How international health insurance saved a South American adventure

Picture the scene: you are on horseback, riding along narrow trails through lush, verdant greenery. Majestic hills rise in the distance, behind a shimmering heat haze. The air is filled with the exotic fragrance of flowers that you’ve never encountered before.

How international health insurance saved a South American adventure
Minutes from disaster: Silvana on her horse, near Itacare in Brazil, shortly before her accident. Photo: Supplied

You feel transported, and you are: this is the trip of a lifetime.

That’s when it happens. Making its way around a tight corner, your horse slips and crashes to the ground with your leg trapped underneath. You feel a sickening crack and your foot feels like it’s on fire.

It can only take a split-second for things to go wrong when you’re travelling. When it does, the consequences can be severe and life-changing.

The number one risk 

When you travel overseas, depending on the destination, you can dramatically increase your risk of illness or injury.

While statistics on the leading causes of travel accidents vary depending on the nationality of travelers, we can draw some conclusions from leading US experts.

For example, the CDC identified road accidents as the leading non-violent cause of death of US citizens overseas between 2015 and 2016, with drowning also a leading cause. The prestigious John Hopkins University also states that the risk of injury for travelers overseas greatly increases the moment they take control of a means of transport.

Considering the number of travellers who use vehicles, such as cars or mopeds, or ride horses on their holidays, it’s no surprise many place themselves in danger of serious injury or worse.

It only takes a moment for paradise to turn into a problem – see how ASN’s international health insurance can save the day when disaster strikes

Silvana’s story

Silvana Beer, an executive from Switzerland, knows this only too well. It was she who, while recently on holiday near Itacare on Brazil’s beautiful Costa del Cacao, was horse-riding when her mount slipped and her foot was crushed by the falling horse.

She tells us: “I was travelling with a friend in Brazil and we had spent an amazing month there. We were on a horse riding trek and it was magic. I liked the pace of it, and enjoyed watching the scenery.

“However I’m not a very experienced rider – I only go on horse-riding trips when I’m abroad. I didn’t really have the horse under control and it slipped, as the ground was very wet. Suddenly, my foot was under the horse and, as it turns out, horses are pretty heavy!

“I knew immediately that my foot was broken, but I still decided to get back on the horse and go back to our accommodation. When I got back, I made the mistake of taking off my shoe – it’s better to keep injuries like this compressed, so they don’t become inflamed.”

When Silvana eventually made it to the local hospital she had a small shock as she realised that they didn’t have a functioning X-ray machine. “That was the first time where I thought with more than a little fear, ‘Okay, where am I? What should I do?’

Brazil’s healthcare can vary hugely with hospitals and clinics in more rural areas often lacking the kind of equipment and resources that would be commonplace in bigger cities, or other parts of the world.

Eventually we found a private clinic where I was able to have an X-ray done. But there was no doctor on duty to assess it, so we took the X-ray to try and find another doctor to look at it.”

Silvana visited multiple orthopaedic clinics, and finally ended up at a public hospital where she had to wait hours before being seen by a doctor who could evaluate her X-ray.

“The doctor confirmed my initial fears that my foot was broken. He then was fairly blunt in his further recommendation: ‘Can you fly home? If so, don’t stay here. Just go.”

Healthcare across the world can vary wildly. Should the worst happen, ensure you have the very best treatment possible with ASN’s international health insurance policies

Silvana Beer shortly before flying home. Photos: Supplied

“If a doctor recommends you to go to another country for medical reasons, you do what they say, and so I left. I was very, very lucky to have help from my friends. Because if I was alone, I don’t know how I would have managed the situation and I’m very grateful that it was just my foot – it could have been much worse.”

Thankfully Silvana had an international health insurance policy with ASN, that covered accidents.

“Once I got through to ASN, they dealt with it in a very professional manner,” says Silvana. “They booked me a ticket back home in business class so I was comfortable and they also organised transport at each airport and provided a wheelchair for me, all covered by my policy.”

