Health insurance vs travel insurance for digital nomads: what should you get?
Living abroad sounds pretty dreamy to most people. And, it is! But people don’t necessarily realize that as a digital nomad there is a LOT of stuff to figure out, beyond the logistics of your amazing travel plans. It takes a lot of effort to figure out the logistics, like your health insurance, for example. Thankfully as digital nomadism rises in popularity, there are more and more solutions coming along that make life easier.
Picking health insurance when you’re traveling long term can be quite a challenge, especially if you don’t have a home base. Not every plan will cover your needs. Who really wants to be dealing with big insurance problems abroad? The last thing you want to do is having to fly back home to keep your health in order. In this article, I’ll be looking into two of the most popular options for insurance for digital nomads, World Nomads vs Safety Wing, and exploring which is the best health insurance for digital nomads.
What do digital nomads need from a health insurance plan?
As a digital nomad you most likely want insurance that includes:
- Emergency care, such as unexpected injuries and hospitalization due to illness.
- Routine check-ups as well as preventive care (which is excluded in travel insurance).
- Help in case of travel emergencies, stolen belongings, or cancellations (which is excluded in health insurance)
- So ideally, a digital nomad would like a travel and health insurance combination!
What’s the difference between travel insurance and health insurance?
The first thing you should know is that travel insurance and health insurance are two different things. Travel insurance is important to have, but as a digital nomad, it might not be enough while you’re abroad.
Travel insurance is great for travellers. It generally only covers medical emergencies and things like cancellations and the loss or theft of personal items. It usually only covers you for a predetermined amount of time. It’s therefore, perfect for people on a holiday or even a longer trip.
Having health insurance is important for those who are planning to live abroad and/or travel and work as a digital nomad. It covers check-ups and continuing treatment for chronic conditions, which is often excluded in travel insurance. It’s basically having access to non-urgent medical services abroad, and having those costs covered by your insurance just like you would at home.
The issues with health insurance for digital nomads
Finding the right health insurance as a digital nomad isn’t as easy as you’d think. Some of them are very expensive, others have little coverage, some won’t cover you if you’re already traveling, often times pre-existing conditions are excluded, and if you have no home base it can get even more complicated… it’s a jungle of fine print!
How to get health insurance as a digital nomad
Health insurance is a complicated thing. It involves the medical systems and insurance systems of hundreds of countries worldwide. Because digital nomads live their lives outside of the box, governments and companies have a hard time deciding how to handle these vagabonds. Sadly, there is no one size fits all health insurance for digital nomads.
As a digital nomad you currently have three options for insurance:
Option 1: Stay insured in your home country and get travel insurance
The easiest option for digital nomads is to keep a home base somewhere, an address you’re registered to. Then you can continue to use your personal health insurance (which often covers your healthcare abroad to a certain extent), and just get a travel insurance to cover you for the travel-aspects of your lifestyle (theft or loss of valuables, missed flights, etc).
Option 2: Only get travel insurance and get check-ups done in a cheap country
If you no longer have a home base, and/or you think you won’t need health insurance*, there are many digital nomads that don’t have health insurance and just get travel insurance instead. And for many people… that works out fine. It’s the exceptions you need to be worried about.
If you’re young and healthy you generally won’t make much/any use of general check-ups and/or preventative care. And if shit hits the fan, you’ll be covered for pretty much everything else through your travel insurance. So unless you fall seriously chronically ill (for example: cancer), you’ll be able to claim any urgent treatment on your travel insurance. If you need any regular check-ups or treatment of pre-existing conditions, you have to pay for these out of pocket and get them done in cheaper countries with great health care such as Thailand, Mexico or South Korea.
It is, of course, risky to give up your health care altogether because you never know what fate has in store for you. Returning home and finding health insurance with a pre-existing condition can prove to be more difficult than you thought. The assessment of that risk is up to you.
Option 3: Get a health care plan abroad
Every country you visit will have a national health care. Expats can choose to get a local health insurance, but it often means you have to be a registered citizen of that country. This, therefore, is only a viable option for expats relocating to a country for a longer time.
Option 4: Get a global healthcare plan
Digital Nomads that opt for a health care plan outside of their own home country, can get a global health insurance option which allows them to move around more freely and access health care in multiple countries. If you’re looking to me for a recommendation, I have to disappoint you (sorry!). Health care is an incredibly difficult topic, and which company and plan are right for you, depends primarily on your country of origin, the country/countries you’re traveling to, and your personal situation.
