Coverage For ExPats Visiting Home
In 2017 I traveled to my home country, the United States of America, from Australia. I am a firm believer in getting travel insurance (it's covered an operation in Costa Rica, hospitalisation in Australia after visiting Thailand and a hotel stay in Hawaii after being re-routed). However, it is NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE for an expat to find coverage for visiting their hometown. Keep reading to find out which company covered my trip and WHY it is so difficult to get travel insurance coverage for an expat traveling home.
Why is it so Difficult?
In August 2017 I went back to Madison, WI from Brisbane, Australia to attend my best friend's wedding. I thought I could easily find travel insurance to cover me during my visit to the United States and long layover in Fiji. However, what I noticed was that most major companies will only cover you for problems that occur 100 miles or more from your residence. Why? Well, travel insurance is usually purchased by people who are traveling somewhere besides their hometown. Likewise, travel insurance isn't meant to replace normal health insurance that can be used at hospitals and doctors near your residence.
The Expat's Dilemma
Now enter someone like myself, who has been living abroad as an expat and needs health coverage for when they visit not only their home country, but hometown as well. After hours of searching, the only company I found that could do this for me was Columbus Direct Travel Insurance Australia and New Zealand. This post isn't sponsored by them, so I will be sharing my true opinion of their insurance policy.
My Experience with Columbus Direct
Luckily, my trip to the United States via Fiji was absolutely perfect. I had no delays or troubles and made it to my best friend's wedding, quite jetlagged, but perfectly on time. My trip back to Brisbane, Australia, however, is a whole different story. Let's remember that I am a plane jinx, a trait which I inherited from my father. I arrived at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago with my parents after a 2.5 hour drive from Madison, WI only to find out that my plane was delayed and I would be missing my connection. I won't go into all the details, but you can read about my experience here. Once I knew that I was going to be re-routed, I skyped Columbus Direct.
Due to the time difference, I couldn't get ahold of the regular office and instead called the emergency number for Columbus Direct. I asked what I would need to file a claim and what I would be covered for. Unfortunately, the emergency number is usually for medical emergencies and all they could tell me was to review my policy and save my receipts. They also mentioned that I would need a letter from the airline with the code for why my flight was delayed. (Getting this letter was a small nightmare, and is explained in the blog post linked above.) In the end, I missed out on my long layover in Fiji, and was sent to Hawaii instead. I spent a few hours in a hotel there and got a taxi to and from the airport.
Filing A Claim with Columbus Direct
Once I got back to Brisbane, I wrote an email to Columbus Direct and they set me up with the claim. One woman was in constant contact with me, answering all my questions. I feel that the customer service was great as far as the claim went, but I would have liked a non-emergency number to use when calling from the USA during non-office hours.
In the end, I filled out a bit of paperwork, sent in copies of my receipts, plane tickets, the letter from the airline, my trip itinerary and reservations. Columbus Direct paid for my hotel stay in Hawaii, the taxis to and from the airport and the Hawaiian tourist tax. They did not, however, pay for my Fiji hotel which had to be cancelled last minute due to the re-routing. I'm not sure why this wasn't covered when I was re-routed, but I was able to contest the payment if I chose to do so. I didn't in the end because luckily the Fiji hotel allowed me to cancel for free.
In the future, it would be great to see a travel insurance company that understands the needs of expat travelers. Until that day, I recommend doing your research and checking out Columbus Direct.
If you are not an expat and planning on traveling abroad, check out The Best Travel Insurance from Reviews.com which compares major travel insurance companies in a non-biased way!
Please leave a comment below if you have any questions!
Happy (and safe) travels!
Jamie and David
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