Nearly 77 million international travelers visited the United States in 2017, according to the International Trade Administration’s National Travel and Tourism Office. With all those visitors, something is bound to go wrong — which is why there’s visitors insurance.
If you’ve never heard of visitors insurance, it’s probably because it’s a relatively small subset of the $12 billion global travel insurance industry. And you probably live in the United States, so it isn’t something you would even consider, or for which you would qualify.
But visitors insurance is growing, according to insurance providers. Domestically, companies such as G1G and Insubuy offer special policies tailored for the international visitor. As it turns out, these policies have special customer service demands that regular policies don’t. And they offer customer service lessons for any business.
“Travel insurance for visitors to the United States continues to be a large market centered mainly around travel medical plans,” explains Jim Krampen, co-founder of Seven Corners. “These insurance plans offer an array of medical benefits, allowing you to choose your medical maximum, deductible, and coinsurance. Consumers buy these plans because they are aware medical expenses in the U.S. can be a significant financial burden and the majority of visitors home country government or private plans will not provide coverage in the U.S.”
What international visitors want
Nick Brennan, who runs a technology business in London and is a frequent visitor to the U.S., says he looks for several things when he’s shopping for visitors insurance coverage.
Topping the list: medical coverage.
“The cost of a visit to the emergency room in the USA can be astronomical,” he says. “Many visitors to the USA will never have had to face a hospital bill since many countries have free healthcare.”
This is a special consideration for visitors from the United Kingdom and Australia, which have universal healthcare systems, he says.
Another consideration: compensation for cancellation and delays.
“People traveling from the U.K. and Europe are used to laws that require airlines to pay compensation for cancellations and delays,” says Brennan. “There is no similar law in the USA.”
Indeed, while Europe has strong consumer protection laws such as EC 261, the United States does not. Generally, if your flight’s delayed, your airline doesn’t have to cover any of your expenses.
Brennan says visitors insurance is a good option but recommends first checking any coverage you might get through your credit card. Some cards require the entire trip to be paid on the card, while others only require some part of the trip to be paid with the card. He recommends double-checking the insurance amounts. Some cards cap medical coverage at $500,000.
“It may be sufficient,” he adds. “But it may not.”
Before you buy visitors insurance, read the fine print
Sellers of visitors insurance know about these pain points and are trying to address them.
“Getting quality travel health insurance is crucial to protect visitors and their families against the exorbitant costs of unexpected medical treatment here in the United States,” says Zubair Jeewanjee, chief executive of G1G, a company that has specialized in visitors insurance since 1985.
His advice: Before you buy visitors insurance, read the fine print on the policy. Check the provider network and providers in your area, review the co-pay requirements and read the maximum coverage limit options, which are limited by age and type of plan.
“The optimal travel medical insurance for visitors to the USA varies drastically, depending on factors such as age, type of visa, length of stay, and pre-existing conditions. Always speak to a customer care representative. This ensures that customer expectations are met and they understand how to get the most out of their investment” he adds.
The two types of visitors insurance
There are two basic types of travel medical plans for visitors: comprehensive and scheduled benefit plans.
Scheduled benefit plans typically cost less than comprehensive plans. You pay less upfront for insurance, and you absorb more of the medical expense cost later if you claim, say experts. The plans have a stated limit for each injury or sickness and for each type of treatment or service provided.
“For example, a scheduled benefit plan has a stated limit for an emergency room visit,” explains Krampen. “If you go to the emergency room, and you’re charged an amount over that limit, you are responsible for the amount not covered by the plan.”
Comprehensive plans typically cost more than scheduled benefit plans. You pay more upfront for insurance than you will with a scheduled benefit plan, but receive greater coverage for medical costs if you claim.
“There are no fixed payment limits for each type of medical treatment,” says Krampen. “Instead, there is one medical maximum limit for your coverage.”
A customer service difference?
There are special challenges to providing visitors insurance to inbound tourists, according to the companies that offer these policies. I know because I’ve spoken with them about their business and their clients. Offering visitors insurance sometimes means you have to bend over backward to help a customer and fight for every claim. I’ve heard stories of companies that sell visitors insurance spending months — literally — to ensure a claim gets paid.
If you’re looking for a place to buy visitors insurance, make sure the site you’re buying from has a deep knowledge of the U.S. insurance industry, but that it also understands the needs specific to an inbound visitor.
Do they have a reputation for handling claims quickly, and with a minimum of paperwork? Are they experts in handling claims across multiple time zones and dealing with any language barriers? Does the company vet its insurance carriers to ensure you’re only covered by a reputable insurance company?
As the visitors insurance market takes off, the potential for a customer service failure rises too. So if you’re considering a policy, don’t just do a quick online search. Read the customer reviews and ask friends and family about their experiences with visitors insurance. Visitors insurance isn’t the place to cut corners, or you could end up in the ER with a six-figure bill. That’s no way to end your vacation.