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Choosing International Health and Travel Insurance for Van Life

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Finding appropriate health and travel insurance for van life can be a significant challenge for van lifers who plan to take their vans beyond borders to explore.

We are talking here about travel and health insurance for medical expenses, personal belongings, and trip disruption. That is, insurance for YOU to go along with vehicle insurance for your rig.

We have needed to claim on our travel insurance twice in the last five years of traveling. The first time we had traditional travel insurance, we were prevented from processing our valid claim until we returned home. Seven months after Kelli was discharged from the hospital.

kelli hospital greece 1 Choosing International Health and Travel Insurance for Van Life
Kelli in a hospital in Arta, Greece, this year. Stressful as it was, having the proper insurance made the situation easier to deal with on the road.

Van lifers, like many other nomads, often fall through the cracks of traditional travel insurance and international health insurance designed mostly for holidaymakers, business travelers, semi-permanent expatriates, or emigrants.

But, as van life continues to grow in popularity and sophistication, alternatives to shoehorning traditional travel insurance into the van lifestyle have started to emerge.

In this guide, we will talk about why traditional travel insurance is no longer the obvious choice to protect yourself while traveling abroad by van and what other options exist.

TL;DR

Non-traditional health and travel insurance aimed at nomads, long-term travelers, and remote workers can much better meet the needs of van lifers than traditional travel insurance models. For this, we use SafetyWing.

* SafetyWing is a great product for us because of its affordability, simplicity, and flexibility. You will need to weigh the policy against your specific needs and other available products to decide if it fits you best. If you do decide to take out SafetyWing Insurance and we helped with your decision, please consider using our links. You won’t pay any more, and we will receive a commission.

What Does Health and Travel Insurance for Van Life Cover?

Again, we are not talking about vehicle insurance, which covers your van in the event of an accident, theft, or other disaster. (However, some overlap might exist if your vehicle insurance includes contents insurance.)

Rather, health and travel insurance is specifically for you, your health, your belongings, and your actual trip. That means it can cover

  • Medical expenses arising from illness or medical emergencies
  • Theft or loss of belongings
  • Cancellation or disruption to your trip
  • Personal liability.

As a rule, the following things are not included standard in travel insurance, but some policies can accommodate them

  • Pre-existing medical conditions
  • Activities that might be deemed dangerous such as high-contact or adventure sports
  • Travel insurance for those over 65 often falls outside traditional policies.

Why Do I Need Van Life Health Insurance or Travel Insurance?

a woman sitting next to a van at a beach side campsite in Ecuador watching the sun set into the sea
When it’s all golden, it can be hard to imagine you’ll ever need insurance.

If you plan to travel by van outside your home country, you likely stand to lose access to government-provided health benefits or your everyday health insurance. Similarly, home insurance protection for your belongings doesn’t extend further than your front door. Finally, the significant investment in the cost of travel, and the costs of interrupting it or abandoning it, warrant insurance. Therefore, ensuring you have an appropriate level of health and travel insurance to cover any unforeseen disasters is critical before you set out on a van life adventure.

For long-term travelers, like those of us living in a van, needing travel insurance is not a matter of if but simply of when.

Can I Use Traditional Travel and Health Insurance for Van Life?

Kelli watching the sea in Ecuador

Yep, absolutely.

We used traditional travel insurance for years, and it works … kind of.

Unfortunately, in quite a few cases, the realities of van life travel fall outside the scope of provisions in traditional health insurance. Traditional travel insurance isn’t really set up for van life or any form of long-form, semi-permanent permanent travel or nomadism.

The Problem With Standard Travel Insurance for Van Life

There are many examples where the distinctions between van life and other forms of travel can cause issues when buying or claiming on insurance policies.

For example,

  • Insurers frequently want a start and end date for your travels, sometimes with proof of flights or transport confirming those dates. This can be difficult when van life generally operates on a longer and vaguer schedule and travel is self-directed rather than relying on ticketed transport.
  • Similarly, many insurers will not settle claims until after the trip has concluded. The open-endedness of many van life adventures renders this sort of policy redundant.
  • Many insurers require a fixed home and mailing address again, something not all van lifers have access to.
  • Often you need to be in your home country to take out a policy which can create another layer of complexity for full-time travellers who rarely find themselves on home turf.
  • Many policies are only offered for a maximum timeframe, often 365 days. For long-term van lifers, this can be too restrictive.
  • Most traditional policies are sold for a fixed nominated timeframe; if you decide to extend your trip, you may find some insurers unable to extend or amend existing policies or issue new ones while you are outside the country.
  • Traditional insurers also lack flexibility regarding which countries or regions you can or can’t visit, allowing you to amend your route after it has begun.
  • Some insurers may be overly restrictive about the types of activities you can participate in.

