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HealthplanWhat’s the difference between private medical insurance and travel insurance?

What’s the difference between private medical insurance and travel insurance?

If you’re travelling to a foreign country, travel insurance may be the difference between being able to enjoy your trip and having to pay exorbitant medical bills when an accident or illness occurs. But what exactly does travel insurance cover, and how does it differ from health insurance?

Travel insurance and health insurance are both types of insurance coverage that can help protect you from unexpected financial expenses should certain unfortunate circumstances occur. Keep reading to learn how the two differ, the costs involved, and understand which one best suits your needs.

Is travel insurance the same as health insurance?

Although both types of insurance can provide valuable protection for people traveling abroad, they are not interchangeable. Some travel insurance plans include basic medical coverage, but they are not designed to replace a comprehensive health insurance plan.

Similarly, you will need your health insurance policy at home if you want access to more extensive medical care. For example, if you experience an illness or injury while traveling overseas, your health insurance policy may reimburse you for out-of-pocket expenses related to that event. Without a policy, any costs will be incurred by you.

Without a well-stocked first aid kit in hand, minor mishaps like blisters or sprained ankles can easily escalate into expensive trips to see an emergency room doctor. When purchasing travel insurance, ask whether certain benefits are included. If a benefit seems essential to you, make sure it is included in all the policies you review.

Also, be sure to confirm what services and activities—for instance, scuba diving or hang gliding—are covered by your plan. While most policies exclude pre-existing conditions as a reason to deny payment, some do offer optional coverage exclusions and limitations.

And even though many insurers won’t cover pre-existing conditions (other than those resulting from accidents), with proper documentation, you may be able to bypass these restrictions.

Finally, don’t forget about limits. Many plans limit their payouts per trip, per day, or incident. If you think you might run afoul of these thresholds (such as having complications after having a child), buy supplementary coverage to guard against unexpected costs.

What is international health insurance?

International health insurance – also known as ex-pat health insurance – covers medical treatment for individuals living outside their home country. It works in a similar way to the health insurance you would get while at home, except the coverage is international.

This is a great option for people looking to travel abroad. It helps protect health by providing cover in case of emergency, whether it be injury or illness. Just as with domestic health insurance, international policies can vary greatly depending on needs and preferences.

You can choose how many weeks or months of coverage you want, how far away from home you want to go, which deductibles to pay for (meaning how much of any medical bills will come out of your pocket), and more. While there are options that cover certain procedures like cosmetic surgery, these tend to carry higher premiums.

What is travel insurance?

You can purchase travel insurance if you go away for a short trip., It is designed to assist you if you have medical emergencies abroad as well as to protect you from unexpected financial loss during a trip, such as a disruption or damage/loss of personal items.

The difference between international health and travel insurance

There are two key factors that will help you distinguish between travel insurance and foreign health insurance:

  • If you’re going on a holiday, a business trip, or another form of a short journey overseas that lasts less than six months, you’ll need travel insurance. Medical emergencies and other trip disruptions are covered by travel insurance.
  • If you’re going overseas for employment, school, retirement, or other reasons and will be spending the majority of your time abroad; you’ll need international health insurance. Long-term international health insurance covers most medical expenses incurred while traveling, but not trip delays.

Take a look at this side by side comparison of the two to understand what is covered in each:

Int’l Health InsuranceTravel Insurance

Urgent medical careYesYes
Non-urgent medical careYesNo
Prescribed medicationYesNo
Routine medical checkupsYesNo
Post-op maternity careYesNo
Medical care for newbornsYesNo
Urgent dental careYesYes
Lost LuggageNoYes
Hotel changes/cancellationsNoYes
Changes/cancellations in flightNoYes

Trip duration

Choose travel insurance if your trip is less than six months and vice versa for health insurance. In a short trip, factors such as lost travel documents and personal belongings or trip cancellations are more likely to affect you.


International health insurance may be the smarter choice if you are going far from your home country. This is because, in case of a medical emergency, you may not be able to return on short notice or afford medical care. On the other hand, travel insurance may not be as affected by location.

Costs incurred

Travel insurance plans are less expensive. They offer emergency health insurance along with travel insurance benefits as listed above. Health insurance plans are more expensive but cover more comprehensive medical costs, including wellness and long-term care.

Insurance coverage

If you are traveling for a short period, it is more likely that you will benefit from travel insurance to ensure that any interruptions such as changes in flight schedules or hotel bookings do not ruin your trip.

However, if you live abroad for an extended period, there are higher chances of medical emergencies occurring. Thus, international health insurance may benefit you more. In addition to this, trip interruptions seem less significant to a traveler going for a longer trip.

Read this guide to see why Forbes believes travel medical insurance is essential.

Do I need travel insurance if I have private health insurance?

Some important benefits that health insurance plans do not provide are included in travel insurance. For example, without travel insurance, the price of being airlifted to a hospital or having a nurse accompany you home will be high. It’s always good to have both, but the decision depends entirely on your budget and needs.

During COVID, there was so much uncertainty about travel that it was beneficial for any and all passengers to purchase travel insurance. Thus, at times like these, you may want to purchase both to be on the safe side.

Which one should you get?

If you’re planning on taking a week-long trip, travel insurance might be the way to go. However, if you plan to spend more time abroad – whether to work, reside, or simply have a new adventure – International Health Insurance will provide you peace of mind knowing you’ll be covered if you require medical attention.

With international medical coverage, you’ll have access to multilingual helplines, instant medical information, and a team of experts on hand to help with every last detail, whether it’s finding a local doctor, advice on a specific treatment, or wellbeing tips on how to stay healthy while traveling abroad.

In short, medical insurance is the way to go for a longer stay abroad, whereas travel insurance will suffice for shorter trips. However, there are certain exceptions; for example, someone with an underlying medical condition may benefit from international health insurance at all times.

If you think any of these conditions are likely while you are in a foreign country, it is best to purchase international medical insurance.

Final words

It doesn’t always have to be travel insurance vs health insurance; your decision can depend entirely on your needs. A traveler with a healthy budget can afford both, but those who must choose one can compare the factors above and decide based on what best suits their needs.