I’ve always been covered by travel insurance but never really expected to use it or really understood the process for using it. Unlike health care and insurance in your home country it becomes a little more complicated across international waters. It’s a situation that no one expects nor wants to find themselves in but it is a sad reality and genuine risk with traveling. The best way is to be prepared and know how to manage a situation.
I was unfortunate enough to find myself injured and requiring surgery whilst on my travels. Despite it being nothing too serious, it definitely became a major headache figuring out what to do. I had picked up playing rugby on exchange and sadly in my first training match and first run I got tackled awkwardly and hurt my knee.
Despite originally being refused to be seen at the hospital because I wasn’t American (and therefore didn’t have a social security number) and a week later told it’s a only a sprain, in fact it turned out that I tore my ACL ligament and cartilage and required surgery if I ever wanted to play sport again. This was about two weeks after I got offered to trial for a soccer team and accepted to do another exchange in Canada.
At this time, I learned to have a plan B and as they say don’t put all your eggs in one basket. After a couple weeks I was able to walk again and squished in a trip to Miami and Costa Rica but I was a little heart broken and not ready to leave my friends and my new home. In the end I had to cut my trip short and return to Australia to get surgery, which the travel insurance did not cover but with a little persistence I did manage to get them to fly me home.
Few quick tips:
Put your safety first
As much as it sounds like something your mum would nag you about, it kills me inside for mum to be right but it’s true. Definitely have fun and push the limits but know when to not cross the line. When an accident does happen stay calm and before thinking about doing anything your first priority is to be safe and do what’s medically necessary first then figure out the rest later (what I like to call ‘future me’ problems).
Always carry your insurance card or policy details
This is a big one, always have some form of proof that you have travel insurance (as well as your ID) or you might have a little bit of trouble trying to get medical assistance. Weather you carry a travel insurance card, print your policy or save the details on your phone, it’s a great idea to do it before leaving your home country so you’ve got it out of the way.
Know what you’re covered for and entitled to
It’s extremely boring and no one wants to do it but it’s handy to know. Read through your insurance cover or even give the company a call and discuss what you are and aren’t covered for and the level of cover. This is information worth knowing before traveling to certain countries or trying certain activities. By the way extreme sports such as snowboarding and sky diving or accidents that are the result of excessive alcohol consumption aren’t often covered.
Keeping contact with the insurer is key
This ties in with the point above but be sure to contact them as soon as possible after an incident has occurred as they may be able to help you and it makes the claim and approval processes a lot smoother when they already have a record of the situation and progress. Don’t wait until the injury gets worse and you find yourself lost and struggling with medical costs and insurance.
Have a reliable contact and support base in your host country
Having someone where you are that you know and trust is a good resource. Whether it’s a friend, roommate or a staff member at the university. This was very handy for me to have a friend driving me to hospital and also to and from classes as getting up the stairs from the dorms to campus wasn’t the best. We even scored a disabled parking sticker for campus!
Have a basic understanding of the health system of your host country
Do a little research, even a basic Google search before going as this might help you get a basic understanding of the level of public health care available to travellers and the expenses of emergency services.