What is medical evacuation insurance?

Written by Jennifer Simonson / December 19, 2022
Reviewed by Jennifer Lobb
Fact checked by Heidi Gollub

Key points

  • Medical evacuation insurance provides coverage for emergency medical transportation to the nearest adequate treatment center if you become seriously injured or ill while traveling.
  • If your attending physician determines you should be transported home for care, the cost of emergency medical transportation could be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  • Medical evacuation insurance can pay to transport your children home if you require a lengthy hospital stay.

Imagine you are on your dream vacation skiing through the Swiss Alps and you take a serious tumble that shatters your femur. After you are transported to the local healthcare facility in the remote town you are visiting you realize it doesn’t have the adequate doctors, equipment or supplies to treat you. What do you do?

To pay out of pocket to be transported to a proper medical facility could potentially cost you tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. That is where a comprehensive travel insurance plan with emergency medical evacuation benefits comes into play.

While every plan is different, buying enough medical evacuation insurance coverage can give you peace of mind that you will be taken care of no matter what happens when you are away from home. And that an outrageous medical bill isn’t one of the souvenirs you bring home.

Inside this article

  1. What is medical evacuation insurance?
  2. Do I need medical evacuation insurance?
  3. How much does medical evacuation cost?
  4. How much medical evacuation insurance do I need?
  5. What does medical evacuation insurance cover?
  6. What does medical evacuation not cover?
  7. When would I need medical evacuation insurance?
  8. Other medical transport options
  9. What if I am traveling within the United States?
  10. How do I buy medical evacuation insurance?

What is medical evacuation insurance?

Medical evacuation insurance is often found in comprehensive travel health insurance policies in the form of a benefit called emergency medical evacuation, medical evacuation or repatriation insurance. This benefit covers the cost of emergency medical transportation to the nearest adequate treatment center if you become seriously injured or ill while traveling. If a qualified facility is not available, it may even cover the cost of transporting you back home.

A physician generally certifies that the severity of the accidental injury or illness warrants the move. The ultimate objective is to save your life, arm, or leg by ensuring you receive the emergency treatment you require.

Do I need medical evacuation insurance?

If you're traveling in a location not covered by your domestic health care plan and are not prepared to pay for medical bills out of pocket, travel insurance that includes emergency medical coverage is crucial, says Daniel Durazo, director of external communications at Allianz Partners.

Emergency medical treatment overseas can be challenging to navigate. Most providers do not accept U.S. health insurance plans, Medicare or Medicaid. Travel insurance companies can help by coordinating with doctors, providing translation services, arranging emergency transportation and handling billing, says Durazo. 

How much does medical evacuation cost?

Medical evacuation charges are not cheap, especially in remote locations.

“The cost of emergency medical transportation can run into the tens of thousands of dollars or more, and varies based on the traveler’s health condition, care required and their location,” Durazo says.

Medical evacuations are logistically challenging to coordinate leading to the high cost of transportation. According to Durazo, if you need emergency medical transportation back to the U.S., it can cost the following.

Location where injured Cost of emergency medical transportation to the U.S.
Asia $165,000 to $225,000
Australia $165,000 to $225,000
Caribbean $15,000 to $25,000
Europe $65,000 to $90,000
Mexico $15,000 to $25,000
Middle East $165,000 to $225,000
South America$40,000 to $75,000

How much medical evacuation insurance do I need?

Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison site, recommends at least $100,000 in medical evacuation insurance if you are traveling internationally. If traveling to a remote location or going on a cruise, Squaremouth recommends $250,000 in coverage.

You can buy medical evacuation insurance coverage for up to $1 million, depending on the travel insurance plan you buy. 

What does medical evacuation insurance cover?

Medical evacuation insurance typically covers emergency transportation, medical escorts, the cost of a companion to be by your side and the cost to send your children home if there is no one available to care for them.

Emergency transportation

If you become seriously ill or injured while traveling, medical evacuation insurance can cover the cost of transportation to the nearest adequate facility for treatment. If medically necessary, it can even cover the cost of your flight back home.

Should emergency medical transportation be deemed necessary, options may include air ambulance or commercial carrier, Durazo says.

While some might assume an air ambulance is the best mode of transportation, most patients report a better experience on a commercial carrier. Commercial airlines not only offer more options for direct flights, better overall flight quality and more room for medical staff and travel companions, but they also allow patients to travel in either first or business class where they can lay flat if medically necessary. 

Medical escort

Medical evacuation insurance can pay for the cost of medical escort services should you need a medical professional to assist you home. In-flight medical teams could include nurses, paramedics or doctors that monitor vital signs, manage pain and assist with medication administration.

Transport to bedside

If you become seriously ill or injured or develop a medical condition while on your trip requiring hospitalization for more than a predetermined amount of time, the insurance might arrange and pay for round-trip transportation for a family member or friend to stay with you.

Some plans also provide compensation for food, hotel and other expenses your bedside companion incurs while remaining close to you.

