Why you need travel insurance in Cambodia and what to look for

Whether you’re a short-term expat or just visiting, having travel insurance in Cambodia is crucial. (Long-term expat? More info on health insurance here). If you’ve read my friend’s horror story, you’re probably already convinced. If not, read on.

Here’s why you need travel insurance

Even healthy people get sick and have accidents

Just because you’re young and healthy doesn’t mean you won’t need medical care. Accidents (often of the traffic variety) happen with astonishing frequency. This year, nearly a dozen of my friends in Siem Reap contracted dengue fever. Even if you’re a low-risk traveler, that’s no guarantee that you won’t get sick or hurt.

Medical care isn’t cheap

Many people traveling around Southeast Asia think that they don’t need to buy an insurance plan because medical care in the region is cheap; they figure they can just pay out of pocket if an emergency comes up. And that’s true for minor complaints, but if you need to stay overnight or have surgery, the cost can be in the thousands and even higher if you need to leave the country for care. Most expats familiar with the state of medicine in Cambodia wouldn’t dream of having even minor surgery here, and neither should you.

Payment for emergency care is required in advance

If for any reason you end up in the hospital, payment is always required up front. Cambodian hospitals have been known to let patients die rather than give them free care. So unless you have a credit card on you — and remember that purses and wallets are often stolen in traffic accidents — know that without insurance you won’t be receiving care (and even most policies require payment up front, particularly for smaller claims).

Medical evacuation (very) expensive

For anything but the most minor problem, most foreigners will opt to go to Bangkok or Singapore for treatment. If you aren’t able to make it onto a plane under your own steam, you’ll need to be airlifted by helicopter, which can cost upwards of $20,000. And here, too, payment is required up front. If you need a medical evacuation back to your home country, it can cost five times that. Even flying home with a broken leg can require an expensive business-class seat.

Travel insurance isn’t just for medical care

Depending on your policy, travel insurance covers a range of other situations, from cancelled trips to delayed flights, from stolen cameras to lost baggage. If you end up in the hospital, your plan may cover flying a parent or partner to Cambodia to be with you. Many of the most important benefits of travel insurance in Cambodia are not medical in nature, so be sure to check your policy before you go.

Cambodia medical care

A range of illness can befall you in Cambodia — this is from a ward at Calmette Hopsital.

What to look for in a good travel insurance plan

High coverage limit

Make sure that your plan has a high enough rate of coverage that an accident would be covered. An insurance plan that only covers $3,000 in care won’t be much use to you if you get into a major accident. I look for a minimum of $25,000 for medical expenses, and at least double that for evacuation. Ideally, you’ll be covered $100,000 for medical expenses and at least the same for evacuation.

Extending your plan while you are away

If you think you might end up wanting to stay longer (and let’s face it, Cambodia is known for its irresistible charm), make sure that the travel insurance plan you are considering will let you extend your policy while you are abroad — and be aware that most don’t.

Reputation

Many travel insurance policies have the same underwriters, so your plan may be essentially the same if bought through one company as through another. However, some companies have a reputation for going to bat and fighting the underwriters on behalf of their clients, while others won’t. Ask your friends which plan they use; Google the company you are thinking of going with and check out a few expat forums. Reputation is important when it comes to travel insurance.

Cover the activities you’re going to do

If you’re planning on doing adventure sports or driving a moto, be aware than many policies will not cover these sorts of activities. If you think you’ll be doing anything out of the ordinary, check to make sure it will be covered.

Pre-existing conditions

If you have any sort of pre-existing condition, be sure to read the fine print. Some companies won’t cover anything related to any condition you’ve had ever, while others will cover anything that hasn’t occurred in the last six months.

Transparency

Check out the travel insurance policy before you buy. What’s covered? What isn’t? Read the website to find out more. A company that is up front about what they cover and what they don’t is more trustworthy than one that hides to hide this information in the small print. Here’s a good example of transparency by a travel insurance company.

Whom do we recommend?

