If you are a digital nomad, backpacking throughout South East Asia, or an expat; understand that travel health insurance — even if strictly for medical coverage — is not the same thing as having health insurance.

The number of individuals that have this misunderstanding is incredible. Not long ago, I myself was oblivious to this as well. And yet, not knowing the distinction between the two can leave you bankrupt, or in a much worse situation.

What is Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is essentially trip protection. There are a large number of travel insurance products in existence, but they generally offer the following:

  • Reimbursement for the costs incurred from a flight cancelation due to unforeseen events. E.g. a hurricane or an ebola outbreak.
  • Gear/baggage that is lost, stolen, or damaged.
  • Medical help and/or an emergency evacuation for a sudden illness or injury.
  • Repatriation to your home country, if an immediate family member is critically ill.

It is debatable whether paying for travel insurance to protect your gear is worth it or not, due to their high premiums.

But no, $20,000 of coverage is not “good enough” when it comes to travel medical insurance. Not even a million dollars of coverage is good enough in most cases.

Not because routine medical checkups, and non-emergency dental care will not be covered.

But because travel medical insurance will not pay to treat your cancer. It will not pay for reconstructive surgery. And ultimately, if a one-way flight back to your host country is cheaper than your medical treatment, you’ll find yourself on a plane as soon as your travel insurance company can get the okay from your doctor to do so.

Read the fine print. Medical insurance pays to cure you. Travel insurance pays to patch you up and send you home.

Health Insurance

If you are planning to leave your home country for less than a year, think twice before canceling your health insurance.

Health insurance is necessary to cover treatment in the unfortunate case that you are sent back home due to a serious illness or injury.

But what if you do plan leave your home country for more than a year? Or you simply do not want to be forced to leave the country you plan to live in, for the treatment of a serious illness? Well, this is where expat insurance comes in.

Expat Insurance

Expat insurance is insurance for individuals and families who reside in a foreign country, or for those who travel between two or more countries on a regular basis.

A great expat health insurance policy will not just provide emergency medical coverage, but will offer preventative medical care coverage as well, along with health insurance during the times you take short trips outside the country you claim residence in.

There are even expat policies that offer all of the trip protection benefits that you expect to find through travel insurance.

Options For You To Consider

Yes, health insurance and expat insurance can be expensive. Although the costs could be less than what you pay for medical insurance in your home country.

And if you happen to come from a country that offers free health care, or you are a US resident that may qualify for Obama Care public health care, do try to hold onto it for as long as possible.


A few resources for expat insurance:


If you absolutely can’t afford health insurance, do purchase travel medical insurance at the very least. As I’ve heard a first hand account of someone dying from an illness that could have been cured, simply because this person did not have emergency health coverage while traveling.

A minimum of $300,000 of coverage is recommended by the experts. As even a medivac alone within a “cheap” country such as Thailand or Cambodia, could cost you well beyond $50,000.

And what good is having location independence, if you don’t allow yourself peace of mind?


Travel insurance resources:

  • worldnomads.com - a full offering of travel insurance products and services.
  • ehealthinsurance.com - a listing of several travel insurance products from a fair number of companies.
  • DAN Insurance - A nonprofit organization that specializes in scuba diver safety. They offer everything from full blown travel insurance, to emergency rescue for as little as $35 for an annual membership (even for non-diving related accidents).