Travel Insurance for the USA: What to Know Before you Buy

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The USA is the home of the American dream, and thousands of tourists from the UK head there each year to enjoy its huge cities, incredible national parks and magical theme parks. America supersizes everything - including medical bills. Going on a trip to the USA without medical cover could not only cost you a lot of money, but also your health.

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Using travel insurance in the USA

The medical care in North America is of a very high standard. However, this high level of quality comes at a price - health care isn’t free in the land of the free.

The USA medical system isn’t the same as our NHS. It relies almost completely on private health insurance and, because the government doesn’t put any price limits on what hospitals can charge, the prices can be astronomical. Prices vary state by state, city by city and can even vary between the different hospitals within the same city. So, it’s important to know that the price you pay in one hospital could be wildly different from the price you pay in another (and your provider will probably stipulate which hospitals it covers).

american flag and first aid kit

Even some minor complaints could leave you out of pocket by a few hundred pounds. If you don’t have medical insurance you may be expected to pay this upfront or before being discharged. If you can’t pay then you risk not being treated at all. Many hospitals will ask for a large deposit in order to begin treatment.

In the case of emergencies, you will be admitted to the nearest hospital. If this hospital is private then you will probably be moved to a “public hospital” when you are stable enough to be transferred. However, these hospitals also aren’t free. You will be billed for your treatment, and if you can’t pay,you will be taken to court and perhaps even prosecuted.

It is not mandatory to have travel insurance to enter the USA unless you are over 60 years old. If you are over 60 but can’t show appropriate travel insurance documentation, you may be denied entry.

Things you should look for when buying travel insurance for the USA

Valid in the USA: Due to the high prices of medical care in the USA, it is often excluded in standard worldwide travel insurance policies. If you are buying an annual multi-trip policy, make sure you choose worldwide cover including the USA.

Cancellation coverage: Holidays to the USA can be expensive so make sure that the policy will cover cancelled hotel reservations and plane tickets, should something happen before or during the trip.

Full medical coverage and evacuation coverage: The plan should cover all potential medical expenses, including ambulance transport. Make sure that the level of medical coverage is high enough and that you have repatriation cover included. As we mentioned, you can expect higher costs in the USA than the UK so make sure you have an adequate level of cover.

Lost, stolen or damaged gear or luggage: The USA is generally safe, although the level of safety does vary depending on where you are. Tourists should always be cautious and follow general safety guidelines, and make sure your belongings are covered against theft and loss.

Dangerous activity coverage or exclusion: The range of activities on offer in the USA is extensive, making it a great holiday destination. Consider all the activities you are planning for your holiday. Activities such as trekking and surfing, which many people would consider relatively normal, may not be included in your policy. Shop around until you find a policy that will cover all your activities. If they are included in the standard policy, you can usually add them as an optional extra.

Car Accidents: The biggest type of accidents for tourists in the USA is car accidents, so make sure driving is included in your travel policy, or that you are covered separately.

You should always read the terms and conditions of your policy very carefully and declare all pre-existing medical conditions before travel. No matter how insignificant it may seem it could invalidate any future claims. Better to be safe than sorry!

Insurance case study: always declare pre-existing medical conditions!

A British woman fell ill in the USA while visiting her daughter.

air ambulance

The woman, who is in her sixties, was rushed into hospital with a heart condition and spent two weeks in intensive care where she racked up a bill of £300,000. This comprised of £200,000 worth of medical fees and nearly £100,000 to get her home from the USA.

She later found out that her travel insurance had been denied in the United States because she hadn’t declared a congenital heart condition.

Her husband was forced to return to the UK so he could continue working and start paying off his wife’s medical bills.

Travel insurance for the USA covering terrorism

Due to high profile events in the USA, such as September 11th, and mass shootings, travellers may be worried about their safety when going to thereon holiday. About 3.8 million UK nationals visit the USA each year and mostly without incident. However, you might still want cover for such an event.

How do insurance companies define terrorism?In most travel insurance policies, terrorism is described as “an act of violence, other than civil disorder or riot, that is not an act of war, declared or undeclared, that results in loss of life or major damage to property, by any person acting on behalf of or in connection with any organization which is generally recognized as having the intent to overthrow or influence control of any government.”

