Friday, August 11th 2017

The Difference between Health Insurance and Travel Insurance in Latin America

Written by

Rafael Bracho

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Health Insurance vs Travel Insurance

Do you know what the differences between health insurance and travel insurance are? The difference in requirements could mean a passive hospital bill for the American expat. If you’ve considered medical tourism, or if you just live abroad, this article is for you:


  • Cover yourself for unexpected illnesses or accidents abroad

  • A short term insurance policy is not underwritten and only covers you for a defined period of time.

  • A long term policy will cover you for life and is more comprehensive.

  • Medicare will not cover you abroad if you are a US citizen

Living here in Latin America, we are fortunate to have access to excellent healthcare and doctors, being prepared for the costs of unexpected health treatment should be a top priority. If you travel here or are living permanently, it is advisable that you acquire an expatriate health insurance or travel insurance. In some countries—such as Ecuador—insurance is mandatory and monitored by the government. Your length and purpose of stay here should be the basis of what type of insurance you should get. Let us differentiate the two.

A travel insurance plan is designed to cover you for a new illness or accident. Policies can be purchased from five days and extended for up to three years. A travel insurance policy has a definite end date of coverage. It is meant to treat a new illness or accident, not preexisting conditions. On the other hand, an Expatriate Health Insurance plan is specially designed for expatriates who are living abroad for a longer period of time. It fully covers you for the full period of time that you are staying abroad, and it allows you to choose where you want to have your treatment for emergency and non-emergency cases, which includes: hospital stays, consultation fees, and the treatment itself. Additional care options include adding coverage for a return trip to the US or Canada, but keep in mind that this extra coverage means higher premiums.

Travel insurance policies can be purchased with limits from $50,000 – $2,000,000 USD of total coverage, and are offered to clients up to 79 years of age. They have deductibles from $250 – $5,000 USD. Policies do not require medical underwriting, however any preexisting conditions will not be covered. They also offer coverage for travel related problems such as missed airplane connections or lost luggage. Policies can be purchased to cover them for their occasional trips back to the US or Canada. An expatriate health insurance policy is meant for individuals that are living abroad for 6 months or more during the year. Plans generally allow for treatment at any doctor’s clinic or medical facility worldwide. If you purchase the option for care in the US also, the care is limited to a provider network of doctors and facilities. Underwriting requires a review of your health conditions. Policies can be issued that might exclude a preexisting condition that someone might have.

Many clients are surprised how affordable a health insurance plan can cost to cover them as compared to what a plan costs in the US. It is important to review the benefits offered. Some policies will only reimburse costs based on a preset schedule for procedures. Better policies will provide for reimbursement at usual and customary rates for that procedure in the US. It is also important to review how your deductible works. Some health insurance plans will have a deductible per illness, others for your total health claims for the policy year. Also review the waiting periods for coverage for new illnesses in your deductible.

For American individuals over 65 that have Medicare, the health insurance plan itself does not cover foreign care. Medigap policies offer some emergency foreign care limited to the first 60 days of a foreign trip. Check with your provider to see exactly what coverage you might have and the terms and conditions. Clients that rely on this might consider a medical evacuation policy to return them back to the US or Canada for major illness or accidents. It is important to realize what has to happen to you in order to qualify for medical evacuation, and exactly where they will transport you.

Confused? WeExpats Insurance Solutions has helped hundreds of Expats insure their adventure since 2012. Call us or email us if you would like more information, or click below for more information.

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