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“Medical tourism” is a catch-all phrase for traveling with the primary intention of having medical, surgical, or dental work done at the destination. This covers a range of possible motivations. Certain treatments may be more or less available, expensive, reliable, or even legal in different parts of the world. Near international borders, especially, these discrepancies may give rise to a good deal of medical tourism. This is often the primary focus of a trip, but it may be combined with other planned activities.

While travel insurance does cover unforeseen and emergency medical situations while traveling, medical tourism is not, and cannot, be covered. Even health insurance policies rarely cover such situations, because the risks involved are, by definition, hard to ascertain. There are competent doctors and clinics all over the world, but there are also incompetent doctors, fraudulent treatment schemes, problems with hygiene and other complicating factors. Medical tourism is, in most instances, seen as either an activity of last resort, or a high-risk way to save money.

Even if a treatment is successful, it may impact the traveler’s itinerary in ways that the insurer cannot anticipate. For instance, a doctor may reasonably tell a patient that they should not fly for some time after a procedure, or that they need to extend their trip. A patient in a foreign city who is under the influence of medication, or recovering from a surgical procedure, may be at considerably greater risk for accidents, sickness, theft, and the like.

Trip protection is designed to protect ordinary travelers engaged in ordinary travel activities. It works well in that role. Yet it cannot be extended to cover, for instance, people taking an experimental drug in a private clinic in the developing world.

None of this should be taken to suggest that responses to an emergent health problem during a trip constitutes “medical tourism”. Indeed, making sure that travelers can get medical treatment if the need arises is one of the best reasons to get travel insurance in the first place. But if the need for medical treatment arose back home, and led to the trip, that is medical tourism.

Finally, it should be noted that any pre-planned medical or dental activity may be enough to classify the trip as medical tourism, even if you view this as a minor part of the trip. For instance, if you are planning to have periodontic work done while on a long vacation in Cancun, this may affect your ability to file a claim on a trip protection policy. If you have any routine treatment, such as hemodialysis, which your care providers have arranged to transfer to an overseas clinic while you are staying abroad, this is a situation which you need to discuss with your insurance carrier.

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