That being said, If you are planning a brief sojourn abroad, you know your dates and have your ducks lined up in a row, then maybe traditional travel insurance is for you. For this sort of travel insurance, World Nomads offers competitively priced single and multi-trip policies to citizens of over 140 countries. We have used them extensively, and as a traditional insurer, they are great!

image 100999357 15379636 Choosing International Health and Travel Insurance for Van Life

What is Nomad Insurance?

A woman standing next to a van on a road that winds toward the snowcapped Andes in the distance
What if I’m not coming back?

Nomad insurance picks up where travel insurance leaves off, catering to a whole new generation of unteathered travelers who move beyond borders. Not just van lifers but remote workers, liveaboards, and digital nomads all fall into this category of modern migrant.

As technology, infrastructure, and policies supporting global nomads increase, so does the number of people flocking to this lifestyle. Now, there is also insurance coverage tailor-made for modern nomads.

Nomad insurance can refer to policies featuring a range of different benefits but common to most policies are

  • Long, open-ended or renewing policies
  • Borderless coverage, meaning you’re not restricted to certain regions or required to nominate exactly where you will be traveling and when
  • The ability to start, pause, cancel, or otherwise modify your policy from outside your home country.

Nomad Travel and Health Insurance Providers

Several existing companies are now beginning to market insurance to nomads, including van lifers. Often it is the repackaging of existing travel insurance products, and as a result, sometimes still carries the issues of legacy products.

However, for us, SafetyWing and its Nomad Insurance Product stands out as a company built from the ground up to provide modern solutions to the challenges associated with the global explosion in nomadism.

Their nomad policies are affordable and straightforward and provide the flexibility necessary for van life.

An info graphic oof the inclusions under SafetyWing Nomad Insurance. Outling medical and travel inclusions. Travel insurance for van life

SafetyWing Nomad Insurance for Van Life

Like any insurance policy, SafetyWing has both pros and cons. You will need to weigh the policy up against your specific needs and other available products to decide if it is the best fit for you. For us, the simplicity, affordability, and flexibility make it a good choice for our lifestyle, whether we are in the van, on the boat, or traveling any other way.

SafetyWing Pros and Cons

SafetyWing Pros
  • A flexible month-to-month subscription model allows for easy commencement, pausing, or cancellation of your policy, so you only pay for coverage when you need it.
  • SafetyWing is considerably cheaper than many packages designed to offer flexibility to nomads (starting at $45 per month).
  • The ability to purchase insurance while already abroad is a huge plus.
  • No limit on travel duration is another big advantage over many policies that are capped at 365 days a year.
  • Coverage for a wide range of medical emergencies
  • COVID-19 coverage
  • SafetyWing offers a period of coverage in your home country each year, so you don’t have to take out extra insurance to visit home.
SafetyWing Cons
  • No coverage for pre-existing conditions
  • No coverage for routine check-ups and preventive care
  • Limited coverage for certain adventure sports
  • No coverage for stolen or lost personal items
  • A $250 deductible applies to all claims
  • The claim process can be time-consuming

Nomad Insurance 2.0

In October 2023, SafetyWing is rolling out Nomad Insurance 2.0. It is designed to fill in some of the gaps in its original product and respond to some of the main criticisms of the initial policy.

Nomad Insurance 2.0 will allow policyholders to add an adventure sports package to their insurance and add theft of electronics to their policy to protect expensive equipment.

2.0 also includes an overhaul to streamline the claim process and reduce claim turnaround time to 7 – 10 days.

Nomad Insurance 2.0 is not yet available in the US, but it should be soon, and we will update the article when it is released.

Final Thoughts on Choosing International Health and Travel Insurance for Van Life

No matter which provider you choose for health and travel insurance for van life, ensure you have adequate coverage for anything and everything you may encounter on your journey and more!

The freedom that comes with setting out into the great unknown with nothing but a map comes with a certain set of challenges. Challenges are not always factored into traditional travel products. Think carefully about where your adventure may take you and leave room for plenty of changes to the plan along the way.

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