cover the costs of medical emergencies, unexpected delays and voluntary cancellations that aren’t typically covered by airlines and hotels.

When choosing an international travel insurance plan, weigh the type of coverage you need against your budget. Make sure to consider any coverage you already have through a travel credit card. These may give you enough coverage to purchase a standard travel insurance policy at a lower price.

If you're ready to search for international travel insurance, check out our list of the best travel insurance companies.