I recommend looking into and asking a quote from these three companies, which are all popular health care providers for digital nomads and expats. The prices for these plans are most likely going to be higher than travel insurance since this is actual health insurance like you would have back home:
Comparing travel insurance for digital nomads:
Today we are comparing SafetyWing versus WorldNomads to find the best travel insurance for digital nomads.
SafetyWing for digital nomads
SafetyWing is a travel insurance company built for and by digital nomads, so my expectations for them are high. Let’s look into their coverage.
What is covered in SafetyWing travel medical insurance?
- Coverage for unexpected illness or injuries abroad including expenses for hospitals, doctors or prescription drugs.
- Emergency travel-related benefits such as emergency medical evacuation, travel delay and lost checked luggage.
- Minimal and limited health coverage in your home country: for every 90 days, you will be covered up to 15 days (in the United States) or 30 days (if your home country isn’t the United States).
What is excluded in SafetyWing travel medical insurance?
- Routine check-ups and preventative care
- Pre-existing conditions (except for the acute onset of those pre-existing conditions)
- Cancer treatment
What is deductible?
You will have to check out the complete description of your coverage to find out exactly what is covered.
What’s the monthly price?
Depending on your age and on your need to get USA coverage, it can be as cheap as $36.96 per month (28 days).
Does it have worldwide coverage?
You are covered worldwide, except for North Korea and Iran.
For how long will you be covered?
SafetyWing allows you to only enter a start date and pay for the first 28 days. Then your insurance will automatically extend every 4-weeks until you decide to cancel it or for a maximum of a year. After a year you can then buy another package if you’d like to stay abroad longer. There is no cap on how long you can travel.
Are your equipment and belongings covered?
It only covers lost checked luggage, no expensive equipment.
Is travel insurance included?
Yes, this insurance acts mostly like travel insurance!
Do you have coverage in the United States?
Yes, but only 15 days out of every 90 days.
Can it be purchased while traveling?
Yes, it is available for purchase in 180 countries and can be bought while you’re already traveling.
World Nomads for digital nomads
What is covered in World Nomads insurance?
- Coverage for unexpected illness or injuries abroad including expenses for hospital, doctor, emergency dental treatment or prescription drugs.
- Emergency travel-related benefits such as emergency medical evacuation, missed and delayed flights and lost checked luggage.
- Stolen or lost belongings (covering gear for digital nomads such as a laptop, camera, mobile phone, etc.).
- Adventure activities
It varies per plan what is covered and what isn’t. It also depends on your destination and home country. There are two plans:
What is deductible in World Nomads insurance?
You will have to check out the complete description of your coverage to find out exactly what is covered. This page helps.
What is not covered in World Nomads insurance?
Pre-existing conditions (anything you’ve shown symptoms of, been treated or tested for, recommended you be tested for, or received a prescription for in the six months prior to signing up for coverage)
What’s the monthly price of World Nomads?
This can vary depending on where you’re heading, where you are from and the plan chosen. I made a few tests and it’s a bit more expensive than SafetyWing. Generally, it will cost about $4 to $8 a day. However, it also covers more, as it also protects your belongings and covers you for adventures/sports.
Are you covered worldwide?
Yes, all countries are covered if you are a U.S. resident. This can vary based on your country of residence. You can check it here.
For how long will you be covered?
As you can pick your travel dates, there are no typical monthly packages. You can extend your coverages while traveling.
Are your equipment and belongings covered?
Yes, they are! Things that are covered:
- iPhones & Smartphones
- iPads & Tablets
- Digital Cameras
- Lenses & memory cards
- GoPro & Video Cameras
- Laptops, notebooks & netbooks
- Digital Storage Devices
Under the Explorer plan, you can be covered for up to $2000 per item. You can also upgrade for more cover.
Do you have coverage in the United States?
Can it be purchased while traveling?
Yes, but you do need a home base to be able to purchase WorldNomad insurance.
