While traveling through Thailand, my partner at the time got dengue fever. While spending a week in hospital fighting for his life, I was left to organize the extensive insurance claim–cancelling onward travel tickets (through three countries), making new travel arrangements, and managing expenses.

The claim included a stack of paperwork, requiring reimbursement of expenses in three different currencies. Given the size and complexity of the claim, it’s no wonder I struggled every step of the way! I don’t fault the insurance company (which will remain nameless, but incidentally was not TuGo!), but it rang home the necessity to keep your eye on the ball in order to make a successful insurance claim.

What to do when making a travel insurance claim

Here’s what NOT to do:

Avoid Calling the Insurance Company

By not calling the insurance company as soon as something happens, one of two things could happen:

  • You could end up undergoing tests and procedures which aren’t medically necessary, and as a result, may not be covered by the policy.
  • If you go to a hospital but don’t notify the insurance company, you could miss out on the direct reimbursement feature most insurers provide. Either way, you’ll be opening your wallet unnecessarily.

Merely Skim Over Your Policy

Insurance policies vary in the services they offer; you might miss out on valuable assistance (financial or otherwise).

It’s very important to read your policy wording so you know what’s covered and what’s not. Understanding your policy can lead to less delays and misunderstandings come claim time.

Skip Making Copies of Receipts

You must mail original receipts with your claim for reimbursement. If you don’t keep copies, then you won’t remember what you’re owed, nor will you be able to prove it if it isn’t processed properly (or if the originals are lost in transit). I copied such a stack of paperwork for submission, and I even included a “table of contents”. Thus, when I called in to correct the insurance company’s initial processing blunders (details below), I could refer to specific page numbers and receipts to (literally) ensure we were on the same page.

What to do when making a travel insurance claim

Wimp Out and Not Enforce Your Rights

I had to convince the insurance company to acknowledge responsibility for certain expenses, which were outlined in the policy. This involved speaking to many managers (and managers’ managers).

Avoid Reviewing Your Reimbursements

One of my onward tickets was in a different currency from the majority of the other expenses. They mixed up the conversion rates and reimbursed me for a ridiculously small amount (10 times less than it should have been!). I had to lobby (hard!) to get them to correct it.

Be Impatient and Expect Quick Payment

No, really. Don’t. The reimbursements I eventually received came in trickles. As it turns out, insurance companies need to wait on documentation from numerous health providers like hospitals or clinics, which means that the insurance company’s time isn’t the only factor in completing your claim. Regardless of the insurance company’s good intentions, the claims process can sometimes be a long ride. Consequently, my claim took months to resolve.

Not All Insurance Claims are Created Equal

My experience doesn’t paint a rosy picture for the claims process; just an honest one. Both travellers and insurance companies are challenged with making sense of complex and unique situations. This isn’t to say every claim will be as complicated as mine, or that insurance companies haven’t made improvements to simplify the process. Most insurance companies, for instance, offer online claims submission (which makes a huge difference!), have doctors on staff, and have 24/7 customer service lines.

The insurance company I was with at the time was not a bad one; my claim was just particularly tricky. (Imagine: three different currencies!) It’s very important to choose a reputable company that you can communicate with easily – over email, phone, or even social media.

Shop around and consider 1) reputability 2) ease of communication 3) coverage and benefits. Thailand wasn’t my only claims experience (others have been smoother), which just reinforces  the ongoing need for coverage. I’ve saved thousands of dollars in medical expenses, and I continue to travel the world, assured that an unforeseen circumstance won’t bankrupt me.

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What NOT To Do When Making An Insurance Claim

Jul 11 2013