Everything You Need to Know About Travel Insurance
Plus our tried and tested, favorite providers.
You’ve probably heard the saying – If you can’t afford travel insurance, then you can’t afford to travel – right? At the risk of sounding like your mother, we agree!
We don’t mean to scare you, but the fact is, it only takes one pickpocket to set their sights on you, one slip of an ankle on a hike, one new variant of concern, or one irresponsible airline to lose your luggage to make your travel insurance investment completely worthwhile. Things happen — it’s just a fact of traveling!
For all those bad days on the road, you’ll have 10 more magical ones. Don’t let those bad days send you home. Protect yourself with travel insurance, so you can become whole and move on. Travel insurance doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated, but it does need to cover you from the risks and give you the reassurance & confidence you deserve. This guide will tell you what to look for in a plan, why it matters, and some of our favorite providers.
What to look for in your coverage
There are a lot of different travel insurance policies out there, and your policy needs will differ depending on the details of your trip. Sometimes, it can be worth it to pay a little more to know you’re covered, while other times you might look for the most economical option. It is really up to you, but wherever you’re headed, there are a few key features that it’s good to look for when you’re evaluating the merits of different providers and packages.
Nobody ever wants a long-awaited trip to be called off, but sometimes it has to happen. Maybe a relative gets sick at the last minute or your house floods and you need to stay to deal with it, things happen. Like many other travel companies, SoFe’s terms and conditions are pretty clear about the timing of cancellations, non-refundable deposits and refunds; so if you do need to cancel your trip at the last minute, your best bet for recouping those expenses is through the travel insurance provider. That is exactly what it’s there for!
Perhaps the most important provision of an insurance policy, your trip cancellation insurance coverage would help you to recover the money you lose by doing cancelling, including non-refundable deposits, airfares, accommodation booking fees, and so on. Check the limits of this coverage to make sure the amount you’re entitled to would actually compensate you adequately. You’ll also want to check when you can cancel and still receive a payout. Some companies offer ‘cancel at any time’ coverage, which is more flexible.
Covid-19 + Pandemic Changes
There is no way around it — Covid 19 can really throw a wrench into your travel plans. Whether it is abrupt regulatory changes, border closings or a new variant of concern, a lot of things can change quickly with regards to a destination’s pandemic status. This can wreak havoc on flights, itineraries and much more, so please make sure that you carefully read insurance provider’s Covid-19 policy stipulations.
Evacuation can refer to medical or non-medical situations, including terrorism, civil unrest, natural disasters or other emergencies that require you to get out of that place, STAT. For medical evacuation, this may mean being treated for serious illness or injury in your own country, where the medical staff speak your language and you can be with your loved ones. Yes, please. Repatriation is sometimes included which is the transportation of your body back to your home country if you die overseas. A horrible thought, but an important consideration.
Starting/extending policy while traveling
If you’re the sort of traveler who likes to make up your itinerary as you go (we see you, nomads!), this is definitely something that you should look for in your policy. If you’ve already left your home country and need to get insurance, or if you get to keep journeying for longer than you anticipated (here’s hoping), then it’ll be worth your while to make sure your insurance covers these eventualities.
This is a major factor for a lot of us. It’s the stuff travel nightmares are made of – falling ill or being injured when you’re miles from home. What makes a bad situation worse is not knowing how to get help and maxing your credit cards just getting admitted somewhere. The good news is medical expenses are covered in just about all travel insurance policies, so this is really about the limits on your coverage. However, medical treatment overseas can be ludicrously expensive. While you’ll usually have to pay yourself then wait for reimbursement, it’s important to note the limits of such reimbursement, any excess you’ll have to pay and any circumstances that are excluded. Depending on your home country and where you’re headed, there may be reciprocal healthcare relationships in place, just ask your provider.
This can be a real minefield. Definitions of what a pre-existing condition are, the duration of the existence of your condition prior to your departure, the severity of it, the treatment you’ve received and medical opinions all factor in. As a general rule, if you have a managed and relatively less serious condition like diabetes, it would be covered automatically (although you should declare it and always double-check it’s included). If you have a terminal illness, a pacemaker, a condition that requires surgery or has recently required surgery, you can expect to pay more – if you can get cover for it at all. If you’re traveling with a pretty significant pre-existing condition, there are some dedicated travel insurance providers such as All Clear Travel Insurance that are worth considering.
