One of the things we often neglect when we go on trips abroad is buying travel insurance. We’re justifiably obsessed with getting the best deals on plane tickets and hotels, arranging itineraries, and researching “must have” experiences we shouldn’t miss. But when it comes to protecting ourselves from possible expenses such as accidents, missed flights, and other things that might negatively impact our travel, we turn a blind eye. We don’t want to “jinx” the trip by being “too negative”. By the time we realize that we should’ve purchased travel insurance, we’re already in the middle of a very expensive mess. In this post, I will share my insights for shopping for the best travel insurance for Filipinos.
Why travel insurance for Filipinos?
We hope that our trips will be problem- and accident-free that many of us fail to properly prepare for sudden health issues. But the fact is, accidents happen at the most inconvenient time and when you least expect it.
One moment you and your parents/friends/special someone were taking photos/having a lavish meal/swimming in an exotic locale. The next moment somebody developed a rash/had a heart attack/had a collapsed lung or kidney and in need of emergency medical attention. Your HMO or health card is not accepted and expenses have ballooned to thousands of dollars in a single day.
This is actually a very common occurrence. I know this for a fact because I talk to many expats and OFWs and I have a cache of horror stories of vacations gone wrong. The only thing these cases had in common was that travelers didn’t buy travel insurance. They ended up with thousands of dollars in medical (or worse, repatriation of bodies) bills.
Some were able to use their savings but a vast majority 1) had to solicit assistance from families and friends back in the Philippines; 2) begged Filipino expats/OFWs for contributions; and/or 3) wanted the embassy, that is, the Philippine government, to pay for their bills.
Which shouldn’t be the case because if you’re on vacation, it means you have enough money to cover all aspects of your trip, including emergencies. It’s very unfair to ask contributions from people who actually work in the country you’re visiting and have them pay your bills. I’ve seen it happen enough times that I always tell friends who come visit me to buy travel insurance if they want to stay in my apartment for free.
I think that if you can’t afford to buy travel insurance, you probably can’t afford to travel. Insuring yourself is part of the expenses of traveling.
Best travel insurance for Filipinos – what should we look for?
Trying to buy travel insurance for Filipinos can be a challenge. The only time we’re reminded of their existence is when we buy plane tickets and get offers from airlines. Which we automatically ignore. Banks also don’t market them so we are unaware of their importance. Personally, these are my requirements when buying travel insurance for Filipinos:
Provider can be easily reached online
Most insurance providers don’t have an online presence. If they do, their websites suck. And then they still ask you to visit their offices to discuss your options with an actual person.
Nobody’s got time for that.
Plus, if it’s already hard to contact these insurance providers when you want to give them money, expect that it will even be harder to contact them when you’re in an emergency and ask them for money.
So my first requirement is that the travel insurance provider has a website and can be easily reached via email or other messaging apps.
Why? Imagine you’re in a hospital in another country where you don’t speak the language. You’re communicating with hospital staff in a combination of broken English and sign language. On top of the stress from worrying about your child’s or mother’s medical condition, the hospital wants you to make a deposit before they proceed with treatment. Then imagine that you can’t reach your insurance provider.
This is why I make sure that before I buy travel insurance, I send an email to the company. Then I take note of how fast they actually respond to my inquiries. I don’t count automatic responses from banks since many of them send the non-robot response days or weeks later, if at all.
Transparency and access through their website
A big factor when I buy travel insurance is if I can read, review, and pay for the travel insurance through the company’s website.
I don’t know what it is with Philippine companies and banks but they really really don’t like putting information on their websites.
Instead of declaring outright what coverage and terms they offer, they make you call or go to a brick and mortar branch to talk to a representative. It’s a waste of time and effort on the part of the customer especially if they don’t end up liking the product. For the bank or insurance company, it’s lost sale from all those who prefer to buy online. It’s just a way for banks to pressure customers into buying products they don’t actually like or need.
It’s not as if setting up an online insurance shop is impossible. A lot of foreign companies can provide quotes instantly depending on age and destination. There are even some Philippines-based insurance companies that have started providing this service.
