Is the era of mandatory travel insurance upon us?

Approx read: 3 mins

Consumer choice may be a thing of the past

Look, it’s hardly a surprise that we recommend travel medical insurance here at battleface.

A million things can go wrong in a foreign country and having financial and logistical backing from professionals is the best way of ensuring a crisis doesn’t turn into a tragedy.

But, in all honesty, it’s your choice.

You may be happy covering the medical costs of a few scuffs and scrapes out of your own pocket. You may feel a short trip abroad is so low-risk it doesn’t warrant cover.

You’re an adult. You can make your own decisions.

But that consumer choice may be a thing of the past if a growing trend of countries mandating health insurance catches on around the world.

These countries include Russia, which requires all visitors to provide proof of adequate coverage when applying for their visa.

Ecuador, meanwhile, has previously toyed with the idea of introducing compulsory insurance for tourists, but scrapped the scheme following opposition.

However, those visiting the Galapagos Islands, which are part of Ecuador, are still required to have adequate insurance as a condition of entry.

Japan, another country where lawmakers face growing pressure from hospitals and medical providers carrying the cost of foreigners’ health treatment, recently launched a nationwide campaign to urge visitors to purchase insurance.

You can certainly see the reasoning. Tourists can put unnecessary strains on foreign health services and have gained a (perhaps undeserved) reputation for hopping on a plane and waving goodbye to their bills once treatment is complete.

Of course, for the more intrepid travellers, compulsory insurance is nothing new.

Those heading to Antarctica will be familiar with the need to obtain cover in case disaster strikes – and the tens of thousands required to get you home again.

Mandating travel medical insurance for visitors would undoubtedly be a boom for insurance companies worldwide. Indeed, what industry wouldn’t welcome absolute take up of its product?

But it would also add a compulsory layer of protection to the, ahem, less prudent travellers among us. Plenty of globetrotters strap on their backpacks without a thought of what they’ll do if they suddenly require medical treatment abroad.

Hospital bills can rack up quickly, especially when you don’t have a professional travel medical provider at your side to ensure every assessment and treatment is strictly necessary.

And when the worst happens, the cost of repatriating a traveller’s mortal remains is an additional – and extremely costly – burden on their families.

Personal responsibility versus the nanny state

But the trend for countries to insist on insurance also raises questions of personal responsibility and the coddling of travellers.

Let’s remember that, up to a point, risk is acceptable. Indeed, it may be your primary reason for exploring the world. Travel is about self-reliance, about making smart choices in risky situations. More often than not, that means purchasing that insurance policy online in order to guard against worst-case eventualities.

Taking that choice away from travellers is, of course, a sensible decision for a number of practical and financial reasons. But does it treat travellers like children?

It remains to be seen whether more countries will go the way of Russia, Ecuador and others. If so, the age of consumer choice over travel medical insurance may become a thing of the past.

Jack Davidson is a seven-year digital nomad who's made his home in such far-flung locations as Cambodia, East Timor, Colombia and Hungary. He writes on a variety of topics relating to travel, travel insurance and financial matters for globetrotters and occasional wanderers alike. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_d_davidson.