Like we mentioned, the possibility of being caught up in a terrorist incident is very small. Widespread media coverage has made these incidents seem much more likely than they actually are. Only about 300 tourists have been involved in terrorist attacks since 2002. In fact, the likelihood of being caught up in a terrorist attack is less likely than being hit by lightning.

It’s always good to keep things in perspective and check the government guidelines before you go. If you feel that you would feel more secure with terrorism cover then you can make sure your trip is protected by an insurance policy which covers terrorism. Very few insurers cover this beyond emergency medical treatment. However, there are some insurers, such as Safe Journey, who provide terrorism cover as an additional supplement.

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Price comparison of travel insurance policies for the USA

The most important thing to consider when buying travel insurance for the USA is the level of medical care the insurer provides It’s also really important that your insurer has a wide network of hospitals for you to choose from, should an emergency strike.

Additionally, make sure your insurer has a 24 hour medical assistance line so that you get approval for your claim quickly, preferably before you arrive at the hospital. This will speed up the process and ensure that you know you are heading to a hospital where your provider will cover the costs. Although very uncommon these days, avoid any insurer where you have to pay and claim a refund later. Otherwise, you may end up unable to get treatment if you can’t afford it yourself.

We have compared prices across a random selection of travel insurance policies to give you an indication of what’s on the market. There are literally hundreds of travel insurance policies for the USA. With so much choice you can be sure that there’s one for you.

We ran some quotes for a 35-year-old travelling to the USA. We did not declare any pre-existing medical conditions or request any optional extras.

Provider Cost for Single Trip Policy Cost for Annual Policy Standard Benefits Limits
Coverwise (Standard Policy) £9.95 £16.45
  • Medical care: £20 million
  • Baggage: £1,000
  • Cancellation: £1,000
Insure and Go (Light Economy Policy) £13.50 £23.49
  • Medical care: £15 million
  • Baggage: £750
  • Cancellation: £1,000
Cover for You (Emerald Policy) £15.00 £36.50
  • Medical care: £15 million
  • Baggage: £1,250
  • Cancellation: £1,500
Virgin Money (Economy Policy) £15.57 £24.78
  • Medical care: £15 million
  • Baggage: £1,250
  • Cancellation: £1,500
ASDA Money (Economy Plus Policy) £16.98 £35.39
  • Medical care: £10 million
  • Baggage: £850
  • Cancellation: £1,500

Information correct as of October 2019. Always check your quote or policy wording for the most up to date figures.

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Travelling in the USA: good to know

No matter what type of holiday you have planned, some basic preparation is always wise. Here are some important factors to consider when planning a trip to the USA:

 Drinking Water - The water is safe to drink in the USA because the government provides for safe drinking water for all residents under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). This only applies to the public water system, so if you stay on a farm with a well take your cue from the owner.

If you are someone that just has to have bottled water it won’t be difficult to find! Water is now the number one bottled drink in the USA, almost half of it being purified tap water.

 Vaccinations - The UK government recommends visiting for information before you travel to any country. The USA is a very safe place to travel to health-wise, and there are no certificate requirements under International Health Regulations.

The site still recommends you be up to date with all the routine vaccinations recommended for the UK. In addition, it advises that tetanus is a good idea for most travellers, and the rabies vaccination for some (depending on where you are heading and activities you are planning).

 Visa - While technically speaking, UK nationals do not need a visa to enter the USA on holiday, you still need to apply for the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). It is a much simpler process than applying for a visa but essential in order to gain entry to the USA whether your visit is for tourism, business, transit or medical purposes.

Important information about applying:

  • You need a valid electronic (biometric) passport. Since 2015, the USA requires everyone who enters to be a biometric passport holder.
  • You need to apply at least 72 hours before you travel.
  • The ESTA is valid for two years and once you enter the USA you can stay for a maximum of 90 days.
  • You complete an online application form, pay an application fee of US $14 and will be sent confirmation via email.
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 Emergency Services - Dial 911 to call any of the major emergency services in the USA - fire brigade, police, ambulance.

Data and information correct as of October 2019.

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