What is high-risk travel insurance? Do you need it? Read on for the basics.
Note: This is an update of an article originally posted 5 June 2017.
What’s high-risk travel insurance?
High-risk travel insurance provides emergency medical cover in destinations that governments consider unsafe or unstable enough to issue advisories against going there.
What’s a high-risk destination?
In normal times, governments issue travel warnings by region and/or country. Research your destination carefully. Cairo? Fine. Rafah, on the border of the Gaza Strip? Just about every country designates the area a Do Not Travel zone.
When travelling in remote locations, it’s important to understand where governments (wisely) think the hotspots are, for most people. Some countries are completely off-limits: Syria, Libya, North Korea. Others travel warnings go by region: Pakistan, Colombia.
Governments are conservative about travel warnings for a reason. They want every taxpayer to come home safe and sound. That’s why they err on the side of caution.
Seasoned travellers assess their destinations, and go forth, understanding the risks.
TIP: With regular travel insurance, coverage for a broken foot may be denied if even one toe is across a boundary. No-travel zones can change daily. When visiting countries with go and no-go zones, consider your itinerary and plan accordingly. Going to a place where things could change? Get high-risk travel insurance. Staying at the walled, all-inclusive resort? Why are you reading this?
Who needs it?
Anyone travelling to a high-risk area who doesn’t want to pay out of pocket for emergency medical care or evacuation. In other words, anyone going to a destination under government advisory, or one that could fall into that category during the trip.
This includes journalists, athletes, humanitarian aid workers, off-the-beaten-path travellers and more.
Why doesn’t insurance cover everything, everywhere?
Medical care in risky areas can be difficult to source, and requires specialist service providers. This is why cheap Plain Jane travel insurance doesn’t cover emergencies in conflict zones, crisis areas (including areas affected by natural disasters) or any places under government warnings.
TIP: when shopping for high-risk insurance policies, look into their service providers. If the service provider doesn’t have a team covering your region, keep looking.
What does high-risk insurance cover?
Generally, high-risk insurance delivers what it says on the tin: cover for emergency medical expenses in high-risk destinations, including emergency medical treatment, hospital stays, medical evacuation and repatriation of mortal remains. Some policies may include trip cancellation and passport assistance, but when looking for a policy, go with the one that offers the best options for what’s important: you, not your stuff.
What doesn’t it cover?
This type of insurance covers high-risk destinations, not high-risk activities. For example, a skier headed to Afghanistan needs high-risk insurance for the destination, as well as a winter sport package for hitting the slopes. High-risk travel insurance covers essential medial expenses for possible accidents under normal circumstances (no skydiving!) in places under government advisories.
It doesn’t cover medical expenses for next-level sport: a twisted ankle from jogging on the treadmill, ok; running an ultra marathon in the Sahel? NOPE.
Adventure athletes, take heed: if the country is in a high-risk category, chances are the medical infrastructure is less than robust. If you plan to jump out of a plane, windsurf, cave, or participate in any other adventure/extreme sports, you’ll need to add adventure coverage.
Cover for COVID-19 medical expenses differs with every provider.
Crisis Response services
High-risk insurance covers medical emergencies. Crisis response services provide assistance for situational predicaments.
Crisis Response services are another add-on for travel in tricky places. Got a situation in Syria? You might need translation services. Kidnapped? Crisis assistants assemble a team and negotiate on your behalf. If you’re wrongfully detained, a crisis team can find you a lawyer. Crisis response services do not cover medical expenses.
Example: You’re hiking in a government Do Not Travel area in remote Egypt (you have high-risk insurance) decide to do some sand-boarding (extreme sports insurance) but go off-piste and stray into an unfriendly territory, where people don’t exactly love your look. When your people back home haven’t heard from you in a designated amount of time, the crisis team kicks in, trying to locate you, and get you home.
Disclaimer: Please don’t wander off when travelling in high-risk areas!
Buy with a credit card for the basics
Check your credit card; some policies are free if you book the trip with your card. As with anything free, (or insurance-related in general) read the fine print.
Shop around. Ask questions. Be wary of any insurance provider that doesn’t get back to you quickly. If they can’t respond to a question during business hours, how will these people handle your situation in an emergency, in the middle of the night, halfway around the world?
Sick of shopping? battleface offers everything you need here.