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How to Buy Travel Medical Insurance for South America: 6 Things to Know

Posted in: Ecuador Travel, Everything Expat, Resources & Gear

Traveling to South America? Here are 6 things to know before you buy travel medical insurance.

buy travel medical insurance

This post was writen by Bree Weidman of Atlas Travel Insurance

How to Buy Travel Medical Insurance: 6 Things to Know

Planning an international trip can be a challenge. From acquiring the mandatory travel documents to booking your flight and accommodations – there’s a lot to coordinate.

But travel medical insurance doesn’t have to be a burden. In fact, many policies offer budget-friendly coverage that can be purchased online at any point during the planning process (or even after you’ve touched down in South America).

But what should you look for in a plan? And what should you know before you buy? Read on to discover the answers!

What to Know Before You Buy Travel Health Insurance

1. Some Countries Require Health Insurance to Enter

While you’ll need a passport and perhaps a visa to enter your destination country, you may also need health insurance in order to meet entry requirements.

For example, Ecuador is one of many countries which requires its foreign residents – both temporary and permanent — to have health insurance. And in May 2018, Ecuadorian authorities will begin requesting proof of travel medical insurance from tourists before allowing them to enter the country.

Because you never know when other South American countries will follow suit, it’d be wise to confirm entry requirements for your destination country before you leave home. You can do this by visiting the official website of your embassy or consulate in your host country (or, if you’re a U.S. citizen, by searching for your destination at

travel medical insurance only

2. Not All Plans Are Created Equal

There are different types of travel medical insurance plans for different situations.

After all, a sales professional who travels to Brazil 10 times a year on business requires a different plan than a group of missionaries taking a four-month service trip to Guatemala.

If you are…

  • Taking a single international trip → consider a single-trip plan.
  • Taking multiple international trips throughout a one-year (or other specified) period → consider a multi-trip plan .
  • Traveling abroad as a group of 5 or more → consider a group policy – you may be eligible for a discounted rate!
  • Traveling long-term (over a year) → assess your needs and priorities – you may want to consider an expatriate or travel major medical plan, which offers more extensive coverage.
  • A study abroad student → consider international student health insurance.

3. Travel Medical Plans Don’t Cover Everything

One of the most important things to know about travel medical insurance is that it’s not equivalent to your home country health coverage – meaning certain situations and expenses are excluded from coverage.

For example, most travel medical policies don’t cover things like:

  • Regular wellness checkups
  • Regular prescriptions
  • Pregnancy care
  • Mental health disorders
  • Pre-existing conditions
  • Medical tourism

Instead, travel medical insurance offers coverage for unexpected medical expenses, like the cost of treating an illness or repairing a broken leg.

So be sure to read through your policy documents before you buy, paying special attention to the benefits and exclusions. If you still have questions, call the insurance company and ask – you’ll be glad you did.

4. But They Can Cover More Than Just the Basics

While it may not be equivalent to your home country health coverage, travel medical insurance does cover more than just unexpected medical expenses – and many of these coverages are important “must-haves” for a trip to South America.

So be sure to look for a policy that includes:

  • Coverages in case of unexpected death Benefits that fall under this category include Accidental Death and Dismemberment (AD&D), Repatriation of Remains, and Local Burial or Cremation.
  • Coverages due to unforeseen circumstances Some plans offer benefits for emergency situations like terrorism, political evacuation, natural disaster, and kidnapping.
  • Family transportation coverages due to medical emergency Some policies will cover the cost of transporting a family member to your side if you are confined to an intensive care unit or hospitalized following an emergency medical evacuation.
  • Supplemental travel benefits Look for coverage that applies when a death in your immediate family puts an abrupt halt to your trip, the airline loses your checked luggage, or your flight is delayed over 12 hours and you need to seek alternative accommodations.

travel medical insurance for seniors

5. Don’t Forget Emergency Medical Evacuation

Recommended by both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of State, emergency medical evacuation coverage is a must.

In South America, there’s a very real possibility that you could fall injured or ill while exploring a remote destination.

If this is the case, and the initial treating facility is unable to administer the life-saving medical treatment you need, then an emergency medical evacuation may be necessary to transport you to a hospital with a sufficient standard of care.

