Travel health insurance - luxury or necessity?


Over Passover, 3 tourists from different part of the world had strokes while visiting Israel. Besides the trauma of a sudden health event which affected the whole family, compounded by being in a foreign country, the outlay of money was substantial.

After overcoming tremendous culture gaps, they received excellent care in Israel. None of these previously healthy people had travel insurance.  Most did not get reimbursement for their hospitalization and treatment. This is but one example of why tourists need to get travel health insurance for visits to Israel.

Here is information on tourist health insurance and getting optimal coverage when in Israel. 

Who pays your bills when you get sick on vacation?

You do.  And usually in advance of treatment.  Or else an insurance company does, if you made arrangements in advance.  Remember that the US Department of State and other foreign countries assume no responsibility for citizens who fall ill when abroad. So for people who assume that their citizenship will rescue them – they are wrong.

(Most countries will provide flights when they issue warnings and evacuation orders for citizens, usually in times of war or extreme instability… but travelers are charged for those flights).

Likewise Medicare, Medicaid, and the new Affordable Care Act will not cover health expenses incurred abroad! While many foreign insurance companies will provide foreign health coverage for tourists, oftentimes these can be very expensive options.

Health care bureaucracy in Israel

Health care in Israel is considered world-class, but for tourists, the realities of dealing with the bureaucracy and health system (not to mention language and cultural issues) is daunting.  Health care in Israel is subsidized by the Israeli government, which keeps costs down - even for tourists.

For example, a client was hit by a car in Jerusalem (he was crossing the street in an unsafe place!) and sustained multiple fractures to his leg. He required surgery, hospitalization and some rehab before he was able to travel back home.  In the US, this medical bill would have been an estimated 10 times what it was here. In Israel, it was expensive, but not comparable to US costs for equivalent care.

Basically, every resident or citizen is required to have health care coverage provided by one for four Kupot Holim, or quasi-governmental Sick Funds. Tourists may find that they need to pay for services in cash or in some cases by credit card.

Most medical facilities in Israel will not “accept assignment” for foreign insurances, but will ask for payment in advance and provide a detailed receipt in English, upon request.

Our advice is to make sure your receipt has a diagnosis in English and treatment/ tests listed (in English) to facilitate reimbursement from your foreign travel insurance company.

Travel health insurance in Israel

Travel health insurance chart - advantages and disadvantages to travel insurance when visiting Israel.Insurance is also available through Israeli insurance agents, whose insurances may be accepted with minimal out-of-pocket expenses from Israeli health care providers.  EMA Care has a list of recommended local travel insurance companies.

Please note that tourists or long-term visitors with pre-existing conditions (meaning any acute or chronic condition that was treated in the previous 6 months under most insurance company conditions) may find that their pre-existing condition is excluded from coverage. So you may be out of luck for these conditions and should plan on paying for your care while in Israel.


The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has general information about international travel insurance and procedures here.

The Department of State also recommend travel insurance and provide information to travelers and links to insurers. A private insurance company provides quotes to US citizens traveling abroad.

Nefesh B’Nefesh, a renowned Anglo Aliyah (Israeli immigration) organization likewise recommends all tourists to have travel health insurance.

Bottom line: EMA Care strongly recommends travel health insurance for all visitors to Israel. Cost is surprisingly affordable for people under aged 65 and reasonable for older travelers. It may not be perfect, but the alternative is worse if something happens to you or your loved ones while visiting the Holy Land.

EMA Care provides medical concierge, case management, and health advocacy services to tourists, students, and residents in Israel.  EMA Care is available at or 052-639-8444.

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