Ever since I left my job in London to go backpacking around the world, I’ve used
World Nomads travel insurance*. I met the general manager of World Nomads at a Travel Massive meetup and talked to him about all of the “what if” scenarios I could imagine. Perhaps more important, I know many people who have made claims with them and have had no complaints about the process. (Luckily, I’ve never had to make a claim myself!) My friend Brock has made two claims over the last few years, one for a health emergency and one for a theft, and said that both were handled efficiently and quickly. Another friend in Cambodia had extensive dental work covered by World Nomads, and another was covered for a sports injury.

World Nomads is designed for independent travelers and will let you extend your policy while you are on the road. They will even let you sign up when you’ve already left home.

World Nomads have a great reputation and are easy to get in touch with, whether by phone, email, or Twitter, and are very transparent about what they do — and don’t — cover.

That said, it makes sense to shop around and compare policies to find the best one for you, depending on your specific needs. With World Nomads, they have different underwriters (and different policies) depending on your country of residence. With any plan, be sure to read the policy wording carefully so you know in advance what you are buying. You can use a site like insuremytrip.com to compare various policies.

I compared a half-dozen plans in a similar price range, and the difference in coverage was astounding. Some offered just $15,000 in medical coverage for the same price (or more) that other plans charged for $100,000 in coverage.

Personally, my superstition is that the better the insurance plan you purchase, the less likely you are to need it. But if you do find yourself in a medical crisis or other emergency, you’ll be glad you spent a few extra minutes to make sure you got the best coverage possible.

* Disclosure

We use World Nomads ourselves when we travel, and have for years. We think they are reliable, trustworthy, and transparent. If you purchase a World Nomads policy through Move to Cambodia, we may receive an affiliate commission. If you are considering purchasing a policy, we hope you will support this site and get one through our links.

28 Responses to Why you need travel insurance in Cambodia and what to look for

  1. Linda Smith says:

    I have been going nuts looking for a good travel health insurance plan and they are all $1,000 or more. then I found Allianz which is the same coverage as policies costing 5,000 a year. Alliance is under $200.00….I have read and re-read and can’t tell a bit of difference. anyone with experience with this one? better business gives it an A+

    • Lina says:

      There is no possible way there is a policy that is less than $200/year that covers the same thing as other policies. My guess is that the $200 is the cost of the repatriation insurance but not the health insurance.

      • Linda Smith says:

        Yes, that is my exact feeling also. You don’t get something for nothing. I am hoping by reading these messages my partner will also realize and search more deeply. I am absolutely not able to understand these things and must depend on someone else. I did read the site and it looks really good, but I get a very suspicious feeling that it is not what it is really alluding to. thanks SO much you guys. I value your feedback immensely!

  2. Bon says:

    World Nomads cover looks great, affordable and good cover. My husband currently has insurance with WN for his current visit to the UK. Will World Nomads cover still be valid for a year living in Cambodia? I’m concerned about the difference between travel insurance and expat insurance, specifically that a travel insurance policy could refuse to pay out citing the reason that you are an expat rather than a traveller if living and working somewhere. Particularly in my case as my husband is Cambodian and has Cambodian permanent residency. I and our daughter are British with permanent residency in the UK, will start and finish our trip in the UK. I will be working in Cambodia and my daughter will go to nursery/school. Will World Nomads cover be valid for us? If anyone can provide any feedback on our situation I’d really appreciate it?!

    • Lina says:

      My understanding is that WN (or any travel insurance) is not valid in the country you are a permanent resident of. Therefore, your husband’s policy would not be valid in Cambodia. It is up to you to decide what country you are a permanent resident of. If you’re on a regular one year visa, you are not considered a permanent resident of Cambodia by the Cambodian government. Since you have national healthcare in the UK and would be repatriated there if something terrible happened, I think signing up for WN with the UK listed as your country of permanent residence would make sense. I spoke to the owner of World Nomads and he said he wasn’t concerned about expats using the insurance for a couple of years, so I think it’s fine. Your husband will need to get a local policy, though, through Manulife, Forte, etc. If you do decide to go with World Nomads, I’d appreciate it if you’d use my link to sign up. Good luck!

      ps. If you tweet at @worldnomads you can usually get a response from the owner himself.

