When you’re planning for world travel, you have a dizzying number of options to review when it comes to picking the right travel insurance. After ten years on the road, I’ve narrowed it down to two companies—World Nomads and IMG—that work for any type of trip. I use both companies and I switch which travel insurance I use depending on my destination, my fellow travelers, and the coverage I need. If you are a non-U.S. citizen traveling to the U.S., you also have some important choices because you will definitely need travel insurance traveling there.
This piece closely reviews the two travel insurance companies I truly believe work best for almost any type of trip you might have planned.
- Reviewing the options, World Nomads is the best travel insurance for backpackers, long-term travelers, and those on very adventurous trips. My research was thorough, and I found negative and positive reviews for every company in existence. It’s clear that the while every single travel insurance company has some negative reviews, there are many success stories for World Nomads and its support staff. Plus, I’ve used this company and paid for policies for more than 10 years and I still love their coverage.
- Different trips, however, call for different travel needs! IMG travel insurance is best option for families, non-U.S. residents traveling to the states, expats, and seniors over 65. The online interface allows you to select specific deductibles and coverage maximums, and there is a greater selection of plans—this means you can tailor your insurance to your exact trip. I first used IMG in 2011, and I have used them many times since.
It’s disingenuous for travel insurance reviews to assume one company fits all travelers and all trips—I’ve yet to find one that does it all well enough to work in every instance. Let’s discuss what both IMG and World Nomads offer, and when each company is the best fit your planned trip.
And since there are sneaky loopholes every insurance company has in place, I share first hand advice on what you will need to successfully make a claim if something happens while you’re traveling.
Below I’ll review why I bought a World Nomads policy for most of my travels these past 11 years, but also why I used IMG Patriot at times. I’ll explain which type of trip worked for the two different travel insurance companies (hint, it’s when I traveled with my nieces and nephews). I’ll also help you decide if travel travel insurance is worth it—I think it is. Travel insurance provides essential protection.
UPDATE: This post was last updated in November 2019 to reflect experiences from recent travels. The short of it: World Nomads is still my go-to and I paid for plans on my trips to Kyrgyzstan and Russia in 2018, and I used IMG for a short trip back to the States in April 2019, even though I have an expat policy to cover me in my home-base of Barcelona, Spain. ~Shannon
World Nomads Review: Why This Travel Insurance Works for Backpackers
When I first left on my round the world trip in 2008, I looked for outside verification from others to know what’s best in the confusing insurance landscape. World Nomads has a lot of credibility in the market. It’s also an inclusive travel insurance, meaning it covers a broad range of people (up to 70) and activities. For this reason, major tour and travel companies use World Nomads as their default travel insurance. Eleven years ago, I was a backpacker (and it’s the top rated for that type of travel), but over the years I realized it worked for long-term travels of any style. Let’s review why I picked World Nomads:
- It’s the travel insurance recommended by National Geographic, Lonely Planet, and Rough Guides—three names you can trust in travel. If Lonely Planet says it’s great for backpackers, then it’s a fair bet you should start your research looking at what a World Nomads policy offers.
- World Nomads is actually a brand that secures the policy for you—that’s how it can insure people from 150 countries.
- It truly had the best coverage for 80% of my 10+ years of travel. During that time, I switched to IMG when traveling on four separate long-term trips with my nieces and nephews—that’s when I needed a good family plan instead and less adventure coverage. For anything else I threw its way—booking while already traveling, adventure sports, more than six months on the road—World Nomads bested the competitors.
- It’s a socially-conscious company that still has majorly competitive prices—a total win in my book.
And really, I cannot stress enough that World Nomads is among the most affordable companies for what you get in return. You have a nice balance of deductibles meets coverage meets activities. Backpackers and long-term travelers need the flexibility and security of knowing they won’t go bankrupt if something happens on the road. It’s why I can unequivocally say that World Nomads is best for most backpackers and long-term travelers.
In addition to buying a policy online, you can extend your insurance policy indefinitely or even buy one when you’re already traveling, and World Nomads slick interface makes it easy to take care of business and get back to traveling.
