If you’re planning to take a vacation this year, you might have come across the term travel insurance and wondered if it was necessary to buy. After all, most airlines and hotels offer some sort of protection in case something goes wrong with your trip, so why bother getting travel insurance? It turns out that travel insurance can be incredibly helpful in protecting you from the unexpected, from paying to replace your luggage if it gets lost to covering medical expenses in case you get sick while on vacation.

How does travel insurance work?

Many people think that travel insurance is an additional layer of coverage for any potential problems you might run into on vacation. But in reality, it can actually help with problems that happen once you’ve returned home. For example, if your luggage is delayed, stolen or lost on a trip, insurance can help cover costs like purchasing replacement items. And if you have a serious medical emergency while traveling internationally, travel insurance can cover certain emergency medical expenses and more.

What should you know before buying travel insurance?

If you don’t have travel insurance, then you could be in for a world of trouble if something bad happens during your trip. But how do you know whether or not to get it? Should I buy travel insurance for my trip to Europe?, Is travel insurance worth it?, Are overseas medical costs expensive?, What are some common medical emergencies abroad that require evacuation and/or hospitalization?, How do I find a good travel insurance plan that covers everything I need covered while abroad?, and Who should use travel insurance? Some things never change, even while travelling. Whether or not you’re planning to trek through rural Nepal or sip cocktails on South Beach, there are certain concerns that will always remain constant.

Things you should check before purchasing a policy

If you are not already covered by an existing policy or a comprehensive medical insurance plan, you should check to see if your credit card provides adequate travel coverage for an extended trip. Most debit cards and many credit cards do provide some type of coverage in that regard. It’s important to understand what will and won’t be covered under those policies before booking anything, as many of them don’t cover pre-existing conditions, annual checkups or other common requirements of international travel. If you have an iPhone and use Apple Pay, consider purchasing AppleCare+; it covers two incidents per year and can easily be transferred from device to device. That said, pay close attention to any limitations—such as a $200 deductible—that may apply.

Does pre-existing medical conditions affect your insurance coverage?

While we’re on that topic, check whether your pre-existing medical conditions will affect your coverage. If you have a medical condition that is likely to flare up while traveling (such as diabetes), look for insurance plans that cover guaranteed issue, meaning they are willing to sell you a policy without taking any other details into account. However, if you have any doubts about what coverage is available to you then it’s probably worth paying extra for a comprehensive plan. These generally provide much more comprehensive cover and include cover for emergency evacuation, or payment of medical expenses should anything happen to you while away. They can also usually be extended quickly and easily before leaving on your trip – whereas buying one when already abroad can be much harder.

Your age affects your premium cost

For those under 35, premiums cost about 20 percent less than for those between 35 and 65. After age 65, a senior-citizen discount may apply—usually 10 to 15 percent off. Seniors over 75 get an even bigger break; it’s not unusual for insurance companies to waive their premium altogether as they become increasingly more expensive to insure. If you’re 65 or older and want travel insurance, let your agent know up front so you can ensure that your premium reflects your eligibility.

Visa requirements may affect your coverage needs

If you’re planning a vacation to Europe or Asia, you’ll likely have to apply for a visa in advance. Visas cost money and require time, so be sure to check whether your travel insurance covers visa fees. If it doesn’t, don’t forget to add it as an expense. Also note that some countries won’t let you enter if your passport is less than six months old or has more than two visa stamps. Find out if your insurance covers unexpected visa denials and cancellations, because that can mean lost money and/or lost plans. Know that even having travel insurance may not get you around these issues—it all depends on what’s included in your policy’s fine print!

Are there other important things to consider when traveling internationally?

If you’re planning a trip, there’s a good chance you’ll hear about travel insurance. Chances are someone will recommend that you get it or warn that travel insurance is a must-have. But how do you know if it’s right for your situation and how do you go about making a claim if something goes wrong while on vacation? As with most things, there isn’t one definitive answer to these questions—but here are some things to consider.

When should you buy travel insurance and what can you expect when making a claim on the policy?

There are two primary situations when you’re likely to purchase travel insurance: either before you book your trip, or after it has been booked but before you depart. Many people buy a policy before they leave, in which case their plans may be altered by a covered injury, sickness or event (like cancellations caused by extreme weather conditions). If you decide to buy insurance for your trip before you leave, take into account that pre-existing conditions (health issues or incidents that happened prior to buying your policy) may not be covered. Another aspect of pre-existing illnesses is any medication prescribed for them—most policies will cover some amount of pharmaceuticals if a claim is filed as long as they were taken as prescribed and are considered standard treatment for your condition.