An overview of medical travel insurance

Why do I need special medical tourism travel insurance if I am travelling to another country for treatment?

Standard travel insurance policies provide no medical cover for medical or dental procedures abroad, if the procedure is for a pre-existing medical or dental condition or if the surgery or procedure or dental treatment is planned as part of the travel. When travel insurance is taken out for travel which involves "medical tourism" or treatment abroad, the travel agent, tour operator, medical tourism agency or medical provider should point out this lack of cover. But few will tell you, even on cover that they may help arrange or suggest, that standard travel insurance policies will in general automatically exclude ALL cover, if you are travelling for medical treatment.

So, if you take out standard travel insurance (or use your annual multi-trip insurance) and the purpose of your trip is for some form of treatment or operation, then the travel insurer may refuse your claim, even if it is related to something non-medical such as the loss of your luggage.

No travel insurance policy will cover the cost of planned treatment.

Medical travel insurance is simply normal travel insurance designed for medical travellers.

Many policies of all types may suggest they have worldwide cover, but that is almost always only for emergency medical treatment; it does not cover you for choosing to go overseas for treatment.

A few basic checks before buying a medical travel policy:

  1. Does the insurance apply to the country you live in?
  2. Does the insurance apply to the country you are travelling to for treatment?
  3. Does the insurance apply to the hospital or surgery you are being treated in?

Never buy insurance if the person selling it refuses to provide details of who the insurers are, the price, what is covered, and what is not covered.

Legal aspects of medical travel insurance

Insurance is a complex subject and subject to many laws, regulations and limitations. Insurance laws can depend on which country you live in, the country where treatment is taking place, and the country where the agency resides. Medical travel breaks country boundaries, and this can mean that different country regulations clash and are contradictory. The recent increase in medical travel is not something that laws or insurance regulations had in mind, so there is no case law that settles uncertainties.

In some countries and states, there are rules on who can sell insurance, and this can be complex. In others it is a "let the buyer beware" situation with little regulation on insurers or insurance sellers.

Are you covered for treatment abroad by your existing health insurance scheme?

The vast majority of health insurance schemes do not allow treatment outside the country in which you are a subscriber.

  • The handful of private medical insurances that do allow treatment outside the home country, rarely cover dental, cosmetic or lots of other treatments that people go overseas for.
  • Most travel insurance policies now have exclusions on going overseas for treatment.
  • Medical negligence policies only cover hospitals not the customer, but a special new policy has been launched.
  • International insurance policies are designed for people who are expatriates -those working or living outside the UK, not for UK residents.
  • International insurance policies only provide very limited cover for travelling between countries for treatment.
  • Cost over-run policies are available, but rare; and many are just uninsured guarantees.
  • Very few dental insurance policies cover non-emergency treatment outside the UK.
  • Policies will not pay your travel costs

There are some specialist medical travel insurance policies designed for the medical tourist.

Existing medical conditions and travel insurance

If you are thinking of overseas treatment, this is often for an existing problem that you have. Many off the shelf travel insurance policies exclude pre-existing conditions and existing problems.

Many people are tempted to avoid the problem by lying or failing to disclose that the whole or partial purpose of a trip is for treatment. Failure to reveal relevant information can invalidate the medical tourism insurance policy, rendering it worthless. Failure to reveal the true purpose of a trip when making a claim, is fraud, a criminal offence.


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This guide helps you explore the options for medical treatment abroad

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