Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Five Things to Remember When Shopping for Travel Insurance

I know this will make some of you cringe, but I have rarely bought travel insurance when going overseas before. However, this was usually because I was covered in other ways - European health coverage, provided by my employer in Japan and so on. When we traveled to Mexico a few years ago, insurance was part of the vacation package, so once again, it was something I didn't need to spend too much time thinking about.

But the bottom line is that even if I didn't have to think about it, I was insured in one form or another.

This time though, I've had to think about it.

And it can be complicated.

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So what should you look for when buying travel insurance? And where should you look? Here are a few tips to get you started. (Please note: I have NOT been compensated in any way by the companies I mention).

There are tons of different packages available, covering from a few days to a year, one trip or multiple, baggage only to natural disaster evacuation, plane cancellation, and a zillion other things.

One great place to start is STA Travel. I've used them in the past and they are excellent to work with, plus they are all highly experienced in dealing with world travelers.

Since I like to compare prices, I ended up using InsureMyTrip. By plugging in dates, age, cost of trip, and destination, I was able to pull up a long list of possible policies and compare them, eventually narrowing them down to those that would best suit my needs.

My most important factors?

  1. Baggage coverage. If my baggage is lost or delayed, I don't want to be stuck in South Africa with no clothes or personal items. I chose a policy that provides an allowance to buy clothes and other items if my bag is delayed. I also chose coverage of up to $2500 for lost or stolen baggage. This was the maximum amount I could find. $500 or $1000 may sound plenty, but factor in a small laptop and a camera, and that's not much at all. (Be aware, though, that there is often a maximum reimbursement per item of no more than $500 - that wouldn't cover my camera but it's better than nothing). For anything particularly valuable, either purchase an individual rider, or consider if you really need it. My wedding/engagement ring is staying at home and I'll wear a simple band from Walmart.
  2. 24 Hour Assistance. I wanted reassurance that it anything happens, as long as I can get to a phone, I can get help. My policy includes a worldwide 24 hour assistance number. I just reverse the charges.
  3. Medical Coverage. This is the big one for me. I will be taking plenty of health precautions, but I'm also realistic. I will be working with wild animals in remote areas, and in an area with multiple potential health risks. If something happens, I don't want to be worrying about an enormous hospital bill.
  4. Evacuation. Continuing on from medical coverage, I wanted to be sure that my policy includes emergency evacuation and repatriation. Obviously, I hope I never have to use it, but if the worst comes to the worst, I want to be sure I can be flown home to loved ones and that I can receive the best medical care, whether that's in Africa or here in the US. On a more macabre note, my husband tells me that when I'm eaten by lions, he wants to know that my remains can be flown home. (I think he's joking!) Don't assume that your insurance policy automatically includes this. I saw a lot of medical policies that do not include evacuation, for medical emergencies or otherwise.
  5. Car Rental. This was a final addition that I may or may not need, but since I may end up renting a car for a few days, and my choice came down to two comparable policies with the same benefits and for the same cost, I chose the one that included this. 

There are plenty of other clauses and coverage types, so each person has to decide what they need for their trip. In the end, I got my policy from Allianz Global Assistance. It gives me plenty of coverage for my trip, and therefore peace of mind for me and my husband.

I've printed out my policy and will leave a copy here at home, as well as taking the emergency contact numbers with me. 

It may seem like an unnecessary expense, but after hearing just last week about a girl flown home with contracting an unknown parasitic infection during her trip to Kenya, I'd rather be safe than sorry.

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