Health insurance for digital nomads

Health insurance for digital nomads

Health insurance while being on the road is always an important topic for digital nomads. I’m originally from Germany where health insurance is obligatory and expensive when you’re self-employed and over 40. I think they changed some things to make it a bit more affordable for freelancers who are just starting out but it was definitely an important reason why I decided to leave the country for good a couple of years ago.

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What is travel health insurance and how is different from 'normal' health insurance?

As far as the health insurance part is concerned, travel health insurance normally excludes regular check-ups and treatment of illnesses which were not caused by your travels, so to say. That means when you get cancer on the road, your travel health insurance will not pay for treatment. The same applies to pre-existing conditions and chronic illnesses. 

On the other hand, travel health insurance normally includes coverage for travel-related issues like lost baggage or cancelled flights. 

Is travel health insurance enough for digital nomads?

Let’s say it depends. If you’re a healthy person who’s able to pay for check-ups yourself, you’ll probably be fine. However, if both your parents died of cancer, you’re over-weighed (and therefore more likely to suffer from Diabetes II and other weight-related illnesses) or suffer from pre-existing conditions which need regular treatment, you should better look for other options, too. There are international health insurance companies like Cigna Global who are much more expensive but may be more suitable for you. 

As a resident with a work visa in Peru, I’m currently insured with EsSalud, Peru’s state-run health insurance. I’ve never used it and don’t expect much of it but it’s the little bit of security I’m okay with.

I'm on a budget. Can I go without health insurance?

There are people who will frankly tell you to stay home in that case, that you’re not yet ready to become a digital nomad. I don’t agree. 

In the 1990’s, I lived for almost two years in Brazil without health insurance. Recently, I’ve spent time in Colombia and Mexico without any insurance at all. 

I haven’t seen a doctor in years and pay for dental work when I need it – and when I have enough money left. 

If you travel in Latin America or Asia, you’ll find that a visit to a doctor’s or even spending a couple of days at a hospital isn’t that expensive. 

On the other hand, travel health insurance doesn’t cost a fortune when you’re under 40. Therefore, I’d really recommend you younger guys to spend those bucks and do less partying instead (meant to sound as it does). 

But what if you’re over 40 or even 50 and paying USD 100/month or more is not something you can easily afford? Well, at that age, you should know yourself well enough to decide whether you can risk it or not. Bad things can always happen. You may be run over by a car tomorrow and without health insurance, you’ll be f*cked. However, how likely is this? In my case, if anything serious happened and I wouldn’t be able to work for a couple of weeks or months, I’d be f*cked, anyway, with and without health insurance. 

I decided to go without any kind of health insurance for a while because my lifestyle isn’t very risky, I haven’t been seriously sick for ages, I’ve never been to a hospital (well, only when I gave birth to my kids) and nobody in my family has ever had serious health problems before the age of 75. 

At the moment, I do use travel health insurance because I can afford it. However, if things changed, I’d go without one again. I know that this is not a popular opinion and it’s not a recommendation but definitely an option.

Basic information about SafetyWing and WorldNomads

In this article, I’m comparing SafetyWing and WorldNomads.

Before we go into detail, I’d like to point out that SafetyWing is one of my affiliate partners. When you sign up with them through one of my links, I’ll receive a commission.

However, this doesn’t mean that my article is not objective. SafetyWing is currently the best option for my personal situation and requirements, it may not be the same for you and it may change for me in the future. I’m writing this article to help you making an informed decision.

I had a closer look at these two companies when I was searching for a travel health insurance because they both offer plans with basic health insurance while traveling for extended periods of time. 

SafetyWing

SafetyWing was founded by digital nomads a couple of years ago and offers travel medical insurance for digital nomads for and from many countries. It has quickly become quite popular for its competitive prices and flexibility. 

WorldNomads

WorldNomads has been on the market for some 20 years and is similar to SafetyWing. We’ll have a look at the main differences in the detailed comparison below. WorldNomads is recommended by Lonely Planet and used to be the top dog until SafetyWing appeared. 