      • Bon says:

        Lina, thanks so much for taking the time to reply. I think WN sounds like the best choice, I was also worried because it’s so cheap! But your recommendation reassures me. If/when I do purchase the cover I’ll use your link. Thanks again

        • Lina says:

          It’s cheap because they will repatriate you if something terrible happens (once you are cared for and stabilizes) whereas a regular health insurance plan could be on the hook for months or years of rehabilitation, etc. Since you come from a country with national healthcare, it’s not an issue. For me, as an American, if I got repatriated with a serious medical problem, I’d be in trouble. Sigh.

          • Bon says:

            Hi again Lina, I have another question about the WN travel cover. It has a special clause about cover for moto accidents that you are only covered if you have the correct license to ride a moto in your home country… do you have any experience or knowledge about this? Did you take a moto test in your country? Thanks!

    • Cathie Mcintyre says:

      Only a World Nomads representative can accurately answer your question, and I recommend that you contact them. International SOS has a health insurance plan that you may want to check on; I am doubtful that it will cover your husband, however, if he is a Cambodian citizen. Contact them, nevertheless, just in case they can cover you. I will ask a Soanish friend who lives here to give me the name of the company that insure him. Personally, i have health insurance through Cigna Global.

      • Lina says:

        I would personally not recommend SOS — the SOS clinic in Phnom Penh offers care that is very inconsistent. In the horror story I link to in this post, SOS left my friend with a C3 fracture overnight with no care and then eventually took him on a bumpy ambulance trip without securing his head and body. Once at the Thai hospital they said he was lucky he wasn’t paralyzed because of it. Although I have seen a good doctor at SOS before (no longer there) I have heard so many horror stories that I wouldn’t go again.

        Cigna Global is a good recommendation. I compare some of the expat policies here.

        • Cathie Mcintyre says:

          Thanks for that tip about SOS Clinic (now Raffles). I recently had a positive experience at Naga Clinic. I think I am like many expats and cover my usual medical expenses myself. I go to Pasteur Institute for immunizations, get checkups using my US- domestic policy when I return to the US once a year, and pay for emergency evacuation insurance in case I become seriously ill and need to be flown out.

          • Lina says:

            I am sorry to say but I have (and many others) had a bad experience at Naga, too! (All with the female Bulgarian doc) I had dengue and they sent me home without testing me. I have had good experiences with Dr. Scott in Phnom Penh, but I usually go to Bangkok for anything even slightly serious. Care is cheaper there and higher quality.

  3. Rebecca says:

    The age limit for a World Nomads policy is 70, so as long as your are under 70 at the time you purchase your policy and have no pre-existing medical conditions that exclude you from coverage you will be able to purchase one of their policies.

  4. Lee Fergusson says:

    You need to tell people that World Nomads have an age limit (you must be UNDER 65 to qualify for their policies) regardless of anything else. Obviously, as I am 66 I will not be doing business with this company.

    • Cathie says:

      Lee, the upper age limit is 70, not 65, with World Nomads. I last purchased a plan with them when I was 69, and it was valid for the term of my insurance, which was actually after I turned 70. I am a US citizen and searched for a satisfactory medical evacuation policy only. Now I am covered for one year by United Health Care Global’s Medex plan. The cost is around $380 annually. I will turn 71 during this year’s term. When I renew after that, the fee will be higher, but it’s not bad.

      • Sergejs says:

        Cathie,

        380$ p.a. is a fantastic quote.

        They quoted for me 2,340$ just now. However I am not US citizen or resident, may be they have very different pricing if you come from Europe.

        World Nomads quieted cal1,000$.

        I am curious if I too can get a really working insurance at00by paying insurance premium close to the level you mentioned.

