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I have an embarrassing confession: when I first started traveling about eight years ago, I did so without any travel insurance.
Fresh out of university, I was a broke backpacker who did everything possible to keep travel costs low. I’d take the cheapest flight- even if it meant a layover of over six hours. I’d book the cheapest hostel I could find- even if it meant taking a 15-minute train to the city center. And travel insurance? That wasn’t even on my mind.
Fast forward to present day and you won’t ever catch me getting on a flight without travel insurance. If there’s anything I’ve learnt since I first began traveling, it’s that you can never be too prepared when it comes to what might happen when you’re out in the world living your greatest adventures.
In hindsight, I really needed travel insurance in those initial years when I was learning the ropes of long-term travel.
After all, my first trip was to Bangladesh- where crazy autorickshaw rides and busy intersections were accidents waiting to happen. In Vietnam, I smiled from ear-to-ear while riding pillion on a motorbike on winding mountain roads, blissfully unafraid of the terrifying cliff drops disappearing into oblivion. In Sri Lanka, I set off on a hike I wasn’t fit enough to tackle- perilously hanging onto rocks to scramble into a cave on all fours.
I wasn’t paying attention to the risks- I was that naïve backpacker who believed that nothing bad could ever happen to me.
To be honest, it was sheer luck that nothing serious ever happened to me during those years. Because if it did, there was no way I could afford to seek medical help or rescue myself from the situation.
Admittedly, travel insurance is not a fun part of travel planning. It seems complicated, unnecessary, and even expensive. It might also need you to have every aspect of your trip, such as dates and destinations, planned meticulously in advance.
This isn’t always possible when you’re traveling long-term over several months, such as on a round-the-world trip or Euro-trip. This level of detailed planning is also not realistic for location-independent freelance workers like me and digital nomads who might find themselves living and working abroad for several weeks or months over the summer.
But all of that does not mean that you should skip on travel medical insurance. Today, we live in times where we have access to affordable and flexible travel medical insurance options such as SafetyWing– so there really is no excuse to skip on what is an essential part of travel planning.
Why You Need Travel Medical Insurance
Travel forces us to let go of the inhibitions and fears that hold us back in our routine lives. It encourages us to get out of our comfort zone and embrace the type of experiences that make travel truly transformative.
This is where the magic in travel happens.
On the road, we might find ourselves saying Yes more often, even in situations where we have zero experience or expertise. Want to go bungee jumping in New Zealand? Yes. Want to go skydiving in Dubai? Yes. Tea in a local’s home in Georgia? Yes. Hiking on a glacier in Iceland? Hell YES.
And you totally should do all this and more- but it’s wise to acknowledge the risk that’s inherent in these situations.
Accidents and injuries can happen anywhere- even at home, but at home you’ve got your health insurance to cover you. That does not cover you when you’re abroad.
It’s important to understand that things can go south at anytime, and given that the costs of emergency medical services and medical attention vary widely around the world, it’s a must to have travel medical insurance that you can count on.
You can also never know if you’re going to fall sick on the road. Whether it’s a throat infection or an emergency root canal, unfortunately it’s almost always perplexing to fall ill in a foreign country. With reliable travel medical insurance, you don’t need to wait till you get home or somewhere cheap to get treatment.
Then there’s the question of natural disaster, trip delays, trip cancellations, and lost luggage. These situations can be unsettling to even the most seasoned traveler.
Imagine a flight cancellation that leaves you stranded at an airport for over 12 hours. Would you rather spend the night on an airport floor or a comfortable hotel room knowing that it’s covered by your travel insurance?
Having travel insurance that can cover you in such situations arms you with a certain confidence and peace of mind on your travels.
The fact is that travel medical insurance is worth EVERY penny. The little amount of money you save on skipping insurance might actually cost you a huge medical bill abroad that you simply cannot afford to pay.
