Don’t Die Bankrupt (A Short Guide to Insurance for Digital Nomads)

[Disclaimer: I’m not a professional and have no clue what I’m talking about so don’t blame me if you fuck this up]

Health Insurance

If you want to start off on the most boring, anxiety ridden journey of your life, get in the market for health insurance. Nobody likes to be reminded of their pitiful mortality, but after spending the year bouncing around rocks in a place that would typically require the swipe of a card before cramming chunks of brain back in, I thought it was about time to get it sorted.

Spoiler alert / TL;DR: I went with Basic Global Health Insurance cover, with a £2000 deductible and 30% Cost share (1330 max OOP). I got this from Cigna Global for £33 a month. I’m in my mid-twenties and have a clean record.

For insurance illiterate people, this means that you’re essentially only covered for serious stuff (surgery + ongoing care), and you have to pay the first £2000 of costs accrued + 30% up to a limit of £1330.

So with these types of plans you’re only going to be taken care of when you’ve done something very stupid and / or gotten very unlucky and are shuffling off your mortal coil after paying the first £3330 in bills. As a fairly young person with access to cheap (read: non-American) healthcare, and at worst — a decent national healthcare system, I don’t see cover being crucial for anything non-life threatening. I’d rather pay out of pocket to take care of anything less serious while I’m away from my base-country and don’t think the added frustration of claiming on small things makes it worth it when you can shell out and walk away (for reference, a leg fractured in 2 places requiring X-rays, a cast and a boot, cost about $210 in Peru).

If you want to go full blast, all encompassing (Prestige, Gold, whatever) cover (or add-ons in some cases) with a £0 deductible and £0 cost share will mean that the insurance company will pay for everything from your check-ups to Chinese medicine, but will probably set you back upwards of £200 a month, which would — in many cases — end up being a net loss if you don’t use medical services often. If, on the other hand, you get a lot of consultations and want to err on the safe side, it might be worth it. And of course there’s always a middle ground.

Also, note that global insurance is a different league to standard national health insurance (or travel insurance — more on that later), and thus is more expensive.

What to look at

So you’ve figured your general cover and your deductible, now prepare to start looking through enormous lists with tick boxes on them and reading words like ‘action sport rider’ and ‘dental’. Here’s what I found important, and what turned the tables for me. It’ll take less time to just call up an advisor and ask them about the policies directly when making comparisons.

Whether they’ll pay direct — IMG Global were one of the most competitively priced, but all bills had to be paid up front by yours truly and then claimed back afterwards, which I’ve heard takes months. When you’re drooling on the floor and don’t have one hundred thou’ in your savings, there’s not much point there. With most good policies, you give the hospital your insurance forms, and they pick up the cheque.

Your ‘country of residence’ — Speaking to the reps, they said they don’t care where you’re legally resident, but it affects where they administrate the policy from (and reflects a large variance in cost). You can actually fiddle around with these, because the tax involved in putting your residence as somewhere like the UK means the prices are a lot higher.

Whether sports are included — I don’t do many sports, but when I do, I’m very likely to be critically injured. A lot of basic policies don’t include injuries sustained doing things that involve fun, so check that out.

‘Mental health’ — Again, varies wildly as to whether this is included in ‘basic’. Cigna includes something like £5,500 cover in case you lose it.

Systems + Support — You want somewhere that’ll get you through to a human quickly when needed, and a company that’ll start your policy immediately. Cigna had everything sewn up in less than 10 minutes. I’ve emailed them questions and they’ve responded within 5 minutes. This gives me good faith that I’ll get the same treatment when I’m in an emergency.

Evacuation, Outpatient, Dental: This will all be extra. Want to ride in a cool helicopter? You’ll be paying for it. I’ve heard many people say that evacuation is worth splashing out on when you’re using it as an emergency policy.

The companies I looked at

AXA — well known, reliable, but expensive because of it. My family have used them for 40 years and never had problems.

BUPA — ditto

Cigna — Included sports cover, direct payment and mental health on the basic plans, well priced, easy sign up, good support so far. I’ll holla-back when I have to make a claim.

IMG — Best price by far, but no direct pay and the website is horrific. Indianapolese sales rep couldn’t tell me even basic info about the plans.

Travel Insurance vs Health Insurance

This is an important distinction that often gets muddled up. To put it clearly, travel insurance will only cover you until they can push you onto the local healthcare system, or your normal insurance. Once you’re out of the clinic for a while or back home, you’re on your own. They also cover things like cancellations, baggage, etc. What travel insurance companies don’t want to you to know is that nearly all carriers will refund you in the case of missing a flight because of serious illness, cancellations, etc, and will usually compensate you for lost baggage. Geoffrey Morrison of Forbes recounts the grizzly tale of a fractured leg where travel insurance only recovered 561$ out of 2,833$ lost from the incident.

Gadget Insurance

The other main appeal of travel insurance is cover for gadgets, but this is usually pretty weak on a non-specialist policy. You can — on the other hand — apply for specific gadget insurance policies. I use Protect Your Bubble for my laptop and iPhone. So far, I’ve made a claim on an iPhone, and they had it back to me repaired, no questions asked (they didn’t even ask for a receipt as I’ve had the policy for over 2 years) within 2 weeks.

So, if you have decent global insurance that will cover you for anything serious while you’re out there and gadget insurance for your loved ones, travel insurance really doesn’t seem to be worth the hassle.

So there it is. A voyage through the wonderful world of insurance. Don’t die out there!


Skewed Corp is the pseudonym for Felix Oppenheimer, an interactive designer, art director and guy who does stuff sometimes. Follow my ramblings on Twitter, and my dubious exploits on Instagram. Secret headquarters → here