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Illness or injury can ruin a vacation. And it’s even worse if you’re far from home. If you require airlift transportation for immediate medical care during your trip, a comprehensive travel insurance plan with emergency medical evacuation benefits can help cover the cost.
Here’s how medical evacuation travel insurance works and why it can be an essential part of a solid travel insurance plan.What Is Emergency Medical Evacuation Insurance?
Emergency medical evacuation insurance is generally included in a comprehensive travel insurance plan. It’s sometimes called medical evacuation and repatriation insurance. The maximum coverage amount will vary by plan, so be sure to shop around for a high coverage amount if this is important to you.
The best travel insurance plans provide up to $1 million per person for medical evacuation. That might seem high, but evacuation costs can add up quickly.
“The cost of emergency medical transportation can run into the tens of thousands of dollars or more, especially if you’re in a remote destination,” says Daniel Durazo, a spokesperson with Allianz Global Assistance.
Exactly what you’d pay for emergency evacuation would depend on your medical condition, the care required and your location. Durazo says emergency medical transportation to the U.S. from the following countries can cost the following:Caribbean and Mexico: $15,000 to $25,000South America: $40,000 to $75,000Parts of Europe: $65,000 to $90,000Asia, Australia and the Middle East: $165,000 to $225,000
Here’s what medical evacuation insurance typically encompasses.Emergency transportation
Medical evacuation insurance can pay for the cost of emergency transportation to the nearest adequate treatment center if you become seriously ill or injured while traveling and require immediate care. It can also pay for you to be transported back to the U.S. if medically necessary.
Or, if you’ve been treated but you need to fly back to the U.S. for further treatment or to recover, it can pay for the flight home.A medical escort on your return home
If you require specialized care for the flight home, like a medical professional who can administer intravenous antibiotics or oxygen during your flight, medical evacuation insurance can pay for associated costs for medical escort services.The cost for a friend or family member to travel to you
If you’re hospitalized during your trip following an illness or injury that is covered by your policy, your medical evacuation travel insurance can pay for a round-trip flight for a friend or family member to come stay with you. This benefit usually has a minimum hospital-stay requirement. For example, if you’re told you’ll be hospitalized for seven days or more, your benefits might apply.Costs for a bedside companion
Some medical evacuation benefits include compensation for hotel stays, meals and other reasonable costs your traveling companion has while staying near you.The cost for your children to fly home
If you’re hospitalized during your trip and traveling with your children, your travel insurance company can arrange for your children to fly home or to another U.S.-based location. Your benefits can compensate for the cost, minus any refunds for unused plane tickets. This benefit also usually has a minimum number of days for hospitalization you must meet to file a claim.Repatriation of remains
If you or a traveling companion die during your trip, the cost of transporting remains home can be covered by repatriation benefits included in your evacuation coverage.When Do You Need Medical Evacuation Insurance?
Medical evacuation benefits help if you become seriously ill or suffer a severe injury during your trip and there are no local hospitals with the resources to treat your condition.
For example, if you suffer a serious injury in a car accident in China, your travel insurance company can arrange for medevac services to the nearest hospital equipped to care for you, which can be elsewhere in China, another country or even back in the U.S.
Your travel insurance company will work as a liaison to arrange the transportation on your behalf, which can come in handy during a medical crisis in a foreign country.
The travel medical insurance in a travel insurance plan can pay for doctor and hospital bills, X-rays, lab work, medicine and other associated expenses, up to your medical coverage limit. Evacuation insurance and travel medical insurance have separate coverage limits. For example, a generous travel insurance plan might have up to $500,000 for medical expenses and up to $1 million for evacuation.
When you’re well enough to travel, your travel insurance company can pay for your flight home.
Featured Travel Insurance Partners
Medical & evacuation limits per person
Medical & evacuation limits per person
GoReady (formerly April)
Medical & evacuation limits per person
GoReady (formerly April)Do You Need Both Medical Evacuation and Travel Medical Insurance?
It’s prudent to have both medical evacuation travel insurance and travel medical insurance when traveling abroad.
“If you’re not prepared to pay all your medical bills out of pocket, this is a crucial reason to buy travel insurance that includes emergency medical coverage and transportation benefits,” says Durazo at Allianz.
If you are traveling outside the U.S., it’s often essential that you have travel medical expense insurance because your domestic health insurance plan may have little or no international coverage. Check with your health insurance company to see if your plan has global coverage and whether it’s considered “out of network.” Also, senior travelers should know that Medicare isn’t accepted abroad.