IMG Review: Why This Travel Insurance Works for Families
Flexibility is the byword of plans secured through IMG. The company offers more types of plans, and then allows you to customize coverage limits and deductibles—this means you can really customize a plan to your upcoming trip, as well as your health and familial situation. Not only are there more plans, but with plans for those over 65 years of age, seniors hitting road have a great option. Let’s review why I picked IMG:
- Affordable (and sometimes free) coverage for dependents is ideal for families traveling together—I especially like how clearly they spell out the terms of flying out new guardians for the children in the guardian is receiving medical care.
- IMG has been around since 1990 and has a track record of helping customers in essentially any place you might travel. It’s a trusted name and works with trusted providers all over the world.
- The optional sports rider means you can still plan fun activities and treks, you just have to add that to your policy. This also means you will pay less if your family plans to simply take in the sun on a beach in Fiji. :)
- The plans are the most competitive that I found given that you can add your own deductibles and maximums. This means you can customize your options if you’re traveling in places with affordable and strong medical systems (Europe), versus a remote place that would require medical evacuation. The flip side here, however, is that you have to really study each plan more and you risk more by not allowing the automatically-selected plans to give you coverage limits that work for most travelers.
What’s Covered by World Nomads & IMG? (And What’s Not)
The coverage on your policy is the most important part—so this is where it’s vital you really take time to understand exactly what buying travel insurance can get you on a trip. It’s everyday protection for you, for your luggage, and also in the event of BIG issues with a capital B (think catastrophic weather event, traumatic injury, etc).
Both World Nomads and IMG policies provide levels of coverage for five key areas:
- overseas medical care
- medical evacuation (Medevac)
- baggage claims
- theft on some belongings and electronics (read the policy details!)
- trip cancellation coverage
Once you know what is covered, it comes down to the extent of coverage. You should not sign up for a policy that skimps in any of these areas. But some coverage does really depend on your trip, especially when we get into limits.
Wait, Can I Do That?! Adventure Activity Coverage
Before I left on my world travels, I made a list of all of the crazy and wild adventure activities that I wanted to participate in while traveling—then I used the World Nomads’ A-Z List of Adventure Activities to check they were covered in a policy. Each and every activity I hoped to experience was on the list of what’s covered.
While not all of your activities may be covered—there are some things general travel insurance will just not cover—the complete list is comprehensive, online, and broken down by country. This is an important step! I really wanted to know that rock-climbing in Laos was covered just as fully as snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef.
On my yearlong trip, I was active and adventurous, and it was dead-simple to verify on World Nomads‘ checklist if an activity was covered (note: It’s online and easy to check before you do the activity; that’s imperative. You don’t want to be waiting for an email from your insurance company while the boat leaves on your planned scuba diving adventure).
Only some travel insurance policies offer adventure sports riders (and even basic outdoor travel activities may fall under that!). Review the activities carefully—be positive that you’re selecting one that covers everything you have planned. Note that my IMG Patriot plans did not inherently cover adventure sports, but they instead offer an optional rider you can add to most policies. When I traveled with my young nieces and nephews we didn’t need the rider, however, because of the fairly low-key trips we had planned. Likewise, when I used IMG Platinum International as my expat insurance for my first year living in Spain, it was more like health insurance and thus no rider.
Making Travel Insurance Claims Online
Most insurance companies now allow you to file your claims online. A seamless system is a huge must for long-term travelers especially because you can’t wait until the end of your trip to sort it all out—you’re going to have to file your insurance claim on the road.
For both World Nomads and IMG, you can process all of your claims online, and there are no caps on the length of time you can be insured. This is not the case with all travel insurance policies. Some max out at three months and a few still don’t have an entirely online claims process.
