Why You Need Travel Insurance for Your Trip to Asia

Friends and other loved ones see the fact that my family and I live in Thailand as an opportunity for them to skip Florida or Hawaii for once.  They view it as their chance to explore Southeast Asia, often for the first time. I love that they do this.

They are smart.


One thing about Americans though, we don’t always seem to “get” travel insurance. For some reason, as a whole, it seems that we are far more likely to purchase a pair of specially designed travel pants or quick-dry underwear than travel insurance. Perhaps this is due to our relative inexperience with overseas travel. Perhaps it is due to the fact that so many of us have health insurance already – our US domestic-style health insurance, that is.  And we assume, if we think of it at all, that this health insurance will cover us if we get into medical trouble in a foreign country.  Or, we have some vague notion that one of our credit cards includes a travel insurance feature, so we tell ourselves we’re good. Or was it our homeowners insurance policy? And again, that’s if we think about it at all. In fact, the reality is that the mentioned products almost never cover travel-related mishaps, or if they do (in the case of credit card insurance) they are usually extremely limited.

Perhaps too, when planning a fun overseas adventure, the last thing anyone really wants to think about is something going wrong. So maybe the brain just avoids considering this need?

I am not sure about the psychology.  I do know, however, that over the years living and working in the international healthcare space (yes, that’s a space) in Thailand, I have seen a lot. And because of this I am nothing short of evangelistic on the need of this product.  So much so, in fact, that one year under the Christmas tree, mine were the gifts of travel insurance policies for those without for an upcoming multi-generation family visit to Vietnam.

Going to far?

I think not.


Travel insurance covers a variety of possible troubles associated with travel, including:

  • the airline cancels your flight
  • the airline loses your luggage
  • the airline delays your flight
  • you have a personal emergency requiring cancelation of your trip; or
  • your trip gets interrupted by a personal emergency requiring you to bail after your holiday has begun.

None of the above is important.

There is only one reason you need travel insurance — that is for medical evacuation by ground or air or even boat, and the resulting healthcare in an international-quality hospital, in the extremely rare case that you get fantastically unlucky and need it.

No domestic American health insurance, the type most American carry, will bear the costs of a medical evacuation if you need it. Most, and especially Medicare, won’t even cover healthcare services in a hospital located outside the US.  Both these costs are, however, exactly what a good travel insurance product is designed to cover.

Now, Thailand itself is not a hardship location in terms of healthcare. There are many solid private international hospitals and clinics that provide very decent if not better care for an affordable price than a traveler can find in his or her home country. This may tempt you into foregoing travel insurance.

Buy it anyways. And if your travel plans include any of the surrounding countries in Southeast Asia such as Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, or Cambodia, don’t even think twice. Resist the temptation not to, and just buy the insurance. It’s cheap and easy to purchase online.

When you are already spending a few thousand dollars on a major overseas trip, there is no way that the purchase of a $50-100 travel insurance policy does not earn the peace of mind it provides. In all likelihood you will never need it, but if you do it can literally save your life, not to mention your finances.


You see, every year accidents and illnesses occur to travelers in this part of the world. Though rare, here are a few recent examples I have seen first-hand:

  • A lone hiker deviates from a trail in the jungle outside of Luang Prabang, Laos, falls down a ravine, goes unconscious, is immobile and not discovered for two days. Medical evacuation to Bangkok is required.
  • An older tourist falls off a ruin at UN World Heritage site, Angkor Wat, in Siem Reap, Cambodia, resulting in brain trauma, broken limbs and needing serious medical care. Medical evacuation is required.
  • Two young backpackers dining in Chiangmai get sick. One recovers quickly. The other catches a nasty bacterial infection that quickly migrates to her heart. The local hospital is unable to help and her condition worsens. Medical evacuation to Bangkok with a heart and lung machine is required.
  • An elephant carrying a young teenage girl during a tourist “adventure” outing in northern Thailand is disturbed and throws her off its back.  The elephant stomps on the girls once before she gets pulled to safety.  Severe internal organ damage results.  Medevac to Bangkok is required.
    • SIDE NOTE #1:  maybe consider visiting an elephant rehabilitation camp, instead?
    • SIDE NOTE #2:  this is actually not as unusual as it sounds.  Many hospitals in Thailand see a handful of “elephant stomping” cases each year.

If you do not have travel insurance inclusive of medical evacuation, getting an air ambulance to help you out will only be possible with a hefty upfront payment of at least $5,000 and possibly much much more just to fly you to a decent regional hospital for stabilization and/or further treatment. The hospital expenses will be added on top of that. If you don’t have insurance or the ability to make a quick deposit for the full estimated cost of your care, you will be left with only local options to save your life. At best, evacuation clearance will be delayed while the private air ambulance companies and hospitals crunch numbers to determine how much care you can afford and/or obtain necessary internal approvals to take on the financial risk of accepting your case while simultaneously looking in different time zones for a family member who loves you enough to make a financial deposit for the estimated cost of your evacuation and medical care. Depending on the severity of the injury or illness, this time delay could be fatal.

To be clear – a medical emergency like this will not happen to you. BUT IF IT DOES, and if the solution costs less than a pair of sunglasses, wouldn’t it make sense to purchase that product?

Why even question it?

People who do not buy travel insurance, I believe, simply do not appreciate the danger of not having it when needed.


Travel insurance is easy to purchase, it’s cheap and it is peace of mind. My favorite way to purchase travel insurance is through an on-line broker such as Squaremouth – it can be purchased and downloaded in 5 minutes. Be sure that your travel insurance product includes medical evacuation, and remember to make your purchase before you depart for your trip, or it may be invalid.

Now, relax. For the cost of 5 minutes and a few bucks you have just protected yourself against one of the biggest dangers of your trip.

Do you have a loved one who is planning an exciting trip to Asia? Why not give her a travel insurance policy as a bon voyage gift? It may not be sexy, but neither are those quick-dry travel pants with all the zippers.

And this gift just might save her life.

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