Credit Cards Are No Substitute for Travel Insurance

Unless you carry one of the high-end credit cards, for which you pay $120 or so per year, you might get a shock when a hospital clerk in some foreign country asks for proof of travel insurance. Before you rely on your credit card, make sure you know what it covers and what it excludes.

Most of these cards limit their travel medical benefits to only the first 15 days of your trip, and only if you are younger than 65. And they don’t cover pre-existing conditions or symptoms that required treatment, investigation, or a change of medication within 90 days of departure (or sometimes less). They are not all the same. Their benefits and exclusions vary, and you need to know the fine print.

Other more modest credit cards don’t cover the costs of medical services any longer. They limit themselves to offering referral services or emergency assistance if you need medical care, but that simply means they will help you get it or direct you to it. They will not pay for it. Or if they do, the benefits will be very limited.

With hospital costs running into the thousands of dollars per day anywhere in the world (not just the United States), you need a minimum of $1 million of coverage, air ambulance repatriation to a hospital in your home community if necessary, and direct payment to foreign hospitals and doctors. Anything less is not acceptable.

Unless your credit card guarantees you a minimum of $1 million in coverage, and you see all of the benefits and exclusions in writing, leave your credit card for purchases or other benefits, and buy stand-alone, single- or multi-trip insurance designed exclusively for out-of-country travel. That coverage too will have limitations on pre-existing conditions, and it may require you to answer health questions, or even complete questionnaires, but at least you will have a contract that clearly shows you what you are covered for before you start your travels.

That’s a lot better than finding out after the fact that because of your health, or your age, or the length of your trip, you don’t qualify for benefits and that hospital bill of $200,000 is yours to pay.

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