I’ve managed smallish claims, under $500, and it’s gone smoothly. I have more personal claims experience with IMG, because I had to visit an ER three times while I was living in Spain. This was my annual expat policy versus straight up travel insurance, so I was covered for $0-deductible health coverage by my policy. I had to pay out of pocket for the ER visits (about 350 euros each), and it took about three months once I submitted my documents for them to deposit money straight into my account. A non-American friend used the IMG Patriot America Plus plan for U.S. coverage. She needed very significant medical insurance coverage in the States—in that case, since it wasn’t an emergency, IMG talked with the hospital to pre-approve and authorize payments, so the out of pocket was low compared to the $25K+ bills that could have stacked up.
For both insurance companies, if it’s a medical emergency and you have time, you are obligated to contact them and let it go through their authorized providers—that speeds up the process. Either way, I found the online claims process easy and both companies offer 24 hour helplines for immediate assistance, as well as helplines for figuring out the sometimes bureaucratic process of filing a travel insurance claim.
TL;DR: Coverage Review Recap
- Both companies have made my life easier as a digital nomad living on the road for 11 years by offering an entirely online process.
- Both companies offer adventure sports coverage—non-extreme sports are included in World Nomads policies by default, but has to be added on for IMG plans.
- World Nomads is the best insurance for long-term travelers. It’s during my solo international travelers that I’ve used World Nomads to the best success.
- IMG is the best travel insurance for family trips, life as an expat, and anyone visiting the U.S. as a non-resident, and seniors.
Why You MUST Read Your Policy!
You can find terrible reviews online for all insurance companies. There are some circumstances where the traveler just didn’t fit within the policy wording and they weren’t covered. That’s tough. It is imperative that you read the requirements for making a claim if something goes wrong on your trip.
When reviewing any travel insurance policies, here are key cautions and warnings to heed:
- Document your valuables. To make a claim, you must prove you bought it (receipts), that it was with you (take a photo of all valuables before you leave), and that it was stolen (a police report). Each step here is vital. Many negative travel insurance reviews are from people who didn’t have a copy of the police report, or couldn’t generate ownership proof. Read your policy and understand exactly what they require to make a claim.
- Document your illness. Call your insurance company as soon as you are ill; they will help you find the best providers in the region. Plus it states in your policy that you have to do that! When buying a policy, you agree that they will choose a provider and be involved in the process—this is true for selecting hospital care, medevac providers, and more. If you don’t do this, they may not cover your bills. Also, keep your paperwork! There will be a lot of back and forths as you make the claim—the more information you have the better.
- Follow the law. One sticky situation for backpackers is the rampant use of motorbikes in Asia. If you are not licensed to drive the vehicle in your own country, then you are not covered in an accident. This is a huge loophole. And it sucks. But double check things like this before you assume that if you’re in an accident on a winding Thai road that you’ll be covered if something serious happens. (See note below for more information.)
- Read your policy. Seriously. It’s dry and boring. It will take at least an hour. But read it, understand what they are covering, and highlight anything that isn’t clear. If you’re unsure, email or call them! They answer questions before, during, and after you’re their client. There is also extensive Q&A in the comments below as other travelers and I hash out the fine print.
- Understand what’s not covered. From pre-existing conditions to extreme sports, there are a few things you’re just not guaranteed in a general travel policy. But, every travel insurance company is different. The high-end Select plan from TravelEx covers pre-existing conditions, so if that’s a huge factor for you, then the significantly higher cost might be worth it. But if you’re a backpacker planning a one-year trip that will include adventure sports, then you should instead look for policies from World Nomads that are designed to meet that need. If you’re a family planning to travel the world for a year, and you will do adventurous things, look to an IMG policy with the sports rider.
- Understand the target market of your future insurance company. This helps you understand if they are providing the breadth of coverage generally needed by someone of your age, health, and style of travel.
WARNING: Travel Insurance Coverage When Riding a Motorbike
In addition to the small comment above about insurance coverage for licensed motorcycle drivers only, an ALA reader left this note in the comments, and it nicely explains why it’s so important to:
1. know exactly what your insurance covers.
2. take steps to ensure you meet the requirements for insurance claims reimbursements (have receipts, police reports, etc.).
