Making sure you are properly insured is a crutial part of any overseas trip.

It crosses our minds every time we leave the country, and rightly so: What if something happens to us? Are we covered by insurance? From medical emergencies to stolen laptops, is it really necessary to take out a specific policy for every trip abroad?

These simple but vexing questions beget complex answers, especially since the term “travel insurance” implies varying degrees of medical and property coverage. In the most general terms, every traveler should consider medical insurances compulsory (including personal injury, accident or illness expenses, as well as emergency evacuation and repatriation expenses), while property insurances can be viewed as recommended (including trip interruption and lost luggage).

Here are some pointers to help keep future trips abroad as risk-free as possible:


Existing U.S. Medical Coverage

The majority of U.S. medical insurance plans provide some form of protection abroad. Call the number on the back of your insurance card for exact details. Be sure to ask about emergency evacuation expenses, repatriation costs and financial limits on emergency medical treatment. Most companies merely offer transport and treatment at the closest local hospital, which means you may want to supplement your coverage with an outside medical policy. American Express Travel Insurance, for example, offers Global Medical Protection for a nominal charge (as low as $20 per person).

Existing U.S. Property Coverage

Some homeowners’ insurance policies will cover major items, such as laptops and jewelry, in the event they are stolen abroad. Review your fine print or call your provider to determine the amount of coverage before travel. Homeowners’ insurance does not cover travel cancellation or curtailment.

Credit Card Coverage

Several credit cards automatically include a roster of insurances for travel related expenses charged to your credit card. For example, airline, train and bus tickets charged to Visa Signature credit cards come with insurance for accidental death or dismemberment and baggage delay reimbursement. Check with your creditcard company, and ask about tangible benefits versus assistance benefits, the latter acting simply as crisis management concierge.

Comprehensive Coverage

Tour operators, travel agents, airlines and cruise lines may offer “comprehensive insurance” coverage through a preferred broker or company. Check that these insurance packages offer both medical and property components. Note that extras such as cancellation and curtailment insurance come at a significant premium and that the policy will pay only for what they deem “valid reasons.” Also, many comprehensive travel insurance policies will cover the loss of property, but to very small limits. Check before you purchase.

Supplemental Coverage

For those who already have some form of existing coverage, American Express Travel Insurance allows you to pick the exact line item coverage you need, whether it is Trip Cancellation, Global Medical Protection, or even Car Rental Insurance abroad.

Paper Trail

In the event that you do incur medical costs or property damage or loss abroad, you’ll need to establish a paper trail (including police reports, doctors’ notes and hospital bills) to facilitate your insurance claims once home. The more documentation, the better.