Detailed Comparison

SafetyWing

I’m only gathering information about health-related issues here. However, your policy also covers travel-related problems such as a stolen passport, cancelled flights or lost baggage. If this is important for you, make sure to check what exactly is covered. 

Pricing:  SafetyWing’s pricing is pretty straightforward. It starts at USD 37/4 weeks for the age group 10 – 39, not including travel in the USA. For older people it’s significantly more expensive (40 – 49 years: USD 60, 50 – 59 years: USD 94, 60 – 69 years: USD 128). The price more or less doubles for all age groups if you want to include coverage for the US. 

Deductible: USD 250

Cancellation: You can either buy a policy for a certain period of time or a subscription which renews every 4 weeks and can be cancelled at any time. For long-term travelers, a subscription is obviously the better option as you don’t have to pay a large amount of money before you start your journey and are very flexible. 

Coverage: unexpected illness or injury, including eligible expenses for hospital, doctor or prescription drugs

What’s not covered: Cancer treatment, routine check-ups, pre-existing conditions, trips to Cuba, North Korea and Iran. 

Coverage in home country: SafetyWing covers you for 30 days in your home country for every 90 days you have insurance with them. 

When and how you can get it: You get it at any time, even if you’re already on the road. You need to specify your country of residence. Exceptions: People who live in Iran, North Korea or Cuba (or have Cuban citizenship) can’t buy a SafetyWing insurance policy. 

Age restrictions: SafetyWing only offers coverage until the age of 69

Reviews: Check SafetyWing’s reviews on Trustpilot here. At this moment (August 2019), they have 16 reviews and a trust score of 9.1/10. Only time will tell if they can keep those numbers when more people are making claims.

If you have further questions, please have a look a SafetyWing’s FAQ page.  

World Nomads

I’m only gathering information about health-related issues here. However, your policy also covers travel-related problems such as a stolen passport, cancelled flights or lost baggage. If this is important for you, make sure to check what exactly is covered. 

Pricing: The World Nomads prices vary according to country of residence and destination country plus there are some slight differences according to age. Expect to pay an average of USD 100 – 120 per month of traveling. Please note that World Nomads offer a standard and an explorer plan. When I quote prices here, I always refer to the standard plan.  

Deductible: USD 100 except for Emergency Medical Evacuation & Repatriation expenses

Cancellation: World Nomads requires a start and an end date and I couldn’t find any information about cancelling the policy if you bought one for a long period of time and need or want to return home earlier. 

Coverage: unexpected illness or injury (including emergency visits to a dentist), including eligible expenses for hospital, doctor or prescription drugs. 

What’s not covered: pre-existing conditions, routine-check-ups, cancer treatment

Coverage in home country: You may return home while your policy is valid but won’t be covered. 

When and how you can get it: You can get it at any time, even if you’re already on the road. In that case, you policy will only become active after a waiting time of 72 hours. You need to specify your country of residence as this is the country WorldNomads will send you to for further treatment if you suffer from a severe accident, for example. 

Age restrictions: WorldNomad only offers coverage until the age of 64

Reviews: Check World Nomads’ reviews on Trustpilot here. At this moment (August 2019), they have 1,035 reviews and a trust score of 5.8/10. However, keep in mind that people are more likely to share bad experiences online. 

If you have further questions, please have a look a World Nomads Help Desk

What is a deductible?

A deductible is the amount you’ll have to pay yourself before the insurance provider steps in and covers your expenses. For example, if you are treated at a hospital and the costs amount to USD 300, SafetyWing will pay USD 50 and WorldNomads USD 200 as their deductibles are different. 

Examples with prices

As mentioned above, SafetyWing’s pricing model is very straightforward and easy to understand. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for WorldNomads. Depending on your country of residence and your destination country or countries, you are quoted different prices.  As far as the US and Canada are concerned, WorldNomads also asks for the state/province you live in but I was given the same price for  California, Nevada and Michigan, so there don’t seem to be any differences. I don’t understand, either why older German residents have to pay more while the price for your insurance is the same for all age groups when you reside in the US or in Brazil. 