        • Cathie McIntyre says:

          Serge, my only other suggestion is to contact
          International SOS. They offer a membership and health insurance. You have the option of choosing medical evacuation insurance only, along with the membership.

          By the way, the SOS Clinic in Phnom Penh has changed its name and is now called Raffles Medical Group on Street 51 (Rue Pasteur).

          • Lina says:

            The issue with evacuation only is that you need health insurance in your home country, and if you get in a terrible accident you will still need care before you are sent home. For example, my friend ran up a $100,000 bill while getting stabilized to fly back to the UK, which would not have been covered by an evacuation-only plan. The other issue is that many plans will only evacuate you to the nearest country with good medical care, which would mean you don’t have to pay to get flown to Thailand (which can cost $20,000 in a hospital helicopter), but then you will be stuck in Thailand with no health insurance.

            • Cathie McIntyre says:

              Thanks, Lina. It’s true that a person can be stuck paying his/her own medical bills without health insurance. I recommend World Nomads for those people who are under 70. As for me, I have not been able to find a policy that will cover health insurance for me after turning 70 so I self-insure except for the emergency evacuation insurance. I DO have health insurance that will cover me once I am back in my home country, the USA — wish that insurance would cover me internationally!

              • Lina says:

                Hi Cathie, Apologies, I missed that you were over 70. The options are seriously limited and it sounds like you have made the best choice from what’s available. I was just trying to make the point that evacuation only is not a great idea for those who are just looking to save money but are eligible for something more, especially if they don’t have health insurance in their home country.

    • vincent says:

      I do wish you well and hope you will never need to use it. I am not a doctor but I understand if your medical emergency is cardiac related you can not fly at high altitudes and will need a helicopter. Not taking a copter to America. Suggest you consider Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur for a true emergency. With all insurance companies there are under writers looking for ways to NOT honor a claim. Might want to check with the American Embassy and seek their advice in a crisis situation.
      Good luck and health.

  5. Vincent says:

    I can only share my personal experiences after living in Siem Reap for about 4 years. The real rip-off is the Angkor Hospital (managed by Bangkok Hospital) They want $80 just to see a doctor. By comparison Bangkok Christian Hospital on Silom BKK charges $20 just recently up from $15.
    I had a very serious case of conjunctivitis (eye infection) a couple of years ago and went to Angkor first, asked to see an eye doctor and told “we don’t have eye doctors, only doctors” OK bye.
    Off to the Eye Hospital which is part of the Siem Reap Referral Hospital. Except for the doctors and techs don’t expect a lot of English to be spoken. I was greeted professionaly, they filled out any papers for me, asked a few questions about whether it was an injury, did the standard vision exam with an eye chart. Sent me off to the cashier where I paid $10. Then I did wait but mostly because I did not understand the system and was too polite so people moved ahead of me. Anyway, saw a well educated doctor(trained in France and US)who did an exam and gave me a prescription for a drop, ointment and antibiotic and said come back in one week. Went back ,saw another doctor, who had my records and he upped the daily dose of antibiotic because the infection was taking too long to go away. Said, come back in a week. Went back and things had much improved but did get a 3rd doctor who was younger but just finished his residency in California. Very professional, said the infection is clearing up nicely, continue the meds and come back in 2 weeks or sooner if I wanted. In summary the hospital cost me a total of $10 for all the visits, yes TOTAL. Now the experience at U-CARE pharmacy was terrible. As with many, I went to them first for treatment. The “pharmacist” gave me a steroidal eye drop which I was later told by a doctor not to use as it can make things worse. Then I got an ointment to apply to the eye lids at a cost of $17. Well turns out the SKU was entered into their computer wrong and should have been $1.70.
    No my problem was not life threatening but can cause permanent eye damage if not treated properly. In summary the service at the hospital was far from shoddy and very far from expensive. That being said, insurance is always a good idea but keep in mind most ,if not all, will not cover pre-existing conditions. If you insist on riding around without a helmet or drink and drive you can forget your coverage so read the fine print. They will cover themselves in the tiny print and cover you in the larger print. Happy travels.

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