Being able to buy travel insurance online is important for me because I’m based abroad. When my family travel to visit, I’m the one who pays for everything, including their travel insurance premiums. I’m sure it’s the same for most expats and OFWs. So if a bank or insurance provider is transparent with their offerings and makes life easier for me, I’d probably give them my business. Simple as that.
My opinion is, if a company does not want to disclose information about products on their website, they’re either hiding something from clients or simply don’t want our business. Banks are notorious at this. I actually emailed some of the Philippines’ biggest banks to ask for their travel insurance offerings to get a quote. Only BDO responded to my email. 2 weeks later. Asking me to go to a BDO branch.
There’s no reason why we have to jump through hoops just to give these banks our hard-earned money when there are companies out there that exert effort to ensure that clients have a positive buying experience.
Options for appropriate coverage
It’s very important to select the coverage that is appropriate for your needs. Several factors that need to be considered when selecting coverage includes destination, age, type of activities you will be doing, and whether you’re traveling solo, with company, or with children.
When buying travel insurance for my parent, I make sure that they have at least Php 1,000,000 or US$ 20,000 medical coverage. This is based on how much hospitalizations are in the country I’m based in. US$ 20,000 should also be enough coverage for short-term hospitalization in any country.
One mistake I made one time was not buying travel insurance for my son. My rationale was that he’s young, healthy, has no known allergies or pre-existing conditions or diseases. Guess who developed skin rashes all over his arms and face on the same afternoon he was about to go back home to the Philippines? That’s right. The uninsured young one.
Since he can’t travel and it was already too late to re-book his flight, we had to buy new tickets for him and his grandmother. We should have been able to avoid paying for the new tickets had I just bought him travel insurance. Learn from my mistakes.
You also need to think about the kind of activities you will be doing your trip. In my case, I like to travel to places where there is a possibility that you need to be airlifted to get to the nearest hospital. So I make sure that I buy travel insurance that covers being air lifted to a hospital.
If you’re into extreme sports, make sure that you buy insurance that covers injuries sustained from extreme sports. I don’t think these kind of coverage are already being offered by Philippine providers so I will write about this type of travel insurance in the future.
Depending on the age, state of health the person being insured, and average cost of hospitalization, you may want to increase or decrease medical coverage. Just don’t leave anybody uninsured, even (or actually, especially) children and babies.
Coverage for travel inconvenience
There are times when we experience some inconvenience while we travel such as losing luggage, missing connecting flight, or losing passports. Make sure that when you buy travel insurance coverage, these inconveniences are covered.
However, don’t pay extra for benefits that you have very little probability of using. For example, you don’t have to spend for a missed connection flight benefit if you’re flying in and out of one airport and have no transfers. Don’t buy terrorism insurance if you’re going to a country that very rarely, if at all, experience terrorism, like Japan or Korea.
One benefit that you might want to take particular attention to is coverage for the loss of travel documents or passport.
In the unfortunate event that you lose your passport, you have to apply for a travel document in any Philippine Embassy or Consulate. A travel document usually costs about US$40. But what if you’re traveling in a place far from any Philippine Embassy or consulate? This benefit should cover expenses accrued to get that travel document.
Make sure to budget for appropriate insurance coverage for all travelers. It’s not only the old and infirm that needs to be insured but also the young ones. Don’t rely on your pocket money or credit card alone because medical fees can balloon dangerously, really fast.
It’s better to spend a little over Php 1,000 or US$ 25 and not use your travel insurance than save that money and potentially pay hundreds of thousands or millions of pesos once disaster strikes. There are people who have depleted their savings and ended up in debt just to pay for medical fees accrued during their travel abroad.
Plus, if you’re uninsured, it’s hard to just have fun and let loose since at the back of your head, you’re afraid of being injured and being saddled by expensive medical fees. Being properly insured helps you to enjoy being in the moment.
I hope that I was able to convince you of the importance of travel insurance and helped you figure out how to choose the best travel insurance for Filipinos. In a future post, I will share my personal experience buying travel insurance from a Filipino company.
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