Related: Travel Insurance For Parents Visiting The U.S.How to Get Approval to Use Medical Evacuation Insurance
After a medical emergency during a trip, the first call should be to the local emergency services. Then, you or your companion or tour guide should call your travel insurance company’s emergency hotline or customer service number.
“The assistance team, which includes emergency room physicians and travel experts, reviews the case and contacts your physician to discuss your treatment, help manage your care and determine if emergency medical transport is necessary,” says Durazo.
To use medical evacuation insurance, you usually must have an emergency evacuation ordered by the onsite, attending physician who certifies that the severity of your accidental injury or illness warrants the move.
Ideally, your travel insurance company would help coordinate the medevac and the move, and sign-off on it in advance. If that’s not possible, your travel insurance company should be notified as soon as possible.
If you require emergency medical transportation, your options may include an air ambulance or a commercial airline.How Will You Be Transported?
While you may think an air ambulance is your only choice, Durazo says working with a commercial carrier is typically a better experience for the patient and their companions for several reasons:Most air ambulances are small aircraft that can only fly for four to six hours at a time, requiring frequent landings to refuel. They may accommodate only the patient, nurse and one guest in very tight quarters, often without a bathroom and with minimal luggage storage space, he says.Commercial carriers offer more options, including direct flights, better overall flight quality and room for multiple members of accompanying medical staff and travel companions.Patients may travel in either first or business class, where they can lay flat if medically necessary.
Your Travel Insurance Company’s 24/7 Assistance Line Can Help
Travel insurance companies generally have a staff of physicians, interpreters and travel experts available to help you around the clock. You can contact your travel insurance company by calling the dedicated 24/7 travel assistance hotline or using its app, if one is available, to reach the care team.
“The assistance team can help coordinate care with the doctors treating you in your destination, as well as help you get to a high-quality medical facility with appropriate treatment options—all to ensure the best medical care possible,” explains Durazo.
In addition to arranging emergency medical transportation, Durazo says these teams usually offer aid throughout the treatment. For instance, the staff at Allianz Global Assistance will stay in touch with doctors to review daily medical reports and relay updates to family members, provide interpretation services if needed and help guarantee payment to the treatment center and handle billing.Do You Need Evacuation Insurance for Trips Within the U.S?
There are some instances when medical evacuation travel insurance can be a smart choice even when traveling within the U.S, says Durazo.
For example, if you are doing a dude ranch trip or taking an adventure-oriented trip in a remote area, it’s wise to have evacuation coverage. If you’re injured, your health plan should cover your transportation to a hospital and your medical care once you’re there, but it likely won’t pay for a flight home requiring medical equipment and a medical escort. Additionally, you’ll be responsible for copays and deductibles that come with your health insurance coverage.
On the other hand, let’s say you’re visiting a college friend in Chicago and plan to shop and visit museums in the Windy City. You probably won’t need emergency evacuation coverage in that case.How Much Medical Evacuation Travel Insurance Do I Need?
Limits for emergency medical evacuation insurance vary by company and plan. The most generous travel insurance plans provide $1 million in medical evacuation coverage per person. For example, the Platinum plan from AXA Assistance USA and the OneTripPremier Plan from Allianz include up to $1 million in medical evacuation coverage.
However, you can find plans with lower coverage amounts. For instance, the Silver plan from AXA Assistance USA provides $100,000 for emergency evacuation, and the OneTrip Basic Plan from Allianz provides $50,000 in emergency medical transportation benefits.
Most travel insurance plans offer a 14- or 15-day “free look” period during which you can review your policy. “If you then decide during the free look period that the product doesn’t meet your needs, you can purchase a new product with more or less coverage or cancel the policy for a full refund,” says Durazo.How Do You Buy Medical Evacuation Travel Insurance?
You can buy medical evacuation travel insurance as part of a comprehensive travel insurance plan or a stand-alone travel medical plan.
Travel medical insurance and emergency medical transportation insurance are often purchased as part of a comprehensive travel insurance plan that also includes trip cancellation insurance, travel delay insurance, trip interruption insurance and baggage insurance.
However, says Durazo, if you’re not concerned with trip cancellation, you can find plans covering just medical-related trip issues. For example, Allianz offers the OneTrip Emergency Medical Plan, which provides up to $50,000 in medical expense coverage and $250,000 in emergency evacuation benefits.Check for This Fine Print
Details of coverage vary by plan and travel insurance company, so be sure to review the following details.Hospital-stay requirements
Benefits for your children’s flight home and for someone to be flown in to visit you are generally for extended hospitalizations. For instance, this may need to be seven days or more. That means if you’re in the hospital for four days, these benefits may not apply.Hospital of choice
Most medical evacuation insurance plans stipulate that you are flown to the nearest adequate facility for treatment. If you need further care after that, some plans have add-on coverage that allows you to choose the hospital you go to next. For example, the AIG Travel Guard Deluxe plan allows you to request transportation to the hospital of your choice for further care, recovery or treatment after you’re stabilized.