From Matt of Great Distances: “For anyone who’s curious about motorbiking, the rule is this: If you’re going to pilot a motorbike in Asia (or really anywhere in the world), you need a motorcycle license in your home country as well as an international driver’s license with motorcycle certification (this requires a prior motorcycle license, at least in the U.S.). Without these things, your travel insurance will NOT cover you whatsoever should you get in a wreck or injure yourself or others while on a motorbike. And people wreck and hurt themselves ALL the time, especially when they haven’t had proper safety training and find themselves wearing clothing that provides no projection from motorbike mishaps.”
Review Recap: World Nomads vs IMG Travel Insurance
In October 2011, I left the U.S. with my 11-year old niece and we traveled together throughout Asia. Traveling with her left me with a unique challenge for travel insurance. I loved my experience with World Nomads , but I wanted a lot of protections if something happened to me and she needed to a new guardian flown overseas, so I went to the researching drawing board. I settled on a family plan at IMG Patriot that had great rates, coverage that worked for both of us, and I liked the online system. With my niece in tow, I knew I wouldn’t do some of the more adventurous activities, so I didn’t mind switching from World Nomads to IMG. Also, some IMG plans include free coverage for kids—that makes a big money difference on a long-term trip! However, when I returned to my solo travels, I went back to World Nomads. If you’re in the UK or Europe, my friends wrote a good insurance guide here that has other options solely for Brits and Europeans.
Other thoughts for while you’re researching travel insurance companies:
- Don’t buy “travel protection,” this term is a sneaky way for unlicensed companies to offer travel insurance—it’s likely not valid, so move along.
- Only buy from your travel agent if he/she is low-pressure and offers you several choices. If it’s a high-pressure situation they are likely receiving hefty commissions to sell you what could be an inferior product.
- Take your time, research, read the policies, and ask every question you want answered before you buy.
- For Americans, ask if the insurance is primary or secondary insurance. And verify if the insurance requires that you hold primary. Primary usually refers to medical and homeowners insurance and some travel policies only allow you to purchase secondary insurance if you have a primary policy. For those who don’t carry health insurance, this would present a problem. Secondary means that you must file an insurance claim with your primary policy first. But some travel insurance policies will allow you to purchase them without having a primary policy in place. World Nomads and IMG will cover you on the road without requiring that you first file with your health insurance company back home. If you need to maintain U.S. coverage, then you either must keep your policy back home and buy a travel policy, or you can look at some of the more expensive plans that offer primary care coverage in the U.S. I bought an expat plan for 2018 with IMG Platinum International because I secured a European residency visa—I needed this expat travel coverage, but it didn’t cover me in the U.S., so either had to keep my U.S. health insurance, or buy a separate plan when I return home (I definitely went with securing a short-term plan when returning Stateside for a few weeks).
- If you’re backpacking and will be gone for a long time, World Nomads is a good option to thoroughly cover all of the possible adventure activities (expat policies like IMG Platinum International aren’t meant for adventurous vacations).
- If you’re volunteering abroad, this post outlines the specific aspects you should consider when buying volunteer travel insurance.
- I carry separate gear insurance to protect my laptop, smartphone, and gear. I use Clements. Policies last a year and they are affordable—worth securing if you have a camera, smartphone, and laptop on your trip!
With my nephews traveling in 2015, and then while hiking the Camino in Spain in July 2017 with another niece, I bought IMG policies to cover our short-ish trips (one was three weeks and the other was six weeks). While I looked into other options once again, when I needed a family plan with some coverage of adventure activities, I went with IMG again. After dropping my niece stateside in summer 2017, however, I secured a World Nomads travel insurance policy to cover me for epic trekking through the Tian Shan mountains in Kyrgyzstan. After more than ten years on the road, I moved to Europe in early 2018, at which point my more tame expat policy is serving me in good stead, but I still use World Nomads when I leave Europe for adventurous trips. :)
Disclosure: While all of the information in this post is correct to my knowledge, I encourage you to do your own research and verify all aspects of your travel insurance. I cannot be held responsible for your use of any of the information provided.
*Please note that I make a small commission—at no additional cost to you—on purchases you make through a select few product links. This keeps A Little Adrift an ad-free community and never affects my recommendations.