The problem with getting travel insurance on the Silk Road: insurance companies tend to cover everything, except the things you might actually want cover for.
The main risks you are covered for by most basic insurance policies is a nasty car crash and breaking a leg while hiking. Insurances generally also cover cancelled trips, but beware nasty pitfalls here. It’s rare to see claims validated when stuff breaks or gets stolen.
Which countries are covered?
In standard policies, there are 2 ways to exclude countries from coverage.
The clear definition
Mostly in Anglo-Saxon countries, it seems, the policy will say something to the effect of: “We cover all countries except those that have specific Government ‘Do Not Travel‘ warnings. There is a split here: some companies cover “MFA advises against all but essential travel“, but not “MFA advises against all travel”. Other companies also exclude countries that are in the all but essential category.
The fuzzy definition
Something along the lines of: your cover may be limited if you decide to travel to a country or region where the following specific events are occurring;
a war, invasion, acts of a foreign enemy, hostilities (whether war has been declared or not), civil war, terrorist acts, rebellion, revolution, insurrection, civil commotion, military or usurped power, martial law, riots or the acts of any lawfully constituted authority, or army, naval or air service operations (whether war has been declared or not)
Very broad terms here like civil commotion and terrorism. If this is in your policy, be sure to ask for a clear explanation, since ‘civil commotion’ is quite common in the world.
You can get travel insurance for Afghanistan. A bunch of companies that serve insurance for high-risk countries are mentioned in this LP thread. A new specialist insurer with low rates, giving out comprehensive insurance for high-risk countries is First Allied.
Which activities are covered?
Big range of options here depending on your insurance company. In terms of hiking, make sure you find out the maximum altitude you are covered for. While most basic insurance policies have a premium option for winter sports (again, read what is included!), if you are planning to do paragliding or mountaineering, you will need specialist insurance. Mark Horell has a good round-up of options for mountaineers.
Insurance recommendations for cyclists are welcomed!
The following things are typically not included even in policies geared to more adventurous travel. Watch out for cover of:
- any search and rescue expenses
- travel without a plane ticket to your country of residence
Think you are covered? Watch out for these sneaky exclusions:
- flights that are not to/from your home country
- having to cancel your trip for anything other than illness
- Cancelling your trip before you left (you would think that is a basic, right?)
Lost, stolen or broken stuff
Have a really careful look at what exactly is covered. Your policy will usually cover you for stolen goods, but beware: “all valuables must be kept within reach and view at all times.” It has to be stolen while you were looking at it.
Before buying, also look at per-item value limits (the maximum they pay you back for 1 item) versus the total limit. If the per-item value limit is 100$, your policy is useless to insure your expensive gear.
Excess is the other side of the equation you need to look at: it is the amount you have to pay to lodge a travel insurance claim, or in other places, the initial amount you need to drop before they start paying you back.
In short, you want the excess to be low and the per-item value limit to be high.
Insurance companies per country
World Nomads: Not an actual insurance company, World Nomads is a sales and marketing company that sells insurances from different providers. Depending on your country of residence, the provider will change. Different companies means different policies: so, read the fine print based on your residence!
Their success is based on their attractive affiliate program that has every travel site promote them, from Lonely Planet to Nikki on the Road. There is a big chasm between the rave reviews from travel bloggers and the real user reviews, though.
Seeing how World Nomads works with different companies across the world, their policies are not necessarily the worst, but there are better, cheaper alternatives out there.
Case in point is Columbus Direct: a cheaper, better-reviewed alternative to World Nomads.
MedEx: This one has been recommended to us as the best for adventurous American travelers by a long-term expat in Kyrgyzstan.
Confused compares travel insurances for UK residents.