Also, hospital choice benefits usually don’t apply to nursing homes or rehabilitation centers. Be sure to ask your travel insurance company if “hospital of choice” is offered and how it works.Extreme sports exclusions
Some travel insurance plans exclude injuries resulting from extreme sports or adventure activities from medical and evacuation benefits. You can sometimes add a rider to get coverage, or look for a plan that covers your specific activities.Emergency Medical Transportation and Covid
With many countries still high-risk for Covid, or designated as Level 3 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the importance of emergency medical transport insurance is even more valuable.
Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison provider, recommends a minimum of $100,000 in emergency medical evacuation coverage, to account for Covid-19-related evacuation expenses. Make sure the plan will cover Covid-related claims.
If you’re heading to a remote destination, where it may be more expensive or difficult to reach a medical facility, Squaremouth recommends $250,000 in medical evacuation coverage.
See our ratings of the best pandemic travel insurance plans.Other Medevac Options
Companies like Medjet and Global Rescue can be a good fit for those who want to be flown directly back to the U.S. after a medical emergency rather than to the nearest hospital equipped to treat you, as mandated in travel insurance plans.
These types of companies are also worth serious consideration if you are participating in extreme sports during your vacation or you have pre-existing medical conditions.Medjet
Medjet provides private or commercial medevac or air ambulance transportation from a hospital anywhere in the world to the hospital of your choice in your home country. In order to use Medjet services, you must buy a membership before your trip. And you must be traveling at least 150 miles from home. Medical and legal specialists are on staff to assist you.
The company offers a variety of membership plans for domestic and international travel, college students, business travelers and more. Plans for short-term vacations of eight, 15, 21 and 30 days start at $99 for an individual and $199 for a family.
Medjet also offers a plan that adds on security help and crisis response.Global Rescue
Global Rescue is a provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services to enterprises, governments and individuals. An individual annual membership is $349.
One benefit of Global Rescue is that you can be airlifted from where you had your accident or injury.
“If you have a minor injury or illness, you can call Global Rescue and speak to an on-staff medical expert who will help sort out the dos and don’ts based on your unique situation and symptoms,” says Dan Richards, chief executive officer of Global Rescue.
For major injury or illness, including Covid, Global Rescue assesses the circumstances and arranges for field rescue medical evacuation or repatriation, says Richards.
“If the case is complicated, we may deploy to the member’s bedside to make sure they’re getting the care they need to get stable enough for transport,” he says.
Global Rescue also provides emergency evacuation for non-medical emergencies. With a security upgrade, Global Rescue provides advisory and evacuation services for unpredicted natural disasters, civil unrest, acts of terrorism and government-ordered evacuations.
“Global Rescue’s services extend to wherever the individual is, and the personnel who respond are among the most highly trained paramedics, nurses, doctors and military special operations veterans available. We don’t just take the phone call; we dispatch our personnel to the site of the crisis and use all available means to get them to safety and the care they need,” says Richards.More About Services Like Medjet and Global Rescue
You might want to buy Medjet or Global Rescue memberships as supplemental coverage to a travel insurance plan if you frequently travel to remote locations.
With Medjet and Global Rescue, there is no cap on the coverage for transportation as there is with travel insurance. You just pay the membership fee.
“If a member gets sick or injured while skiing in the backcountry, paragliding, rock climbing or anything else, our services are in force,” Richards says.
Another advantage of services like Medjet and Global Rescue is that you won’t have to file a reimbursement claim for evacuation services. Your membership is your access to coverage.
You can also be airlifted directly from the location of your emergency with Global Rescue services. “We will rescue you from the point of injury or illness (field rescue) and get you to a medical facility where you can get diagnosed and treated,” says Richards.
However, Medjet and Global Rescue aren’t travel insurance companies, so you won’t find coverage for medical expenses, trip cancellation, interruptions, delays or baggage.
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Medical Evacuation Insurance: Often Overlooked, But a Potential Lifesaver
If you get injured or sick during your trip, travel insurance can come to your rescue by reimbursing the cost of prepaid travel arrangements, like a hotel room, rental car or airfare. But it won’t necessarily cover the actual costs to get medical treatment, nor will it always cover the cost of transportation to get care.