SafetyWing vs World Nomads
|What is covered?||
|What is not covered?||
|Are you covered worldwide?||Yes, except for North Korea and Iran.||Yes.|
|Is equipment covered?||No. Only lost luggage.||Yes, these items are covered:
Under the explorer plan you are covered for up to $2000 per item.
|Are adventure sports covered?||No.||Yes|
|Maximum coverage term?||There is no maximum term. You can buy and extend insurance while traveling.||There is no maximum term. You can buy and extend insurance while traveling.|
|Do you have coverage in the United States?||Yes, but limited. If the US is your home country, you’re covered for 15 days for every 90 days of travel in the US.||Yes.|
|Can you purchase it while traveling?||Yes.||Yes.|
|What is the price?||Approx $37 for 4 weeks||Approx $120 for 4 weeks|
What is the best travel insurance for digital nomads?
When it comes to the best health insurance for digital nomads, I can’t make a recommendation because too many variables come into the decision. But I can give you a recommendation based on travel insurance for digital nomads.
SafetyWing is the cheapest option I’ve found in terms of travel insurance for digital nomads. If you’re not planning on traveling to the United States, and aren’t traveling with expensive equipment, and don’t plan on doing adventure sports (we’re not sure what their stance is on it), you’ll be best off with SafetyWing as it saves you a considerable amount of money!
If you are traveling with expensive equipment you want covered, plan on traveling in the USA, and love doing a few adventure sports, your best bet is to go with World Nomads insurance. You can read reviews by happy customers here.
What have you done in terms of health insurance as a digital nomad?
This article contains affiliate links.
PIN IT FOR LATER:
I appreciate your article, but I think “option 1” is simply wrong. Or please reference me any one country in this world which will provide health care to a citizen who left the home country and stayed abroad for a prolonged amount of time?
For example, Sweden, which has one of the best healthcare systems in the world, will automatically exclude anyone staying for something like 30 days or longer abroad (can’t remember exactly how many days, but around there). It doesn’t even matter if said person is still registered as a resident in Sweden and it doesn’t even matter if said person pay taxes there.
Of course, if I was registered in Sweden and paid taxes there, I wouldn’t be too worried, because theory differs from practice.
In practice, the government often know only what we tell them. A Swedish citizen – to continue on my previous example – could just return home and walk into an hospital. Even as an unregistered and non-resident, if he speaks his native language the hospital staff is unlikely to ask him for documents or details of his coverage. They will simply treat him without asking too many questions. At least for small and inexpensive fixes.
But if I accrued cancer as a Swedish ex-pat, I would probably still want to register myself in Sweden first before walking into a hospital and demand expensive multi-year treatments.
The point, however, is that option 1 – I believe – is wrong. And built from my own experience, governments are not the nice and helpful entities we many times want to believe. One better google the shit out of his rights and guard these rights or acquire them before venturing out on a prolonged global venture.
Dear anonymous poster, I cannot speak for any country’s government, but I know at least for The Netherlands you’re insured for health insurance as long as you’re a citizen. It’s illegal not to have health insurance in NL, you’ll get fined and eventually the government will get you one (and then charge you for it). There are requirements to being considered a citizen, ofcourse, but it’s a great option if you’re still regularly in your home country. What is the right or wrong option depends on each person, and they should do their own research into the rules and regulations that apply to their situation.
For Canadians, the case is similar to what “Why is this required?” mentioned: If you’re out of the country more than 6 months, you’re no longer covered even if you’re a citizen and still a resident. I would imagine most countries worldwide are the same. They don’t want to pay health care for people who don’t even live in their country and potentially don’t even pay taxes there.
This is going to be a big problem for me soon. An expensive one, at least. Apparently SafetyWing’s planning on releasing health insurance for digital nomads, which will hopefully be affordable and what I (and likely many others) need. Have you heard about that?
Japan does this. It actually requires this, due to them having universal healthcare.
A very helpful article thank you, wondering if you or anyone could help as this seems to be a bit of a nightmare as in what is covered by each insurance company. I permanently travel only returning home a couple of weeks a year (have to see the family). We do not have the best family health record and even though I am young I worry about becoming seriously ill. I do not have loads of money but as far as I can tell travel health insurance doesn’t cover the major things. Does anyone have any advice or experience on serious conditions and recommendations about taking out ‘global health insurance’ vs ‘travel health insurance’.
I just confirmed this on the phone today when talking with a World Nomads agent, but equipment/electronics are NOT covered if they are for professional/occupational use. That’s an important distinction, since many digital nomads use electronics for work.