Comprehensive cover that you can rely on

If you’re considering an adventure such as Silvana’s, it’s important to consider what might happen if you suddenly injure yourself. Disparities in the kind of healthcare available in various regions could result in injuries being made more severe, or taking longer to heal, therefore slowing you down and having significant consequences.

As Silvana states, “I would really recommend having an international health insurance provider that offers accident insurance. It definitely makes sense if you’re travelling overseas for a few months.

“Having grown up in a country like Switzerland with a very high quality standard of medical facilities, you might prefer being treated in a private hospital rather than in a public one when you get sick or injured in a foreign country. Another benefit of having an international health insurance policy with an insurance broker such as ASN is that you can focus on the healing process and don’t need to deal with the claims handling yourself.”

As an international health insurance broker of more than 26 years, ASN has comprehensive packages for those who wish to explore the world, whether it’s part of a prolonged trip abroad, a relocation or otherwise.

They offer a free choice of doctors and specialists, with their own recommended network of healthcare providers to help get you back on your feet. The hotlines of these providers are open 24/7 and are available in a number of languages, and wherever you are, there’ll be support and assistance available when you need it.

Only a few weeks after her horse riding accident, Silvana is back in South America, this time in Colombia, continuing her adventure. She credits the rapid response of ASN’s insurance partner to her injury for being able to continue doing what she loves – exploring the world!

She concludes: “After seven weeks back in Switzerland and very intensive physiotherapy, I’m doing a lot better. Now I am travelling again – and this time I’m being more aware of the risks!”

Ensure that you are quickly back on your feet, should you experience an accident abroad. Learn more about ASN’s comprehensive range of international health insurance packages

For members


What kind of insurance do I need to have in Austria?

Like its German-speaking cousins, Austria is known to be a country where you can get insurance for almost anything. Some are even required by law. We sort through the need-to-haves from the nice-to-haves.

What kind of insurance do I need to have in Austria?

One of the perks to living in a generally risk-averse culture may well be the products you can get to shield yourself from the terrifying consequences of various worst-case scenarios.

From health insurance to accident insurance to legal insurance if you get sued – there’s a wide, and even confusing array of products available in Austria. In what can be a culture shock to some foreigners, these are the ones you’re required to have by law. Later on, we get into some useful optional insurance.

Public health insurance and social insurance

Krankenversicherung, or health insurance, is the most basic and well-known insurance you’re required to have by Austrian law.

As a foreigner, you’ll often need it even to set foot in the country, with many visas or residency permits requiring you to show proof of health insurance. Typically, this is a travel insurance policy that includes at least €30,000 worth of coverage with medical cover. This should tide you over until you get public health insurance in Austria.

All residents of Austria – whether Austrian or foreign – must have public health insurance by law. Like tax, the contributions you have to pay are proportional to your income, and are often deducted off your payslip automatically each month.

Health insurance is mandatory for everyone living in Austria, which covers check-ups and treatments. Photo by Pixabay

There are also several different public insurance funds available, depending on whether you’re employed, self-employed, or a public sector worker. About 82 percent of the country is insured with Österreichische Gesundheitskasse (ÖGK), the fund used by most employees.

In addition to public health insurance, residents of Austria can – if they choose – also opt for additional private health insurance on top of what they pay in public insurance. We’ll cover this more below.

READ ALSO: Everything foreigners need to know about the Austrian healthcare system

Employees must also have unemployment insurance, pension insurance, and accident insurance related to their jobs – although the human resources department of your workplace will typically manage this for you. For the self-employed, these are managed by the same body that manages your health insurance – the Social Insurance Institution of the Self-Employed (SVS). Public accident insurance will cover people if they become unable to work due to a workplace injury – but not accidents that may occur off the job. There is some extra optional insurance for this we detail below.

READ ALSO: Unemployment benefits in Austria: Who is eligible and how much can you get?

Own a car? You’ll need insurance

If you plan on driving your own car in Austria, you will need to purchase car insurance. This is called Kfz-Haftpflichtversicherung – and is a type of public liability insurance specifically for drivers.

