Travel Insurances and How I Ended up in a Thai Hospital
Over the span of 1,5 years traveling in different continents, I have been unlucky enough to visit a few hospitals and learn the ins and outs of travel insurances and the importance of them. I’ll guide you through the world of insurances using my unfortunate experiences as a guideline.
I just passed my PADI diving exam on the tropical island of Koh Tao, we had a nice few nights out partying under the moonlight, swimming in the ocean... Those never ending nights, you know what I’m talking about 😊.
Afterwards I traveled with two buddies towards Khao Sok National Park and remember having a sore throat, but ignored it and thought it was nothing (COVID-19 didn’t exist yet, no worries). I had a few rough nights after all and inhaled a lot of dry compressed air, it must be that…
Until I woke up one morning.
I felt so tired from not eating and drinking well the past few days (because swallowing hurt so much), and now I wasn’t able to swallow a simple drink anymore. I got the advice from the friendly hostel manager that it might be better to see a doctor. A taxi was booked and off we went!
A simple check-up by a nurse and a chat with a doctor later, they told me “You’ll have to be hospitalized for 2 days”. I couldn’t believe what I heard and thought it was a joke. Couldn’t it be solved with some medication and the good old advice of sleep and rest? Turns out I had an abscess caused by bacteria and I was seriously dehydrated.
And here is where the fun started… They wanted to see the money of course! Who would want to treat a foreigner in a country with no bilateral agreements (no exchange of health care)? I had my shiny card that said I have insurance. Show it to them and it’s done right? Too bad! That’s not how it works! 😔
First, you need to call your insurance company, explain them where you are and what happened. Then they call their partner insurance in the country you’re in, and that foreign company will call the hospital where you’re in to do all the paperwork. It’s easy for the people working in the hospital because they have someone to talk to that speaks their language who speaks on your behalf.
TIP: Have Skype credit and call for peanuts internationally over 4G or WiFi. I ran out of calling credit while being put on hold, and they didn’t let me use their phone to call my Belgian insurance company. Luckily my buddy Dylan — who took care of me so well — his phone worked perfectly.
Second, they wanted a ฿12.000 (€325) deposit because they didn’t get confirmation from their insurance partner if I am actually covered. And they didn’t accept my credit card. Yes, they made me walk to the ATM outside to get the money. Can you imagine doing this during an emergency?
From here it went all more smoothly, they pulled up a wheelchair, rolled me into a room and got me all set up with IV’s and pills and I went to sleep. They shoved a poorly translated Thai/English form under my nose that I had to sign, 6 hours later I could already drink soup again and 1 night later I felt reborn. I was so grateful to be taken care of.
For my Dutch-speaking audience, you can read a story here about a cyclist who broke his back in China and had over €160.000 in hospital and repatriation costs.
“If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.”
You don’t want to learn this the hard way and pay off a debt for decades because you had an unfortunate accident on a sunny afternoon (that might not even be your own fault).
Okay, I want insurance? Where do I start?
I did the comparison with my own bank and some local companies. None of them really offered good value for money, were not clear in terms and conditions or offered low coverage.
American International Group — better known as AIG — is without any doubt the biggest and well-respected insurer in its field, having operations across more than 130 different jurisdictions. They have a plan called International Health Plan that basically insures me everywhere except the U.S. and any country that has negative travel advice from my government. They cover (up to a certain amount) hospital costs, repatriations, loss of luggage, delays, extension of stay because of terrorism, natural disasters, permanent injuries, family visiting you in case of emergency and vice versa, lawyer costs if you get in trouble … And this is scary, but they even cover stuff such as the transport of your casket back home in case of death.
To get an insurance, you might want to get in touch with a broker and not directly with the insurer to make sure you have what you need, and maybe get get a discount. For my Belgian friends I can recommend Concordia.
To be honest, I don’t even know what happens to you if you’re not insured and cannot produce (cash) money for your hospitalization in a foreign country. I suppose calling your embassy and crossing your fingers 🤷 ?
I totally agree that a journey should be all intuition and you should go with the flow. Not everything should be meticulously prepared, leave room for creativity and improvisation! I have the best memories from those unplanned and sometimes irresponsible dangerous moments.
Being insured can give you peace of mind and lift you up to do even more adventurous things, and that’s what it was all about in the first place, right? 😎