This article was last updated on September 8, 2019.
The logistics that come with starting a digital nomad lifestyle are the main barrier to entry for most people who want to live abroad in exotic (yet more affordable) countries, work remotely on their laptop, and take advantage of currency exchange rates to improve their quality of life.
I speak from experience when I say that nomad travel insurance is one of the primary obstacles that raises doubts and confusion for aspiring digital nomads. Sure, there’s other obstacles to becoming a digital nomad but expat insurance is high on the list.
With that in mind, my aim with this article is to set proper expectations and provide a comprehensive, easy to understand guide to nomad-friendly insurance for long-term international travelers and digital nomads alike.
This guide provides details about nomad insurance coverage for both US citizens and non US citizens.
The majority of digital nomads I’ve met either through Hobo with a Laptop or in person use World Nomads and SafetyWing without issue (and a majority of our readers choosing Safetywing), although US citizens have the affordable care act (Obamacare) to consider. And that’s why I focus much of this guide on those two brands.
Is This Nomad Travel Insurance Guide for You?
If you’re reading this nomad insurance guide, you’re likely to be:
- Traveling a minimum of 30 days in 1 or more foreign countries
- An open book in terms of your location
- Semi off-grid at times, far from a hospital or capable doctor
- Taking risks by using a motorbike or “adventure sports” activities like scuba diving, climbing, off-roading
- Possess electronics that are important, fragile, likely expensive, and theftworthy
- Some readers may have a chronic illness like diabetes to contend with on a daily basis
You may not have a plan in terms of your location, so you’re likely going to need international health insurance that will cover you wherever you roam, for however long that is, planned or otherwise.
From my understanding, many old school expat insurance providers require your full travel itinerary in advance and have a maximum coverage term that adds to the headache.
For the sake of this guide, we’re focusing on World Nomads vs SafetyWing; two nomad travel health insurances brands that have flexible coverage wherever you might wind up, and they both allow you to change, update, or renew your policy online while you’re still on the road.
Related: How to Become a Digital Nomad, Step-by-Step
Editorial Purposes Only
By reading this nomad travel insurance guide you agree to our site policies –in particular, the disclaimer that says something along the lines of Hobo with a Laptop and it’s authors not being liable for any misinformation, outdated information, or harm of any kind that comes to you as a result of reading it.
I’ve written this travel insurance comparison to the best of my knowledge and understanding as a nomad of 7+ years, but mistakes or changes to insurance policy terms can happen. Use the information within these travel insurance reviews at your own risk and discretion, it is provided for editorial purposes only.
Everyone has different needs, therefore I will not endorse one travel insurance company over the other. What works for me may not work for you.
Related: What’s the Best GPS Tracker for Traveling, Kids, Pets, and Luggage?
How to Get Nomad Insurance
If you’re in the market to get nomad insurance, the best way to go about it is to go through the sign up process and/or get a quote online without necessarily giving your credit card number before calling support to speak to a human being who can answer any additional questions you will have.
After you do a dry run and you’re familiar with the policy and procedure that’s customized for people in your region/country, pick up the phone and flesh out answers to questions that may not have been answered.
Customer service reps are extra helpful when they know you’re about to pull the trigger on a policy purchase.
They’re Not Your Friend
Ask questions! Don’t take anything on faith! When I read negative reviews for anything, I’ll often think “boy, glad I asked that question before I signed up”.
Questions are also a really great way to figure out how not to get f*cked by your nomad insurance provider in a crisis situation when you’re making an insurance claim.
In my mind, insurance companies respectfully fall into the same category as lawyers, police officers, and online grammar nazis –everything you say can and will be used against you. There’s little room for benefit of the doubt. They’re honest, but legalistic.
A sunny rapport doesn’t mean you won’t trip up a claim on a technicality, how you frame a situation, or with semantics.
Be polite, but frank. Use short sentences. Ask questions before making statements if you’re unclear on something so you know how to answer them in the legalistic way they’re viewing your claim. Only provide answers to questions, don’t tell stories. Pretend they hate you and they’re gnawing on a leftover kitten.
Losing a claim could be as simple as providing too much superfluous information or not asking a question before you provide an answer –or trudge over to an internet cafe to scan and email the wrong document.
Have an Emergency Fund
And finally, always expect to pay for all expenses you’re covered for out of pocket, first.
Most hospitals around the world don’t have a computer link-up to your nomad insurance provider’s computer –meaning that it could be weeks until you get your money back, sans deductible.
Same goes for damaged luggage. Insurance companies have insurance and a line of credit, too. They need to provide a paper trail to the higher-ups, and often that means you’re on your own, if only for a little while. Claims take time to process.
Expect delays at the onset of a problem and you might be pleasantly surprised. As opposed to expecting too much too fast, and getting f*cked.
A majority of complaints I see about nomad insurance claims online are because policy holders think that they’re entitled to getting things replaced immediately, on their word without formal verification, while they’re traveling. Sadly it doesn’t work that way.