US resident, traveling for 3 months in Mexico

SafetyWing

25 years old: USD 120

45 years old: USD 195

52 years old: USD 305

62 years old: USD 415

WorldNomads

25 years old: USD 242

45 years old: USD 242

52 years old: USD 242

62 years old: USD 242

German resident, traveling for 3 months in Thailand + Indonesia

SafetyWing

25 years old: USD 120

45 years old: USD 195

52 years old: USD 305

62 years old: USD 415

WorldNomads

25 years old: USD 306

45 years old: USD 306

52 years old:  USD 320

62 years old: USD 330

Brazilian resident, traveling for 3 months in France and Spain

SafetyWing

25 years old: USD 120

45 years old: USD 195

52 years old: USD 305

62 years old: USD 415

WorldNomads

25 years old: USD 270

45 years old: USD 270

52 years old: USD 270

62 years old: USD 270

Conclusion: If costs are your main criteria for choosing your travel medical insurance, SafetyWing is better for you when you’re under 50. When you’re over 60, WorldNomads is cheaper but keep in mind that they will only cover you until the age of 64 (SafetyWing until the age of 69). 

The age group 50 – 59 seems to be the trickiest one. While a US resident pays less using WorldNomads, that’s not the case for me with residence in Peru. WorldNomads gives me a quote of USD 348 for 3 months Mexico – compared to USD 305 with SafetyWing. 

What if I don't have a country of residence?

Not matter if you’d like to sign up with SafetyWing or WorldNomads, you need to state your country of residence. There’s a very simple reason for this: Travel health insurance is for emergencies, not for a long treatments. If you suffer from a accident and end up at a hospital or if you catch a tropical illness which may take months to cure, your travel insurance provider will try to get you out of the country and back to your country of residence as soon as possible. Once you’re “at home”, they’re no longer responsible and no longer have to pay for anything. 

You may state your country of origin as your country of residence even if you don’t live there anymore. Depending on their regulations as far as health care is concerned, they may accept you and treat you without too many issues or you may run into big problems and end up with a huge hospital bill. The same will happen if you don’t have health insurance in your country of residence, of course. 

 

Why it makes sense to have some emergency money

Even if you have travel health insurance, it’s likely to happen that you’ll first have to pay all the expenses for your medical treatment out of your own pocket because the hospital you’re at doesn’t have a direct contract with your health insurance provider. If your claim is accepted, you’ll be reimbursed but that may take a little while. 

As a digital nomad, you’ll also need money for regular check-ups or non-emergency dental treatment unless you prefer to return to your home country for such things. Personally, I’ve found such things to be pretty inexpensive and of good quality in most Latin American countries. Instead of paying for yet another insurance covering dental treatment, I prefer to put aside some money each month and spend it on dental work when needed. 

Emergency money doesn’t necessarily have to be cash or be on your bank account. I still have a credit card from the times when I had a regular job in Germany with a credit line of app. USD 5,000 and the possibility to pay off debt in rates as small as 5% of the amount owed (paying pretty high interest rates, of course) . It wouldn’t be ideal but if I were really out of money and urgently needed to pay something, this credit credit is my last emergency. So far, I never needed to use it and I hope this won’t change.

Personal opinion

After I did my research, I opted for SafteyWing because

  1. It’s cheaper
  2. It’s more flexible and easier to understand
  3. Their website and especial their FAQ are much better
  4. They immediately answered questions in a friendly way

This article was just meant to give you an overview. You’ll find much more detailed information and articles on the websites of both SafetyWing and World Nomads. Especially, if you practice an adventure sport, lead a somewhat risky lifestyle or simply aren’t very organized (= have the tendency to lose your passport or other stuff), read carefully what exactly is covered and under which circumstances.  

Health insurance for digital nomads
Health insurance for digital nomads

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