Take travel anxiety out of your trip: How to be prepared for medical emergencies overseas

No one expects to have to deal with a medical emergency while traveling, but being prepared for the possibility is important. You never know when you may have an allergic reaction to some new food, or have an accident while driving or trekking. Dealing with a foreign hospital visit is already stressful enough. Knowing how you will pay for your care shouldn’t add more to your frustrations

Travel insurance

If you are a frequent traveler or just plan to be abroad for an extended period of time, travel insurance is a good investment. Travel insurance policies, when they are at their best, will cover a whole host of needs such as medical repatriation, travel accidents, lost baggage, trip cancellation, death overseas, stolen credit cards or passports, natural disasters and even overseas dental. A good travel insurance plan will also offer immediate payment of your claim, which is incredibly important when you’re traveling and funds may be tight. 

There are quite a few travel insurance plans out there, so it’s important to read carefully to make sure you are getting the best coverage for your trip. Some plans that advertise as insurance are actually selling travel protection. Travel protection usually has much more limited coverage and may not be of help during a medical emergency.
Forbes writer Christopher Elliot has created a solid list of recommended travel insurance companies and what you can expect for coverage. These companies are known to have diverse policy offerings and speedy resolutions to claims. You can easily apply for coverage on their websites before or during your trip. Plans are customizable and, depending on the length of your travel and the amount of coverage you want, can be as low as $59.

Credit cards

Credit cards are pretty helpful to have around to take care of unexpected expenses. Not to mention, some credit cards, like the Chase Freedom and the Bank of America Premium Rewards, offer travel insurance benefits. In order to take advantage of travel benefits on a credit card, you have to pay for all or part of your travel with that card up to a certain amount. For some policies you may also have to go online to activate your coverage. Credit card travel insurance benefits might include one or more of the following:

Trip cancellation/interruption: If you are in the hospital there is a good chance you may miss your next flight. This benefit reimburses you for any non-refundable flights or change fees that you may incur.

Rental car insurance: If part of your emergency requires roadside assistance, towing services, or collision coverage, you will find that support here.

Travel accident insurance: This covers accidental death or dismemberment while you are abroad. If you are doing any kind of adventure sports or long treks, this is an important policy to have.

Lost or stolen luggage/travel documents: Your emergency may stem from an accident in transit or a robbery of some sort. This will offer reimbursement up to a certain amount for lost or stolen personal items.

Other things that may be covered by your credit card’s travel insurance benefits are emergency evacuation and repatriation fees. If you are going to use your credit card’s travel insurance benefits as coverage during your trip, make sure you read the policy thoroughly to see what your card issuer actually offers. Double check to see if your family will be covered and if there are any age restrictions for coverage. Also have a clear idea of how much coverage you are offered and how much you will have to pay out of pocket. This information may be in the fine print. If you have difficulty finding it, you can always call your card issuer and ask.


In the event that you don’t have insurance or a credit card, this may be the only option available to you. Make sure you have an emergency savings account stashed with a fair amount as a safety net, as ambulance services and hospital stays are not cheap. Not to mention, you may have to travel to a larger city to get treatment, meaning you may have to pay for transport and a hotel stay. You’ll also be looking at possibly purchasing new flights out of pocket unless you can negotiate with the airline for some kind of assistance. 

Some countries offer free healthcare for their citizens, so you may end up avoiding a bill. However, often in emergency circumstances foreigners are sent to private hospitals that are not covered by a country’s universal healthcare system. There is also the possibility of getting help from the Red Cross, but there is no guarantee that that will be your nearest option or that they will be able to handle your emergency. 

In a nutshell

Traveling without coverage is a gamble that is not worth taking. While you will more than likely not have any medical issues while you are abroad, it’s simply not safe to risk it. No one plans to have an accident, but you can be prepared for one by having some kind of travel insurance coverage or access to travel insurance benefits.

Raychelle Heath

Personal finance writer

Raychelle has covered such topics as the best credit cards to use abroad and how to maximize credit card rewards. She’s originally from South Carolina, but now has adopted the life of a digital nomad. When she isn’t writing, she can be found teaching yoga or participating in arts outreach initiatives.