If you’re underprepared, I’ve known a few US citizens who have had success getting a fast loan with next-day turnover to cover costs while travelling health insurance claims were filed and fulfilled.
Know Your Coverage Inside and Out
Some questions you might want to ask before signing up for nomad travel insurance include;
- What’s the deductible on health-related claims like paying for a ride in an ambulance (extraction), treating an injury (cuts and scrapes), or a medical procedure like a surgery or emergency dental work? Are these things even included?
- What are the requirements for making a claim on lost or stolen luggage? What if your wallet is stolen? Do you need to observe the crime take place? How do you prove it? What are grounds for not being covered?
- What’s the deductible on your gear?
- What’s the “book value” of your laptop model?
- How many business days will it take to be reimbursed on a claim? Keep this in mind, as it’s normal to pay out of pocket, up front, for expenses and be reimbursed at a later date
- What sort of activities are covered? ie. Riding a motorbike or scooter, scuba diving, rock climbing, hiking, and other “adventure activities”
- Are there elements of any claim that may require you being physically in my home country? ie. “document of non-repairability from your home country” —and if so, how much time do you have before you must actually go home and produce it in order to be compensated?
- If a US citizen –How does this policy relate to the affordable care act (Obamacare)?
Consider reading bad reviews about nomad travel insurance providers before you phone in, before you sign up for a policy –and write down questions based on other people’s negative experiences so you’re not one of them.
I’ll supply links to TrustPilot reviews for both brands later in this travel insurance comparison.
Nomad Insurance Lingo
There are a few terms I feel you should understand, in plain English, before we begin.
While outside of your home country you may not be covered by pre existing insurance policies or government healthcare back home because you’re outside of said home country for a particular amount of time.
Health insurance can cover things like:
- Coverage of medical, surgical, and/or treatment costs associated to unexpected illnesses, dental emergencies, or injuries
- Pay for physical extraction –like, say, if a helicopter was required to pull you out of a jungle, ambulance, etc.
Nomad travel insurance is for when something goes wrong, trip-wise, such as:
- Flight cancellations
- Trip interruptions
- Lost, damaged, or stolen luggage items
Travel insurance cost for nomad gear could include freak accidents like someone stealing your laptop or it getting soaked during Songkran in Thailand (guilty! And covered by World Nomads after my first year abroad).
I won’t pull any punches; SafetyWing lacks in coverage when compared to World Nomads, but it’s not necessarily a shortcoming (and potentially a huge cost savings).
If you investigate the world travel insurance coverage provided by your credit card company, travel agent or airline booking site, additional travel insurance you might already have without knowing it could compliment SafetyWing’s low-cost expat insurance, nicely.
It could be considered a smart move on the part of SafetyWing to leave out some of the coverage its competitors offer in order to keep your monthly costs down.
An insurance deductible is the amount you pay for services or losses before your insurance provider starts to pick up the tab.
For example, with a $500 deductible you pay the first $500 of covered services or losses yourself.
After you pay your deductible, you coverage is usually only a book value (of say, your laptop –ask your insurance company what that is), copayment, or coinsurance for covered services and/or losses.
EXPAT INSURANCE SHOWDOWN!
World Nomads vs SafetyWing
World Nomads and SafetyWing are available to people from hundreds of countries, internationally, all over the planet. They’re sort of like the Skyscanner of nomad insurance, partnering with the most competitive insurance companies in your home country to bring you the best possible coverage for a fraction of what it would typically cost.
When compared to the direct-to-consumer pricing of an underwriting insurance company, I’ve found that the buying power of both Safetywing and World Nomads insurance makes rates more competitive, and at a lower cost in many cases.
Why World Nomads and Safetywing are on this travel insurance comparison;
- They are both incredibly competitive on price, flexibility, and coverage because they aren’t tied down with massive infrastructure –they’re online shops with low overhead and they pass on that savings to you
- You can sign up for either nomad travel insurance brand from the road, after you’ve started your adventure
- Both services require you to have a home address in your home country, but you won’t need to be there when you sign up online
- The sign up process for both of these nomad insurance providers is fully online, quick, affordable, flexible, and generally the best a digital nomad could hope for
- Neither of these insurers have a “maximum coverage term”, so you can keep renewing your policy as long as you’re traveling
Your choice of international health insurance boils down to the coverage you’re looking for at a price you can afford.
However, there are differences between these nomad insurance providers. Let’s discuss the differences between them in this SafetyWing vs World Nomads travel insurance review.
World Nomads travel insurance comes at a slightly higher price point than SafetyWing travel insurance, but it has greater coverage and makes a great primary provider. Meaning that with World Nomads, there’s a likelihood it’s all the insurance you need.
World Nomads has a comprehensive offering with excellent coverage for health insurance internationally, as well as nomad travel insurance.
World Nomads appears to have been first in terms of travel nomad insurance, and is endorsed by key publications like Lonely Planet and influential travel blogger Nomadic Matt.
World Nomads Travel Insurance Review
TrustPilot has an overall average World Nomads travel insurance review of 3/5 stars:
You can view the World Nomads review on TrustPilot and see how they got this rating.