For most people, you’ll need to rely on your existing medical insurance to cover the treatment. And while some health insurers cover you anywhere in the world, not all do, so check your policy before traveling.
Even if your plan covers treatment abroad, it may not cover transportation to get there, like an ambulance ride or perhaps even a helicopter. For that, you’ll need medical evacuation insurance.
What is medical evacuation insurance?
Medical evacuation insurance is typically included in travel insurance policies. It’s also commonly sold in tandem with travel medical expense insurance, which covers emergency medical treatment during your trip.
The exact terms of medical evacuation insurance vary by policy, but generally speaking, this type of insurance covers medical transportation, such as an ambulance ride or air evacuation services, to the nearest adequate medical facility. If you need to head back home for treatment, some plans may also cover the cost to change your flight or book new travel arrangements so you can return sooner.
What does medical evacuation insurance cover?
Again, exact coverage varies by policy, but it generally encompasses:
Emergency transportation to the nearest adequate treatment center
Most policies promise transportation to what’s generally referred to as an “adequate” treatment center. But “adequate” can be a relative term, and a medical facility not up to your personal standards might still be deemed adequate by your insurer. And not all policies will pay for a flight back home to visit the doctor you already know.
However, if local doctors can’t help, medical evacuation usually covers transportation home. Those doctors would have to provide documentation that your condition is either untreatable locally or severe enough that a flight home is necessary.
A medical escort or travel companion’s travel
Some policies cover not just your transportation, but also the cost of someone else to accompany you. In some cases, that might need to be a medical professional who can support you throughout the journey, such as by administering oxygen. In other cases, it might be a trusted family member or friend.
Some policies cover only economy-class airfare, while others might cover business class, but only with a doctor’s order.
Repatriation of remains
Should you die during the trip, repatriation can transport your remains home. Typically this service also covers the costs of embalming, local cremation or a casket to transport remains by air.
How much coverage should you have?
If going to the doctor for a sprained ankle at home seems expensive even if you’re insured and visiting an in-network doctor, then getting coverage for an emergency abroad might be even costlier.
Most medical evacuation insurance coverage starts at $100,000 per year, but even that might not be enough. The national average for an emergency helicopter ride is about $40,000, according to medical travel service Flying Angels. That’s just an average, so flights to remote places could easily be more expensive.
Plus, it’s unlikely your existing insurance will cover an air ambulance. About two-thirds of medical flights in 2017 for people with private insurance are still out-of-network, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office, meaning you’re on the hook for most or all of that bill, unless you have medical evacuation insurance.
Throw in the actual cost of treatment, plus last-minute flights for you, a travel companion and a medical escort, and $100,000 might not go that far. Then again, some policies cover as much as $1 million or $2 million per person.
While accidents can happen anywhere, you’re less likely to need medical insurance for a winter trip that entails building snowmen and drinking cocoa in the cabin versus going backcountry skiing on challenging runs. Understand the risk and your risk tolerance. With the former scenario, slipping on an icy sidewalk might mean a patch-up at urgent care that costs a few hundred dollars, especially if your travel companions can drive you. In contrast, a severe injury with the latter might necessitate a full rescue crew.
Read the fine print
Like any travel cost, it’s always wise to read the fine print of your specific policy. Some have additional limits, require specific paperwork or exclude certain circumstances. Though this list is far from comprehensive, here are some common things to look out for:
Whether you have primary or secondary coverage: If your medical evacuation coverage is considered secondary coverage, that means it kicks in after your primary health insurance plan.
Trip length requirements: Some policies won’t cover trips longer than a certain period (60 days is common).
Distance from home: Many policies exclude accidents occurring within 100 miles of your home.
Documentation required: You typically can’t just twist your ankle, rebook an early flight home and expect to successfully file a claim, even if your ankle is puffy and painful. Most policies require extensive documentation, like approvals from a legally licensed physician that emergency evacuation is warranted. Save every receipt and get documentation of everything.
How to get medical evacuation insurance (maybe for free)
Medical evacuation insurance coverage is sometimes included with comprehensive travel insurance policies, alongside other forms of travel insurance like lost luggage insurance. Prices vary by the length and nature of your trip, so a long weekend at a resort would likely cost far less than a multiweek camping adventure off the grid.
However, you might already have travel insurance — and not need to pay any extra for it. That’s because many premium travel credit cards include medical evacuation insurance within their trip insurance policies, which are often a benefit for trips paid for on that credit card. If you’re considering purchasing trip insurance anyway, this benefit alone can easily offset any annual fees on the credit card.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for: