Travel health insurance and travel medical insurance for Americans and other nationalities is one of the biggest barriers people have to adopting a life of full time travel, extended travel or taking a mid-career sabbatical year.
One of the questions our friends and family asked us most often when we told them about our plans to quit our corporate jobs to travel full time and become digital nomads was, ‘What about health insurance?’
It’s a fair question for anyone who wants to follow a digital nomad full time or extended travel dream: what the heck are you going to do about medical and health insurance.
But it’s particularly true in the United States where health insurance is linked to full-time employment.
We’ve solved that question. And we’re happy to share not only how but exactly how much it costs us to have both health insurance as well as travel medical insurance.
The Difference Between Health Insurance and Travel Medical Insurance
Let’s be clear: there is a difference between Health Insurance and Travel Medical Insurance.
Health insurance is 100% about your health, so it doesn’t reimburse you for delayed flights, lost luggage or damage to your possessions.
But it does cover you for much more than basic emergency healthcare. Benefits include covering visits to the doctor, routine checkups and, critically, major surgery, treatment for chronic conditions or serious illness like cancer.
Sometimes this coverage includes medical mishaps and injuries overseas but most do not or have many exclusions.
Travel Medical Insurance
Travel insurance is a way of protecting you and your possessions against accidents and mishaps while traveling.
So it includes things like flight protection, lost luggage protection, personal liability insurance and repatriation insurance.
And although it will often include some kind of health benefits, they tend to be limited to accidents and emergencies rather than everyday doctor’s visits or on-going care.
With travel medical insurance, most healthcare benefits are also capped – either financially or in terms of time.
So beyond accidents or travel health issues you need to fall back on your health insurance for coverage.
Full Time Travelers Need Both
So friends and family were asking a good and a fair question: what about health insurance both in terms of everyday or chronic health care needs but also in terms of emergency medical care abroad?
If we got chronically sick we would need health insurance. If we got seriously hurt while traveling we would need travel medical insurance.
We had always been very lucky. We always had great health insurance through our employers.
When Lisa left Deloitte to start her own consulting company she was able to get on Matt’s corporate policy that is rightly defined as a ‘Cadillac plan’ because it is so generous.
It included both health insurance AS WELL AS travel medical insurance that covered us all over the world!
We always heard about and understood that the cost of healthcare in the US is out of control. But like many Americans with good insurance through an employer, we never actually felt that ourselves.
Health Insurance in the United States is Ridiculously Expensive
Matt’s corporate insurance was so good that it was going to cost us $2100/month ($25,200 per year) to continue on that plan via COBRA (paying out of pocket to stay on corporate health insurance).
Talk about sticker shock! And that was time-limited anyway. Even if we wanted to pay that much you can’t stay on COBRA forever.
Other health insurance plans on the Florida health insurance exchange, even with high deductibles, started at about $1100/month ($13,200 per year).
That was more than we were willing to pay for insurance that might not even help us if we had an accident or injury in southeast Asia, Europe or South America!
Our Health Insurance Decision
Our first priority was to find a backstop health insurance policy to cover any major medical expense or chronic disease-type situation.
So we bought a non-conforming short-term catastrophic health insurance policy from United Health Care of Florida.
This policy has a deductible of $5,000 per person. After that it covers 100% in-network, but $0 out of network.
With that high deductible we pay out of pocket for doctor visits or if we sprain an ankle in the US.
But if one of us required major surgery or got a chronic disease it would cover costs beyond the $5,000 we pay out of pocket. But that treatment would have to happen in the plan’s network in Florida.
Health Care Insurance Cost
This backstop coverage cost us approximately $450 per month ($5400 per year) for the two of us.
Travel Medical Insurance Options for Americans
With our health care insurance backstop policy in place we took a hard look at options for travel medical insurance to cover us on our full time travel affordable luxury adventure.
Cash for Travel Medical Care Option
We are not in the US very much during our full time travel.
And we had read that you can affordably pay for quality healthcare most places in the world because healthcare in the US is significantly more expensive than everywhere else in the world.
So we thought about setting aside a pile of cash in a ‘travel medical care fund’ and going without travel medical insurance. We would just pay cash for travel medical services out of that savings.
But what if one of us got seriously injured?
Or needed emergency surgery?
The medical bills might be cheaper than in the US, but they could still cost tens of thousands of dollars.
The cash for travel medical services option is a risk we’re simply not willing to take.
Allianz Annual Deluxe Travel Medical Insurance – A Great Policy if you will be Back in the US at Least Every 90 Days
We bought an Allianz Annual Deluxe Travel Insurance policy policy for $450 for both of us for one year which covers travel related mishaps.
It also covers medical mishaps (with a lot of caveats) if you are more than 100 miles from home.
That’s cheap travel medical insurance! We thought it was too good to be true.
It is, sort of.
The problem with this travel medical insurance, we later found, is that in the small print it say that “Your travel…cannot last longer than 90 days.”
That’s often not long enough for full time or extended time travelers between visits ‘home’. While we do often choose to go back to the US to visit family within every 3 months or so, some of our trips are longer. This policy is a good backup for our shorter trips but can’t be our only policy.
But if you travel frequently and return home every 90 days or less then an Allianz Annual Deluxe Travel Insurance policy is a cheap option to explore. It actually did cover a quick hospital visit in Chiang Mai that we had paid cash for since we had been in the US less than 90 days earlier.
Two Choices For Continuing Travel Medical Insurance for Americans
Once we discovered the 90 day trip limit on our Allianz policy we needed to find travel health insurance that covered us no matter how long we travel.
Both offer comprehensive travel health insurance for full time or extended time travelers such as mid-career sabbaticals.
Our Choice for Travel Medical Insurance
After analyzing both of those programs we chose World Nomads travel medical insurance for about $110 per month (annualized to $1323).
We actually preferred SafetyWing’s vision and program but as Florida residents we are not eligible for their coverage at this time.
Our Cost for Health and Travel Medical Insurance as Americans – And What We Get
Health Insurance Cost
$225 per month ($2700 per year) per person.
Health Insurance Benefits
$5,000 deductible out of pocket per person.
After that it covers 100% in-network, but $0 out of network.
Travel Medical Insurance
Travel Medical Insurance Cost
$110 per month (annualized to $1,323) per person.
Travel Medical Insurance Benefits
Total Cost for Digital Nomad Health Insurance and Travel Medical Insurance
So our all-in cost for Health Insurance and Travel Medical insurance is:
$335 per month ($4020 per year) per person.
That’s a lot of money. More than we pay per month for rent on an affordable luxury apartment in Bulgaria!
But compare that to the $1050 per month ($12,600 per year) per person that we would have paid to keep Matt’s corporate plan that included both health insurance and travel medical insurance.
$335 per month per person is a bargain basement price!
Bottom Line – Travel Health Insurance and Travel Medical Insurance for Americans
Unlike citizens of countries that provide universal health insurance, Americans who adopt a full time travel lifestyle have to address both health insurance AND travel medical insurance.
Our approach is to carry catastrophic health insurance in the US in case of major surgery or chronic disease and travel medical insurance for our full time travel in case of emergency or accident.
Best case scenario is that we never need to file a claim with either!
But insurance is about hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. Which we have done.
- Travel Health Insurance for Americans (and Other Nationalities Too!)
- Travel Health Insurance for Americans (and Others): Self Insured Cash Option
- Travel Medical Insurance For Americans (and Others): World Nomads
- Travel Medical Insurance For Americans (and Others): SafetyWing
- Travel Medical Insurance For Americans (and Others): Choosing Between World Nomads and SafetyWing