It’s important not to confuse this with either a Verkehr – or transport – plan in legal insurance, or with general public liability insurance – which will not cover any damage to someone else or public property you may cause if you get in a car accident. While the other two insurance types are useful to have, they’re not required by law. By contrast, car-related public liability is mandatory if you own a car.

All car owners in Austria must have public liability insurance. Other optional add-ons are available at an extra cost. (Photo by Matthias Balk / dpa / AFP) / 

If you’ve moved to Austria with a car, your existing insurance will cover you for the first month you live here. During that time, you need to register and insure your vehicle.

Note too that many car insurance plans will include partial or full coverage for damage to your car from theft, fire, and even animals. These are nice to have, but only the third party liability part of a car insurance policy is legally required in Austria. If you were to only purchase a bare minimum plan, any damages to someone else or their property in an accident would be covered – but the damage to your own vehicle would come out of your own pocket.

Own your home? You’ll need insurance

If you own your own home, you’ll need a standard home insurance plan – or Eigenheimversicherung. As with many types of insurance, there’s one you’re required to have by law and then optional add-ons that might give you extra coverage.

In the case of home insurance, you’ll need a plan that covers fire, burglary, and storm damage. If you have a pool, garden, or solar panels, for example – you can get additional insurance. These extras though, aren’t mandatory.

Have a dog? Yep. You’ll need insurance

If you own a dog, you are also required to have a type of pet insurance in Austria that covers liabilities of up to €725,000 if your furry friend ends up hurting someone else or damaging property.

This is called Hundehaftpflichtversicherung. While it covers public liability for things your dog may do, it isn’t pet health insurance. Again, while pet health insurance can be incredibly useful and save you a lot of money on any vet bills – only public liability is required by Austrian law.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about owning a pet in Austria

Useful optional insurances

As we’ve been suggesting, there’s plenty of additional insurances that are useful to have in Austria beyond what you’re legally required to have.

With so many Austrians and Austrian residents taking out insurance, prices for these are often very reasonable – often just a couple hundred euros a year. But they can provide incredibly comprehensive coverage if the worst happens.

The most basic of these is Hausratversicherung. While homeowners are required to get Eigenheimversicherung to cover things like fire and storm damage, Hausratversichering insures the contents of a home during the same events. Thus either owners or tenants can take out Hausratversichering to protect their stuff at home.

Other add-on insurances can include the ones mentioned above, like full coverage for your car in the event of fire or theft, pet health insurance, or private health and accident insurance.

Legal insurance may help you out if you’re ever unlucky enough to find yourself in Austrian court.
Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Private health insurance in Austria may get you more options for doctors – as some only work with private patients – or it may get you a private hospital room if you end up having to stay in one. Meanwhile, private accident insurance – or Unfallversicherung – will cover you if you become unable to work for a longer period of time due to an accident you had off the job, rather than the public accident insurance that covers you if you have a workplace injury. A more comprehensive – and typically more expensive – version of this is Berufsunfähigkeitversicherung, which replaces the income of someone who becomes completely unable to practice their profession. People in higher-risk professions like builders may have this type of insurance. If they become unable to work anymore, this insurance will pay out their salaries until they reach retirement age.

General public liability insurance – or Haftpflichtversicherung – is also available to cover you if you or your family, your children for example, cause damage to someone else’s property. This could include instances where your kids break a neighbour’s window while outside playing or you accidentally spill a bottle of wine on a friend’s laptop at a party. In both cases, you can typically make a claim on this insurance to cover the damages – rather than pay them out of pocket.

Austria also has many comprehensive travel insurance – or Reiseversicherung plans – to cover you if your trip gets cancelled or you need medical treatment abroad. It can be especially good to have if you travel outside the EU a lot, where your European Health Insurance Card won’t be valid.

Finally, there’s Rechtschutzversicherung – an insurance that protects you if you get sued in Austria. This insurance can help you in a variety of situations, such as with litigious neighbours, in work disputes, in traffic accidents, or in landlord disputes. With it, you can typically fight a case without incurring financially debilitating legal bills.