Bad news first: according to the CDC, an emergency medical evacuation can exceed $100,000.

The good news? Some travel medical policies (like Atlas Travel and Atlas Premium insurance) offer up to $1,000,000 for a covered emergency medical evacuation.

6. Double Check your High Coverage Limits

Expanding on that last piece of advice is this: high coverage limits are important. If you get sick or injured and have to seek medical treatment as you travel abroad, you want to make sure you won’t be paying all of your medical expenses out-of-pocket.

Most travel medical policies have an overall maximum limit, or a maximum amount of money the policy will pay toward your eligible expenses.

If you’re below the age of 80, you should have no trouble finding a plan that offers at least $100,000 in overall maximum coverage. If you’re 80 or older, you’ll likely have more limited coverage options – but you can still find a plan that offers up to $10,000 for eligible expenses.

Note that many individual benefits have coverage limits, as well. When you’re reviewing potential coverage options, make sure to review these limits to better assess which option is best for you.

Looking for more advice? Learn more about travel medical insurance – including who needs it, what your options are, and how it can assist you in a crisis abroad.

Buy travel medical insurance for South America

Your Turn

Have a question about how to buy travel insurance for South America travel? Or maybe a tip that will help our readers? Join us in the comments!

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. He is a travel blogger and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Travel.

7 comments… add one
  • Doreen Apr 24, 2019, 11:58 am

    I read your excellent post on Travel Insurance and thought you might be a good person to ask.
    My husband and I plan on retiring to Ecuador by the end of this year (2019), will be making exploratory trip June/July. What insurance companies should we query in Ecuador? Opinions are great. He is 65, I am 70, so thanks to you we now know to contact Atlas or Allianz for required Travel Insurance. But what about health insurance for expats living in Ecuador fulltime? All suggestions appreciated.

    We’ll also be looking for a Spanish speaking guide and help with our June/July trip. We are looking mostly to Cuenca for the first three months of residency, exploring to find our permanent spot and will be applying for resident VISA.

    Thanks mucho.


  • Carol Mitchell Apr 9, 2018, 8:56 pm

    Hi. I have been led by expats in Cuenca and their local paper that the travel insurance has not come into effect as they are not ready at the countries borders to enforce it. They will make another attempt in May of this year to put it together, but the general thought is it will not come into effect.

    • Bryan Haines Apr 16, 2018, 11:21 am

      The law was delayed by 90 days – which makes it come valid in May 2018. Beginning May 1, 2018, all travelers will have to produce proof of health insurance as an entry requirement. Here is the official government announcement.

      We have heard from some travelers that they have already begun to ask for proof of insurance.

  • jong Apr 2, 2018, 4:24 pm

    Please send to me your travel insurance form. i plan to visit Guyana.

  • Michael Nov 18, 2017, 3:49 pm

    What is the absolute minimum health insurance required to enter Ecuador? I’m 68 and the last time I went to a doctor was for a check-up in the 1980’s.

  • Joseph Somers Nov 18, 2017, 10:36 am

    It is always nice to see your welcomed advice and I pass it on to others who travel to Ecuador and another who lived there …They the Husband and Wife recently came back to Canada something to do with their OHIP…What? I don’t know but they have until Dec 9th to return or they lose their residency whatever (They have lived in Cuenca for about 4 Years) Anyway He has pulmonary Problems and lucky for her He husband while talking with the Doctor in Ecuador asked him to look at his wife’s foot. He did and advised her to go home and get back immediately for if she had waited another week her foot would have to be amputated..She is a Diabetic and had a Pedicure done the operator dug too deep and infection had set in which turned to Ulcerate…Two teams of doctors in Cuenca worked to save her foot (a team of Nine and another team of five) Where else in the world who anyone ever get better medical care??? Once again Bryan Gracias Mis Amigos (Its a learning progress)
    I’m Originally from P.E.I and You and Family from Nova Scotia Fabulous

  • Rob Nov 16, 2017, 1:14 pm

    I buy my travel insurance, both trip and medical, as an add-on to my credit card. What proof of health insurance do I need to show the folks at immigration when I arrive in Ecuador? We are planning a trip for next summer. thanks!

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