Here’s a few notable examples of what is and isn’t covered with World Nomads travel insurance:
- Travel delays including missed, delayed, cancelled flights
- Lost checked luggage, stolen/damaged gear including laptops, GoPro cameras, tablets, smart phone, digital storage devices, cameras and lenses, etc. Under the explorer plan you are covered for up to $2000 per item
- Worldwide coverage, no exclusions
- US citizens have coverage in the United States
- Health coverage for unexpected injuries and illnesses due to “adventure activities” or sports (if “Explorer” policy), dental emergencies, hospital stay, prescriptions, doctors, and emergency medical evacuation (extraction)
- Not covered: Pre existing conditions of 6 months prior to coverage, cancer treatment, routine checkups, preventative care
- Note that World Nomads has 2 tiers of insurance; “Standard” and “Explorer” –the latter being more comprehensive
SafetyWing is a noticeably cheap travel insurance brand than World Nomads, although its coverage varies in a number of different ways. Meaning that you might retain insurance you had back home, or that of your travel agent, booking site, or your credit card company and use SafetyWing to fill in a few of the blanks.
SafetyWing serves as a hybrid of both health insurance for nomads, as well as travel insurance.
SafetyWing is the new kid on the block and presents admirable competition to World Nomads. It was started by nomads, for nomads.
SafetyWing Travel Insurance Review
TrustPilot has an overall positive SafetyWing travel insurance review of 4/5 stars:
You can view the SafetyWing review on TrustPilot and see how they got this rating.
Here’s a few notable examples of what is and isn’t covered with SafetyWing’s nomad travel insurance:
- Travel delays out of your control, does not include missed flights
- Only lost checked luggage is covered, no expensive electronics like laptops, GoPro cameras, iPads, tablets, cameras, lenses, etc. –they’ll be adding coverage for this in 2019
- Worldwide coverage except for North Korea, Cuba and Iran, and coverage in the US costs an extra $31/4 weeks
- 30 days for every 90 days of medical coverage in your home country –unless you’re a US citizen– if the US is your home country you get 15 days of coverage for every 90 days you’re there (a rarity for travel insurance)
- Health coverage for unexpected injuries and illnesses; hospital stay, prescriptions, doctors, and emergency medical evacuation (extraction), only acute onset of pre existing conditions are included in some cases
- Not covered: Pre existing conditions, cancer treatment, routine checkups, preventative care and there’s limited coverage for sports and adventure activities
Confirm all the details above before you purchase your travel insurance nomad policy because some details related to your coverage may have changed.
My Travel Insurance Experience
I’ve personally used World Nomads travel insurance as my provider. When I made a claim on a non-health related issue they were quick –much quicker than I’d expected, and without too many hoops to jump through.
It wasn’t a nightmare, as I had the means to print, sign, scan, and email my claim information at a local tattoo shop in Ao Nang, Krabi, Thailand at that time.
The TrustPilot reviews say something else. There’s a lot of possible reasons for that and I will stand aside and let you be the judge. I love TrustPilot, I just don’t trust every user who’s ever written a review on it.
In either case, I think both nomad travel insurance companies deliver potent value for the cost of their coverage and will continue to grow and improve.
My needs dictate my solution, I think both insurers offer a great service or they wouldn’t be on Hobo with a Laptop. As previously mentioned, a majority of our readers choose Safetywing over World Nomads.
Buy Expat Insurance & Have Emergency Money
At the end of the day, you don’t want to make the leap into digital nomadism without proper expat insurance and emergency money. We’re all fragile, we all have others who rely on and love us, and our meat sacks –as impressive as they may be– are fallible.
Things can fall apart quickly and it’s scary as hell.
Our best experiences, those that test our mettle, often come with a few scrapes, road rash, bruises, jellyfish stings, perhaps parasites or internal bleeding, and maybe even a couple days attached to a machine. Make sure you can afford that machine.
Laptops are expensive and we rely on them to tether ourselves to reality to sustain, but our bodies are one of a kind.
We know that most bloggers make it look carefree, but the truth is, it’s anything but. Even I’m guilty of that carefree bullshit. These photos I use –come on.
Look around, plenty of us nomads who came before you have f*cked up royally –and that’s not what GoFundMe is for; can you imagine being in a hospital relying on a GoFundMe campaign because you didn’t have nomad travel insurance?
Most of us have some form of digital nomad-friendly insurance with one provider or another.
Maybe it’s your credit card company, it came with your flight booking, or in the least, you go with a cheap travel insurance policy that covers a few important bases.
If you can’t afford nomad insurance, it’s my guess that you probably shouldn’t become a digital nomad just yet.
A Quote Won’t Hurt
Sign Up for Nomad Insurance
If you buy a policy we’ll make a small cut to help make Hobo with a Laptop worthwhile, at no cost to you.
What do you think? If we made a mistake in this travel insurance comparison, or there’s a shiny new travel insurance nomad contender –please let us and everyone else know in the comments.
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