Travel Insurance for the Digital Nomad (Or: Ya Feeling Lucky, Punk?)

Posted by   Annette on    May 31, 2013

To insure or not to insure?

When you're already looking at a hefty tab for your travel, it's hard to think about adding additional line items to the budget. If you're smart about it, however, you can generally reduce (or, even, eliminate) the hit, while retaining your sanity and your peace of mind.

1. Weigh the risks of your activities.

Natch, right?

I'm a great example of someone who clearly needs to ante up for insurance. I am a BASE jumper. I travel all over the world to jump from buildings, antennas, bridges and cliffs (as well as hot-air balloons, paragliders, microlights and random tethered tourist balloons in Istanbul). I also skydive, paraglide, speed fly, rock climb, motorcycle, adventioneer and generally imperil myself on a daily basis. 

I travel with my gear. LOADS of gear. Expensive gear. Also, as a digital nomad, I live and die by my laptop. Losing my gear or my lappy in an airline snafu or in a theft would be life-rocking.  hospital-room.jpg

Hardcore, comprehensive insurance ain’t a “maybe” for me. If you’re more of a bowling-and-knitting type, perhaps it is for you. 


You might fall off a slackline, get t-boned on a rental scooter, get bitten by a virulent mosquito, discover a brand-new and exciting allergy you didn't know you had, or any of a thousand ugly happenstances for which it would be ideal (or even lifesaving) to have medivac-inclusive coverage.

This is a high-stakes game. Play well.

2. Check for insurances you already own.

Homeowner’s, renter’s and business insurances often cover incidents while traveling. Check the details and exclusions for your policies and see if this might be the case for you.

3. Read up on your credit cards.

Read the small print on every credit card you own. Many of the best credit cards for travel also carry coverage. Gather up your paperwork and review the list. You might be ready already. Lots of these cards come with some modicum of travel protection, and that might be enough for your purposes.

If you’re already on the road, the only card that will prospectively cover your losses will be the one you used to buy the trip, so look at your receipts (you’re keeping them, right?) and determine which card that might be.

Consider, if your finances embrace it, getting a new credit card that will cover baggage and rental car damage.

An important note about credit card rental car insurance: the protections often have limits based on the length of the rental contract. For example, one of my cards only covers rental car loss and damage when the total contract is less than 15 days. Since I generally travel for much longer than that, I don’t use that card for rental cars. Empower yourself with the knowledge of what each card will cover and what it won’t — baggage replacement limits, exclusions, etc. It’s dry reading, but it might save your ass.

Claims sometimes take AGES (months!) to process through the credit card insurance providers. Keep this in mind if you run a tight cash flow.

4. Long-term travel? Get an international (expat) health plan.

If you aren’t going to be based specifically in the US, neither should your health insurance. It’ll get much cheaper (and better) if you go with an international plan. I personally have the Mobile Health Plan from AETNA, which would fly me to the closest specialized care for any health issue that arose, and I’ve been very happy with it so far.

Also helpful on the road, AETNA has smartphone apps for claim submission and finding a provider.

** UPDATE: I no longer carry an AETNA policy. I switched to IMG Global. That plan offers an adventure sports rider (in addition to the basic coverages) that covers me for skydiving and mountain sports--and their rate was better than AETNA's. IMG's online system is pretty comprehensive, too.