This is a tricky area. All companies differ in what they categorize as extreme or adventure sports or those that require specific coverage. Climbing at high altitudes, skydiving, shooting sports, some moped and motorbike riding, cliff jumping and sailing generally require extra or different coverage plans. Even things like scuba diving can have limits, according to the depth you’re diving, whether you’re with a qualified instructor, whether you have an open water license and the equipment you use. If you’re planning on running with the bulls in Pamplona or zip lining through a Canadian forest, or even snowboarding, always check that you’re covered.
Lost or stolen baggage is one of the most commonly claimed items in travel insurance policies. This is sometimes an additional, separate policy that you can purchase as an add-on to your regular package. If you’re taking valuables away with you, like expensive jewelry, musical instruments, sporting gear or electronics (as mentioned above), it’s really important to check that they are covered, don’t just assume they are. The wording on policies can be really sneaky and providers are especially careful about this, because so many people do make this sort of claim. You may only be covered if your provider deems you were acting responsibly (not leaving items unattended) and this can be a really grey area.
Some companies only cover electronics like laptops, phones, iPads and camera gear if they’re in your baggage. Even then, the coverage may only apply if the items are in checked baggage that has been lost (so the limits in baggage coverage will apply). These days, our electronics are a pretty important part of travel for many of us, especially those of us who are digital nomads. Protecting your electronics in your insurance protects your ability to work, document your travels and stay connected.
– Keep documentation for everything – police reports, receipts, emails from your airlines about delays, all of it. Record and keep everything with accurate dates and times. Take photos of paper receipts on your phone. Use an app to record phone calls, if you need to show evidence of verbal agreements or instructions. Take time-stamped photos of any valuable gear you take with you.
– Read the fine print of your policy to know exactly what’s covered and what’s not. Empowering yourself with this knowledge will save you the stress of what-ifs and wondering what to do when there is an emergency.
– When you’re deciding what level of coverage to get, don’t skimp on it. Get the highest level of coverage you can afford. There’s nothing more frustrating than paying for a policy, trying to claim, and realizing you’re not actually covered for the circumstance you’re in. Expect the unexpected, both good and bad, that’s what travel is about!
Compare, contrast, choose
There are tons of travel insurance companies in the world. Some are specific to a country’s residents, an age range, a type of traveler, or a pre-existing condition. There are too many providers for us to cover (get it?), so this list includes not only what to look for in a plan, but also the ones we use and love ourselves as travelers from all over the world.
The plan you choose depends on what is most important to you. If you don’t have a return ticket booked, for instance, World Nomads and SafetyWing will still cover you. World Nomads also has a plan for adventure sports that a lot of other companies shy away from. But, they are a little more expensive. Allianz has a great reputation for paying out on claims quickly and with minimum fuss, but the coverage they offer isn’t as comprehensive as some others.
SoFe Travel's Preferred Insurance Providers List
Many of our members, mentors, and the SoFe Travel team choose World Nomads. When you look at the reviews for World Nomads, there are some stories that are not so good. The complaints are mostly around their actual claims process, which can take a little longer than we like, but in our experience they prioritize what’s urgent. Some of our claims have come back within a couple weeks and others a couple months.
For us, World Nomads has been great. When one of our team was robbed in Mexico, she lost just about everything: her computer, camera, lenses, all her dive gear (she’s still crying about it), and cash. Everything except her pile of dirty clothes was gone. World Nomads sent her a check for the maximum their policy allowed within a week. One week, guys. That’s pretty good.
For less serious claims like a $50 doctor visit, they take a little longer. Another SoFe team member also used them when she was in Australia and just feeling tired and sluggish. She went to a naturopath and got some fancy, expensive vitamins, and World Nomads paid for it. All of it. We love that it didn’t have to be traditional western medicine to be covered.
- Pros: Flexibility for anyone, anywhere
- Cons: Can take a while for reimbursement to come
- Insider Tip: Check out their Explorer plan if you’re into adventure sports and getting off the beaten track.
SafetyWing is the answer to many of our travel insurance dreams. They were founded by Norwegian digital nomads and focuses on providing great coverage for travel nomads. There’s an interesting thread on ProductHunt where the CEO and Co-Founder, Sondre Rasch, chats to commenters about how the start-up began and grew here.
Their insurance plans clock in at around 1/3 of the price of their competitors. You choose your start and end dates and can cancel at any time, ideal for the lifestyle of digital nomads who may not know where they’ll go next or when. Some home country coverage is also included, which is unusual, and a major perk.
SafetyWing describes their products as travel medical insurance protecting nomads worldwide. They’ve partnered with Tokio Marine, one of the big guns in the insurance world, and are underwritten by Lloyds, another big name.
- Pros: Can be purchased while already traveling, low prices
- Cons: They’re a new company, so not quite as established as some of their competitors
- Insider Tip: They have a subscription model for their services, making them pretty flexible and great for frequent travelers.
Allianz is another name that comes up a lot when you search for travel insurance recommendations. They’re a robust and credible brand, backed up by one of the world’s biggest diversified insurance companies, so they know their stuff. Although they don’t have coverage that encompasses the breadth of activities that World Nomads does, they have a rep for good, reliable standard coverage. Their customer service standards get a good rap and ease of claims processing is pretty great.
They also have an option for annual coverage, which could suit you if you travel frequently. Allianz has a 24-hour hotline with multilingual staff on hand, so you can get help whenever and wherever you are. While the premiums are generally lower at Allianz, so are the limits, meaning the caps on reimbursement for things like lost luggage may not be as high as other providers.
- Pros: Good customer service and ease of claims processing
- Cons: Unlikely to cover some of the more ‘adventurous’ activities out there
- Insider Tip: Allianz gets a great score on Trust Pilot, check it out here.
Bupa is another solid all-around provider. With reasonable coverage options for pre-existing conditions, travelers who are over 60 and some adventure sports (though not all) they have a wide net, and a fairly good advocacy base across the interwebs. Like Allianz, they have an annual plan that is good for frequent travelers, provided that no trip is longer than 30 days.
Bupa widely publicizes the fact that they have a variety of medical consultants available via their customer service helpline, so you can get professional advice over the phone if you require treatment for illness or injury on your travels. We don’t know if this is a huge selling point for us, because likely they will send us to the doctor in most circumstances but maybe we are too skeptical.
- Pros: Reasonable prices, personal liability coverage option
- Cons: Not available for US and Canadian residents
- Insider Tip: they provide cover for travelers up to 69 years of age, where some other providers stop their coverage at 65 years of age.
One of the original backpacker travel insurance providers, STA Travel Insurance is an option that pitches itself squarely at the youth, student, and budget traveler markets. In some countries, STA seems to be going through a bit of an overhaul, hopefully in response to increased competition.
They have some decent basic plans, but they really are basic, and you’ll have to comb through them to check that the items you need are included in your policy. STA is underwritten by Allianz, but this doesn’t mean that the service, packages, pricing and policy details are the same. We wouldn’t put this high on our list, but it is right for some travelers.
- Pros: Good options for students studying abroad
- Cons: Payouts aren’t great. You are unlikely to be able to claim benefits if you choose a basic policy
- Insider Tip: This is kind of the insurance you would go for just to be able to tell your parents you are covered.
Policy Comparison Chart
For your ease, we have added all the policy providers into one chart to help compare the offerings. Obviously, individual policy options change regularly and often. This is a broad overview. You are likely to see different details on the insurance provider’s website. You should always check the specific details of the plan directly on the insurance provider’s website before submitting any payments. The available coverage for the items in this table may only be in plans that are beyond or additional to standard or basic options.
|Can I get coverage for:||World Nomads||Allianz||Bupa Global||SafetyWing||STA|
|Starting/extending policy while travelling||Yes||Extending only||Extending only||Yes||Extending only|
|Electronics||Depends on country of residence||Included with baggage||In some circumstances||Only if part of lost checked baggage||Yes, in premium plans with limits per item|
|Trip cancellation||Yes||Yes||Yes, additional||Unclear||Yes|
|Pre-existing conditions||Unlikely to cover||Yes, on application||Yes, on application||No||Yes, on application|
|Extreme sports||Yes||No||Many but not all||No||Some, additional|
|Medical expenses||Up to $100,000 USD||Up to $50000||Mostly unlimited, little or no excess||Some||Yes but very limited in basic plan|
|Baggage||Yes||Yes||Yes||Lost only||Yes but limited in basic plan|