Does living on the road sound pretty dreamy to you? Well, it can be - but often people don’t realize that as a full-time traveler there are a LOT of practical things to figure out, beyond just the logistics of an amazing travel itinerary! Thankfully, due to the rising trend in the digital nomadic lifestyle, there are more and more insurance solutions becoming available that make life easier.
We always knew that long term travel and medical insurance would present us with headaches, but we didn’t realize exactly HOW treacherous the path would end up being. Most resident-based health cover (medical aid) offers limited benefits while travelling and these are usually only valid for a short period - which might necessitate you to look for top-up solutions for longer or indefinite trips. Long term travelers need to carefully determine their needs and look for product(s) that suit their individual requirements as most resident-based health cover and standard travel insurance products might not be sufficient nor provide adequate cover for the duration of your trip.
What do long term travelers and nomads need?
Most importantly you need emergency medical care, such as for unexpected injuries and hospitalization due to illness or accidents. There is also a need for assistance in case of travel emergencies, stolen or lost belongings, trip interruptions or cancellations as well as personal liability cover. In the end, it usually comes down to a combination of health and travel insurance.
What’s the difference between travel insurance and health insurance?
The first thing you should understand is that travel insurance and health insurance are two different things. Travel insurance is important to have, but as a long-term traveler or nomad, it might not be enough coverage on its own. Travel insurance generally only covers medical emergencies and things like cancellations and the loss or theft of personal items. It usually also only covers you for a predetermined amount of time. It’s therefore mostly suited for people on short term trips and holidays. For a comprehensive explanation of the difference between these two products, read the article below:
Having longer-term medical insurance is extremely important for those who are planning to live abroad, travel long term or base themselves somewhere as a digital nomad. Finding the right insurance as a nomad isn’t always easy as some of them can be overpriced for what they offer, some won’t cover you if you’re already travelling, and if you have no home base it gets even more complicated. Luckily, new options are becoming more readily available. This is why we revisit our situation and the available options annually, to make sure we get the most suitable and best value for money solution each year! As a nomad you pretty much have the following options for insurance:
Stay insured in your home country and get additional travel insurance
The easiest option for nomads is to keep a home base somewhere and where possible continue to use your personal health insurance (which often covers your healthcare abroad), and just get additional travel insurance to cover you for the travel-aspects of your trip (theft or loss of valuables, missed flights, etc). Depending on your home country you may find that most Medical Aid plans only cover you abroad for a LIMITED period. In South Africa coverage is limited to 90 days for international travel, where after you may have no further cover while abroad.
Only get travel insurance and get check-ups done in a cheap country
If you’re young and healthy and you generally won’t make much use of general check-ups or preventative care this might work out fine - but it’s the unexpected exceptions, you need to be worried about. For emergencies, you should still be covered for pretty much everything else through your travel insurance and unless you fall seriously ill or contract a chronic disease, you should be able to deal with any urgent treatment. However, if you need any regular check-ups or treatment of pre-existing conditions, you have to pay for these out of pocket. It is, of course, risky to give up your health care altogether because you never know what fate has in store for you. Returning home and finding health insurance with a pre-existing condition can prove to be more difficult than you thought. The assessment of that risk is up to you.
Get a health care plan abroad
Every country you visit will have national health care. Expats might be able to choose local health insurance, but it often means you have to be a registered resident of that country. This, therefore, might only a viable option for someone relocating to a country for a longer period of time.
Get a global healthcare plan
Long term travelers that opt for a health care plan outside of their own home country, can get a global health insurance option which allows them to move around more freely and access health care in multiple countries. Health care is an incredibly complex topic, and which company and plan are right for you, depends primarily on your country of origin, the countries you’re travelling to, and your personal situation. It’s almost impossible to make specific recommendations that fit all needs, but we would recommend looking into and requesting quotes from these companies, which are all popular health care providers for nomads and ex-pats. The prices for these plans are most likely going to be higher than travel insurance since this is actual health insurance similar to what you would have back home:
It is critical to understand your personal requirements in order to select the most suitable solution. Our article Travel and Health Insurance - What You Need To Know aims to assist you in asking the right questions and making the best decision possible.
When considering any insurance take the time to thoroughly go through the policy document. Make sure you understand the fine print and the details of the cover relevant to yourself, your country of residence and your destination. You are ultimately responsible for the decision you make in choosing the most suitable cover. Policy wording and conditions vary greatly so read them carefully and be sure to go with the company that gives you what you need – there are many good insurance companies out there.
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We do not make any recommendations for you, each and every person’s situation is different and needs to be evaluated as such. This is merely a discussion about certain aspects to take into consideration in order for you to arrive at the best solution for yourself. We are not paid to endorse any insurance over another and do not represent World Nomads or SafetyWing. However, we are an affiliate partner for both World Nomads and SafetyWing and we might receive a small fee when you get a quote or sign up for one of their products. This article is not a recommendation to buy travel insurance and we are in no way partial to your choice. You should always consider your individual needs and risk profile - what will work for you may not work for everyone and we do not endorse or recommend any specific provider or product over any other.