Return of dependents

Insurance companies may also pay for the transportation of traveling companions who are under the age of 18 to their primary residence or a location of your choice if you do not have an adult family member traveling with you who can care for them.

You typically need to be told by the treating doctor that you will be in the hospital for a minimum number of days before you can claim this benefit.

What does medical evacuation not cover?

While medical evacuation insurance covers most illnesses and accidents, be aware that injuries resulting from extreme, high-risk sports and activities like bungee jumping, skiing in areas accessed by helicopter, free climbing and skydiving are often excluded from coverage. 

If you are planning risky activities, look into a travel insurance plan that offers an adventure bundle. The Travel Guard Deluxe plan, for example, comes with up to $1 million in coverage for emergency evacuation and repatriation of remains and offers an Adventure Sports upgrade that removes the exclusions for adventure and extreme activities. 

Other exclusions to medical evacuation coverage may include: 

  • Transportation not pre-approved by the travel insurance company

  • Transportation that goes against the advice of your physician

  • Pre-existing medical conditions

  • Mental or psychological disorder

  • Normal pregnancy or childbirth (complications are generally not excluded)

  • Intentional injury, suicide or attempted suicide

  • Loss that occurs within 100 miles of your home

Make sure you read and understand the exclusions listed in your travel insurance policy. Travel insurance companies typically offer 14 or 15 days to review your plan. During this “free look” period, you can request a refund if you’re not satisfied with the coverage. 

When would I need medical evacuation insurance?

While it is always a good idea to travel with medical evacuation insurance, it is even more important to do so when you are traveling off the beaten path such as on safaris, Antarctic expeditions and car trips through remote countryside.

“Slips and falls that result in broken legs, broken hips and head injuries are some of the most frequent things we transport for,” says John Gobbels, chief operating officer of air medical transport company Medjet. “We also see a lot of cardiovascular episodes such as heart attacks and strokes as well as infections that have progressed to sepsis.”

Other medical transport options

Most medical evacuation insurance plans stipulate that you are flown to the nearest adequate facility for treatment. Once you reach that “acceptable facility,” you are often required to stay there until you’ve recovered to the fullest extent possible before being flown home via a commercial carrier. If you are unhappy with that facility because the most modern equipment is not available, the language barrier is frustrating or simply because you do not want to have corrective surgery so far from home, you are often out of luck. 

“People need to understand what the ‘acceptable facility’ and ‘medically necessary’ terms in their coverage really mean. When you read about people with very good travel insurance ‘stuck’ in foreign hospitals, it’s usually because of those terms,” says Gobbels. “The insurance company gets to decide what’s acceptable and whether it’s medically necessary to move you.”

That’s where “medical transport memberships” like Medjet can help. They pick up where insurance leaves off. With a medical transport membership, you can choose the hospital where you are treated even if it is not the same one deemed the closest adequate hospital by the insurance company.

“We move you just because you want to be moved home. It doesn’t have to be 'medically necessary' to move you,” he says about medical transport memberships. “You get to choose whether you want to go home or not. That’s the difference.”

What if I am traveling within the United States?

If you are traveling within the United States or to U.S. territories like Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, the need for medical evacuation insurance is less dire.

If you are traveling to a remote location like the Rocky Mountain backcountry or an adventure-oriented trip like hiking the Grand Canyon, purchasing a travel insurance plan that includes medical evacuation might still be the smart choice. 

While your domestic health care plan likely covers transportation to a hospital within the U.S., it probably does not cover a flight home requiring medical equipment and a medical escort. In addition, you would still be responsible for copays and deductions. 

How do I buy medical evacuation insurance?

Medical evacuation insurance is often included in comprehensive travel insurance plans, but you can also buy a stand-alone travel medical plan.

One such option is the OneTrip Emergency Medical plan from Allianz which includes up to $250,000 in emergency medical transportation, $50,000 for medical and dental emergencies and $10,000 in travel accident coverage.

About the Authors

Jennifer Simonson

Jennifer Simonson

Jennifer Simonson covers everything from business to the wine industry to international travel. Outdoor adventure, water parks and all things Texas are by far her favorite beats. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Travel + Leisure, Texas Monthly, Smithsonian Magazine, Fodor's, Lonely Planet, Slate and more. You can follow her on Instagram at @storiestoldwell.

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Jennifer Lobb

Jennifer Lobb

Jennifer is an experienced insurance and personal finance writer. For nearly a decade, she’s helped consumers make educated decisions about the products that protect their finances, families and homes. 

Prior to joining Sound Dollar, Jennifer served as the deputy editor of insurance at Forbes Advisor and was an insurance staff writer and editor at U.S. News.  She also spent several years covering finance and insurance for various financial media sites, including LendingTree and Investopedia.

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Heidi Gollub

Heidi Gollub

Heidi Gollub is the lead editor of insurance. She was previously the assistant managing editor over insurance for U.S. News & World Report.

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