In years past, we purchased medical-evacuation coverage in case we broke a leg while hiking in the Alps or had a heart attack on a remote island with no decent hospital. The goal was to avoid a $100,000 to $200,000 bill for emergency medical transport to the best regional medical facility or even home to a hospital you trust. Nowadays, though, the nightmare scenario in our minds as we try to plan travel is the possibility of ending up quarantined—or even hospitalized—with Covid-19 far from home. Here’s what you need to know about how to get flown home, and how to protect yourself from a financial disaster.
What kind of medical transportation does conventional travel insurance offer?
Some travel insurance policies will pay for transportation to a medical facility, should you become sick or injured—but they will usually only take you to the nearest facility that they deem appropriate. If you’re traveling internationally, that probably means a clinic or hospital in the country you’re visiting, where you’ll be treated until you’re well enough to take a commercial flight home. At a bare minimum, you should make sure your insurance provides at least $100,000 in coverage for medical evacuation to the nearest adequate medical center. (Indeed, some countries that are open to U.S. travelers are requiring that visitors have proof of insurance that will cover any necessary medical and evacuation costs.)
What if I want to be flown to a hospital near my home for treatment?
If you’ve been hospitalized away from home but you want to be treated near family and friends, you need a second layer of protection. Specialized medical-evacuation programs such as Medjet, Global Rescue, AirMed International, and Global Guardian will transport members to the hospital of their choice once they are medically stable. You can purchase a short-term membership from one of these programs to cover a single trip, or an annual membership for an entire year’s worth of travel. The cost of medical evacuation to a hospital back home can easily reach $150,000 or more, so this benefit is important on both international and domestic trips. A few travel insurance providers, including Travel Guard and Ripcord, include transport to your “hospital of choice” in some of their plans.
What if I get Covid-19 during my trip?
Only a few medical evacuation programs will transport Covid-positive patients. Medjet will transport members who are hospitalized with Covid while traveling globally (subject to the local safety situation—State Department Level 3/4 advisories prompted by extreme violence may preclude evacuations); their individual memberships start at $145 for 15 days of coverage. Covac Global launched during the pandemic, promising to evacuate members with Covid, even if they weren’t hospitalized—but they have changed the rules several times. Currently, a Covid-positive member may be evacuated only if it is deemed “medically prudent to avoid hospitalization”—and only from a country that is not on their restricted list. There are also limitations on what activities are allowed in the traveler’s itinerary (for example, no cruise ships with more than 10 cabins).
Is membership in a medical evacuation program worth it?
That all depends on what keeps you up at night. Even during a pandemic, the more routine dangers of travel—a car accident, a hiking fall—haven’t gone away, and evacuation programs protect you from extended hospitalization far from home. If a quarantine abroad is not your main concern (because, depending on the country, a quarantine abroad can mean simply staying in your hotel room and working remotely on your laptop until you test negative and can fly home)—but instead your main priority is to get home to a hospital and doctor you trust in case of serious illness, Covid-related or not, then Medjet may be the best solution. If you’re vaccinated and boostered and worried not about sickness but about an Omicron infection forcing you to quarantine abroad, you might look into Covac Global, but make sure it will cover what you think it will cover (see above).
Which medical evacuation program do you recommend?
Wendy personally has a MedjetHorizon membership covering her and her family, partly because it offers crisis protection too: If during a trip you feel that your safety and security may be threatened—because of a political incident, terror attack, or other crisis—Medjet will come to the rescue. As for travel insurance to get you as far as the nearest medical facility that the insurance company deems appropriate, the policy that Wendy purchases for her and her family members always depends on the circumstances of the trip, but she often chooses and recommends Travelex Insurance Services. That’s because its Travel Select policy is the policy she’s received the best feedback about from travelers, when it comes to reliability, generosity, and customer care. Transparency disclosure: Medjet and Travelex are both sponsors of WendyPerrin.com. But that’s because Wendy believes in them and uses them herself. (Travelex Insurance Services is not related in any way to the defunct currency-exchange business Travelex.)