Any good travel insurance should offer coverage for the following:
- Emergency medical services (from an accident or fall or food poisoning, infection, or allergic reaction for example)
- Emergency medical evacuation
- Search and rescue (in case of outdoor and adventure travel)
- Medical services including dental and physiotherapy
- Trip cancellations, interruptions and delays
- Lost luggage
- Lost, stolen, or damaged belongings
- Natural disasters
Features of SafetyWing Travel Medical Insurance
I was recently introduced to SafetyWing Travel Medical Insurance and it’s certainly the most flexible option I’ve encountered, especially for long-term travelers, backpackers, and digital nomads who are on the road for months or years at a time- often not knowing exactly how long they’re going to stay in a country.
How Much Coverage Does SafetyWing Offer?
SafetyWing Travel Medical Insurance offers $250,000 of coverage with a low overall deductible of $250 per year.
SafetyWing offers coverage for the following. You can see the full details of what’s covered by SafetyWing Travel Medical Insurance.
- Hospital costs including doctor’s fees, prescription medicines, room, and nursing services
- Ambulance charges
- Intensive care
- Emergency medical care
- Emergency Dental Care
- Physical therapy and chiropractic care (upto $50 a day)
- All other eligible medical expenses
- Non-professional sports and activities
- Trip interruption
- Travel delays
- Lost luggage (except electronics- so no phones, laptops or cameras)
- Lost or stolen passport
- Natural disaster (in which case you can get a new place to stay for upto 5 days)
- Political evacuation
- Emergency medical evacuation
- Personal liability
- Accidental death and dismemberment
- Repatriation of Remains
- Local cremation or burial
- Crisis response
A Travel Medical Insurance That’s Flexible
In 2016, what was supposed to be three weeks in Italy and a week in Sweden turned to three months in Europe, traveling also to Iceland, Slovenia, Austria, and Serbia, thanks to assignments that came my way while I was already there. Luckily, I’d been granted a year-long visa and was allowed to stay for a maximum of 90 days in a 180-day period. At the time, having a flexible travel medical insurance like SafetyWing would have been ideal.
SafetyWing offers quite a few flexibility features that make it an attractive option.
For one, you can buy a SafetyWing Travel Medical insurance while you’re already on your trip, out of your home country. Unlike other travel insurance products, you do not need to do this before your trip.
While buying your travel medical insurance, you can either choose just a start date- with a monthly subscription that auto-renews every 28 days (that is perfect for digital nomads or long-term travelers), or choose both a start and end date if you already know the duration of your trip.
There is no limit to the duration of travel and you can choose to be insured indefinitely (until age 69).
You can purchase insurance for any period- from a few days (where the cost gets pro-rated to a value for less than a month) to a continuing yearly subscription that goes on for a maximum of 364 days or until you cancel, whichever comes first. After 364 days, if you plan on continuing your travels, you’ll need to purchase a new subscription- but there is no limit to the number of years you do this.
Pay for What You Need With an Affordable Travel Medical Insurance
When it comes to long-term travel, SafetyWing is the most affordable international travel medical insurance that I’ve come across. At just $37 (for ages 18-39, other options available for other age groups) for 4 weeks’ worldwide coverage, it’s a great option if affordability is of importance. But note that if you’re traveling to the US, that is an additional $31 per 4 weeks.
Even for short or long trips where the duration of the trip is fixed, SafetyWing offers cheaper travel medical insurance compared to other providers that I’ve used in the past. Sure, the inclusions might be slightly different, but SafetyWing covers all the areas that are essential to me- and I’d rather pay for what I think is important than pay extra for coverage in areas that I am not likely to ever use.
It also works out cheaper to use SafetyWing (at just $37 for 4 weeks) if you take several short trips within a few days of each other in a month, returning home each time.
With SafetyWing, it’s significantly cheaper than buying a separate travel insurance for each trip- because with traditional insurance providers, you would need to do that as the first insurance would be finished when you return home from the first trip.
Worldwide Coverage for Travelers
SafetyWing is an international travel medical insurance open to all nationalities and offers worldwide coverage (except in Cuba, Iran and North Korea and for these nationalities). It can be purchased in 180 countries.
Limited Home Country Coverage is Ideal for Long-Term Travelers
SafetyWing has been designed for the unique needs of long-time travelers or digital nomads who might spend just a few days or weeks at home each year.
