Primary vs. Secondary Insurance: What's the Difference?

When purchasing visitors insurance, you may come across the terms primary and secondary coverage. Understanding primary and secondary coverage in travel medical insurance can be confusing for first-time buyers. It's important to know which type of coverage a policy offers to understand the level of protection it offers and to coordinate with other insurance if needed.

As a quick overview, in the event that you need to pay for medical care abroad, primary coverage pays for the loss or incident first, while secondary coverage kicks in if the primary policy doesn't cover the loss or has already paid its share. Primary coverage is the initial source of coverage, while secondary coverage fills gaps or acts as a backup. Secondary coverage, such as a visitors insurance plan, may become your primary insurance policy once you leave your country of residence if your primary insurance no longer provides coverage.

What is a Primary Insurance Policy?

If anything happens to you and you require medical attention, your primary insurance policy is the first to provide coverage, despite any other insurance policy you might have. The health insurance plan you have in your home country is considered your primary policy. In many cases, your domestic health insurance or primary insurance may not provide coverage while you are traveling abroad. To ensure you have adequate coverage, it is recommended to purchase a secondary insurance policy specifically designed for international travel.

What is a Secondary Insurance Policy?

If your primary insurance covers the entire treatment costs, then your secondary insurance is not relevant. Your secondary insurance policy coverage begins where the primary policy coverage ends. If you do not have a policy with primary coverage, or your primary insurance policy does not cover a certain incident, your secondary coverage automatically becomes your primary coverage.

What Type of Coverage is Visitors Insurance?

If you have medical insurance and purchase a visitors insurance plan, your visitors insurance policy is your secondary coverage. This means that if your primary insurance plan covers you internationally, your secondary insurance would only cover eligible costs after your primary benefits are exhausted. However, if your primary insurance does not offer international coverage, your travel medical insurance plan becomes your primary coverage by default once you are abroad and no longer covered. When you are outside of your primary policy’s coverage area, your visitors insurance plan takes over as your primary policy.

How Does Secondary Insurance Work?

If you require medical attention during a trip and your primary policy only pays a portion of the costs, your secondary policy will take effect and cover the rest of the costs up to the plan limits. Your visitors insurance policy will also automatically take effect if you are traveling outside the coverage area of your primary policy. For more details, learn how visitors insurance works.

When to Buy Secondary Coverage Insurance

To avoid risk, it is advised that you have health insurance regardless of where you are anywhere in the world. Even if you have health insurance in your home country, it may not provide coverage once you leave the country or travel outside of a certain area. If your primary insurance policy is not in effect or you have exhausted its benefits, being without a secondary insurance policy could leave you paying thousands of dollars in medical bills out-of-pocket. These and other reasons are why you should buy visitors insurance as your secondary policy.

Understanding the concepts of primary and secondary coverage in visitors insurance is crucial when making a purchase. Having a secondary insurance policy like visitors insurance is essential to avoid the risk of being uninsured or facing significant out-of-pocket expenses. By obtaining visitors insurance, you can ensure comprehensive coverage and peace of mind during your travels.


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