Which travel insurance should you buy when visiting the USA? What to know when travelling with the ESTA in 2021


Are you planning an idyllic romantic trip to Cape Cod with your partner? Or perhaps going white-water rafting in Colorado? With springtime upon us, plenty of travelers consider the United States as a destination. ESTA allows citizens of the 38 Visa Waiver Program member countries to travel to the USA without a visa, which entails a world of opportunity. Here we’ll look at why insurance is a good idea when visiting this vast country…


No matter what your travel itinerary is, visiting the USA can be a very exciting experience, but it is important to remember that the US policy on health care is very different from that of most European countries, and this requires some planning ahead.


A beautiful road trip with your family can quickly become very unpleasant if any of you get sick or hurt, and find yourselves in need of a visit to the doctor or the ER. Even a minor injury that requires medical help can quickly run up hospital bills in the US. With travel insurance generally being as affordable as it is, you should take preventative measures to ensure that in the event that you get injured, your hospital bills don’t put a damper on your well-deserved holidays.


A common cause for medical care in the US is road accidents. Remember that in most American cities, driving is a must as public transportation is rare and, with most cities being so expansive, you will need to drive to get from A to B. And if you’re travelling during the holidays, when there are more vehicles on the road, this further increases the risk of a car accident. The danger is even higher during long drives, when sleepy drivers are traveling long distances. It doesn’t help when weather conditions are poor, such as ice or snow-covered roads, which can often be the case in between seasons.


While medical care is excellent in most parts of the US, it is exorbitantly expensive when compared to what Europeans are used to paying, if and when they pay for health care at all. Costs can be astronomical in the unlikely event of critical illness, often sending someone with an average income into debt if insurance is not planned for in advance. It is wise for travelers to purchase supplementary international medical insurance to ensure that, if an unwelcome accident does indeed occur, they are covered.


The first place to turn to before your US travels is your primary healthcare provider or the public insurer in your home country. It is often the case that you are already covered for travel mishaps, but even if that is the case, you should find out which exact circumstances you are covered for when traveling abroad. If you find out that you are offered little to no coverage for accidents in the US, it is definitely wise to purchase insurance so that you can focus on having fun, without having to put a damper on activities by being overcautious.


International medical insurance can come in either short-term or long-term insurance packages that reimburse you for unforeseen medical expenses incurred while traveling. The maximum policy coverage, in most cases, will usually cover major medical expenses. As can be expected, travel insurance prices will vary depending on your age, medical history and your destination. The activities you are planning on enjoying during your trip will also play a role regarding your insurance costs; a leisurely trip to Disneyland will probably mean a lower premium than, say, hiking through the Rocky Mountains.


With different travel insurance options being so vast, the main points to look out for before you commit to purchasing a specific package are the following:


  • How much coverage does your insurer pay for any medical expenses and prescription drugs you may need? With medical costs being higher in the US than in Europe, you should aim for at least 100,000 USD, but preferably more.

  • Does it cover both injury and sudden illness? Some travel insurance packages will only cover the former.

  • Will it cover emergency evacuation and care? If you are going on a hike and have to be transported from a difficult-to-access area, these costs will often be quite high.

  • If you need to travel home before the anticipated date due to an accident cutting your activities short, will it cover these costs?

  • Does it cover your planned activities? This is something to keep particularly in mind if you’re going surfing, skiing, or anything else that can be considered higher-risk. You may need to apply for extra coverage if you are planning on partaking in extreme activities such as kitesurfing or horseback riding.

  • Can your insurance be extended if your plans change? You may want to stay a bit longer than anticipated, especially if you travel to the US with an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) which allows travelers to stay in the US for up to 90 days at a time.

  • Does it cover your valuables? You may be travelling with expensive photography equipment, etc.

  • Does it have a twenty-four-hour emergency contact number?

  • Does it cover cancellations? If your trip is expensive, this is something to consider in the event that you get sick and are unable to travel at all.

  • Can claims can be filed online? This sounds like a no-brainer, but some insurance companies are not as technologically up-to-date as you would hope.

  • Does it cover unforeseen events such as hurricane damages affecting your destination, as can be the case in certain areas?


With so many different variables in place, we strongly urge you to plan a bit in advance so that you can have peace of mind during your travels to the US.


Speaking of planning ahead, it is a smart idea to get your travel documents in order before you book your flight. This means not only ensuring that your passports have not expired, but also organizing your visa or ESTA visa waiver (the latter being the faster and cheaper choice for citizens from any ESTA participating country, which most European states are).


The US government generally advises travelers to request an ESTA at least 72 hours before their travels into the US, to avoid any unnecessary hassle. There is, however, no need to wait until the last minute to apply for your ESTA, as this can be done at any time. Getting it out of the way ensures that you won’t forget to apply for your ESTA, and also gives you time to make any visa arrangements should your ESTA be declined. While you do not have to apply for a visa waiver, the other choice that EU citizens have is to apply for a visa, which is a significantly longer and more complex process. You will have to go to the nearest US Embassy or Consulate and apply for one there, where you will need to go through an interview with a US consular officer. With the ESTA application being entirely processed and approved online from the comfort of your home, most travelers prefer to take this option.


Your ESTA authorization will be valid for up to two years, making it a breeze to travel back to the US within this time. Please keep in mind that if you or your family members are issued a new passport before your ESTA expires, the ESTA linked to that passport will also automatically expire.


Be mindful of the fact that the amount of time you can spend in the US is limited to 90 days at a time with ESTA, and the duration of any individual trip cannot be extended. If you are travelling to the US for studies, business or any other reason that requires you to stay over 90 days, you will not be able to travel to the US with an ESTA, and will need to apply for the corresponding visa.


One more thing to remember is that with the current political climate, your ESTA approval may have been withdrawn between your travels, so always check first. There is a long list of reasons why this could happen.. One reason may be that you travelled to or have simply been in transit through a list of ESTA banned countries such as Syria, Libya, Iraq, Iran or Somalia during or after March 1, 2011. When your ESTA is revoked, you will have to get in touch with your local US Embassy to arrange for your travels back into the US. If your ESTA status changes you will normally receive an email letting you know immediately, but given the amount of spam most inboxes receive, it is a wise idea to simply check first.


Make the most of your adventure to the USA by making sure you are covered against any potential problems while you’re there, and don’t forget to sort out your ESTA travel authorization before you depart!





Travelling to the United States? Do you have your pre-planning checklist in order? Visit our ESTA Guide for more information about obtaining your travel permit. We'd love to hear from you. Send us your comments or questions for travel assistance.

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