During this time, when they would otherwise probably be left without any insurance- assuming they don’t have health insurance in their home countries, SafetyWing is one of the rare providers that offers limited coverage. For every 90 days of a SafetyWing subscription, you get 30 days’ medical coverage in your home country (15 days if your home country is the US).
But bear in mind that you can’t start using the subscription in your home country- it’s not a replacement or substitute for regular health insurance. It’s meant to be used if you fall sick or something happens while you’re visiting your home country at some point during your long-term travels or digital nomad life.
Also note, that the home visit has to be incidental; that means it should not be only for the purpose of getting treated for a condition that occurred during your travels- remember it’s not health insurance.
Convenient Subscription Model
There are tons of things that you have to think about and pay attention to when you’re traveling long-term or living abroad as a digital nomad.
SafetyWing offers a convenient subscription model where you choose a start date for your travel medical insurance and the subscription auto-renews every 28 days for a maximum of 364 days, until you log in and choose to stop the subscription (which you can do easily at any time). After 364 days, if you plan on continuing your travels, you’ll need to purchase a new subscription- but there is no limit to the number of years you do this.
This means there’s one less (but very important) thing that you can just set and forget, till the end of your trip.
SafetyWing is Reliable
I know the hesitation of using an insurance product that you haven’t heard of before. Often, we think that a product whose name we’re familiar with means that it’s better or more reliable. But sometimes we end up paying more money precisely for that reason or for additional features that we don’t really need.
While SafetyWing is a relatively new product, you should know that it’s a Y-Combinator company and the policy is administered by Tokio Marine, one of the largest insurance companies in the world. Support is available 24/7 and claims are handled by Tokio Marine directly.
Finer Points & Exclusions to Note
- There is an age limit of 69 years to be able to buy a subscription. If you’re over that age, you can’t buy a SafetyWing subscription.
- At present, they do not offer coverage for expensive electronics and valuables- so if you travel with expensive equipment and gear that you need coverage for, that’s something to think about. However, they are working on offering coverage for this- so look out for it in the near future.
- Organized sports that are performed in a professional capacity are excluded.
- While adventure activities such as canoeing, hiking, horse riding, and canyoning are included, other extreme adventure sports such as cave diving, parasailing, quad biking and whitewater rafting are excluded. If you plan on adventure activities during your trip, it’s worth it to check the full list.
- Pre-existing conditions, routine check-ups, and cancer treatment are excluded from medical expenses coverage.
- In case your card is charged (usually 3 days before the date of extension for the coming month) and you realize that you don’t want to renew the monthly subscription, you can get in touch with SafetyWing support immediately and they’ll refund the money to you and cancel your subscription (before the extension date).
Who It’s For
SafetyWing Travel Medical Insurance was designed to fulfill the needs of digital nomads and location-independent workers who travel and work from abroad, and sometimes might return to their home countries for a short duration. As such, national insurance products and traditional travel insurance might not suit their peculiar location situation and turn out to be ridiculously expensive as well (hello, Freelance life!).
That said, SafetyWing travel medical insurance works for long-term travelers, frequent travelers who take several trips in a month or year, and for all kinds of trips, depending on what coverage you need. For someone like me, SafetyWing covers the essentials for regular trips.
For other options, check World Nomads Travel Insurance that is also quite popular with well-traveled folks. It’s important to study your options before you decide which travel insurance is right for you.
If you’ve been on the fence about getting travel insurance before your trips, I hope this post helps you make an informed decision.
Know Before You Go
Looking to book your next trip? Check out the following services I use:
- Skyscanner to find a cheap flight.
- iVisa for online visa.
- HotelsCombined to find affordable hotels.
- RentalCars to pick up a car rental.
- Taxi2Airport for airport pick-ups and drop-offs.
- World Nomads or SafetyWing to insure your trip.
- If you’re a digital nomad or long-term traveler simply looking for a more affordable option that offers greater flexibility, consider SafetyWing Travel Medical Insurance, a product designed by travel-loving digital nomads for digital nomads.
- GetYourGuide for affordable day tours and city sightseeing.
- G Adventures or Intrepid Travel for a multi-day guided tour.
If you’ve ever used travel insurance while abroad, I’d love to hear more about it in the comments.