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Travel insurance for South America

Compare travel insurance for South America in 2021.

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From the mysterious ruins of the ancient Incas to the sandy beaches of Rio de Janeiro, the sights and experiences across South American make it one of the most exciting places to vacation. But to prevent that trip of your dreams from turning into an unexpected financial nightmare, look into a comprehensive travel insurance policy.

What's changed in 2021?

The US government has issued a Level 3 travel advisory for South America as of March 2021. Read the fine print of your travel insurance policy to learn whether it covers emergencies, evacuations, interruptions or cancellations for your South America trip during the pandemic. Learn more about restrictions and requirements for US travelers by country.

*Be aware that most travel insurance policies don’t offer COVID-19 coverage. To find one that does, have a look at travel insurance policies that cover the coronavirus.*

How to compare travel insurance for South America

Travel insurance offers you financial protection against a whole host of common travel risks in South America:

  • Medical emergencies. Covers medicine, hospital stays, emergency surgery and even medical evacuations.
  • Cancellation fees and lost deposits. Covers costs that arise when unforeseen circumstances force you to cancel your trip.
  • Lost or stolen luggage. Covers bags that aren’t able to find their destination between and on flights.
  • Theft of cash and travel documents. Provides you with money and assistance with replacements.
  • Personal liability. Covers damaged rental equipment or property that you accidentally damage.
  • Flight delays. Helps with the cost of new tickets to get you where you’re looking to go.
  • Extras. Riskier activities aren’t automatically covered, which means you might need an add-on for:
    • Biking Bolivia’s Death Road. An estimated 300 people die annually on the world’s most dangerous road, but it’s still a major bucket-list item for many adventurous cyclists.
    • Hiking Perito Moreno. Argentina’s enormous and mysterious glacier offers a stunning hike.
    • Canoeing in the Bolivian Pampas. The rivers in this area teem with caiman, piranhas and giant anacondas.
    • Jungle trekking on an Amazon survival tour. Actively searching out anacondas, jaguars, piranhas, poison dart frogs and vampire bats won’t be covered by a basic policy.
    • Climbing Nevado Ojos del Salado in the Andes. The world’s highest active volcano sits at 22,615 feet in elevation.
    • Diving with sharks in Atol das Rocas, Brazil. An adrenaline-pumping activity where you dive into shark-infested waters.

Compare travel insurance for South America

Name Product Trip Cancellation Emergency Medical Expenses Baggage Coverage Trip Delay
Atlas Travel by Tokio Marine
Customizable policy that balances basic essentials with premium coverage.
Atlas Group Insurance by Tokio Marine
Customizable policy designed for families, student organizations and groups of five or more people.
RoamRight Essential Travel Insurance Plan
Basic policy with coverage that includes trip cancellation insurance, tourist health insurance and baggage insurance.
RoamRight Multi-Trip Annual Insurance for Trip Cancellation
Bare-bones policy designed for those who want trip cancellation coverage and limited medical protection.
AXA Assistance Silver Plan
Basic travel protection with lower amounts of coverage. No option to cancel for any reason.

Compare up to 4 providers

Why travel insurance for South America is essential

Most of South America is generally safe for tourists. But across its dozen or so countries and territories, you’re likely to encounter risks that travel insurance covers:

  • High altitudes. Some of the most beautiful sites of South America, like the Inca Trail, are synonymous with altitude sickness, which might result in a doctor visit.
  • Malaria and other infections. In tropical regions like the Amazon, you have a high risk of catching mosquito-borne malaria. The humid climate also increases your risk of catching the flu and other viruses.
  • Pickpockets and theft. Many South American countries have high poverty rates, which can mean theft is more prevalent.
  • Drugs and crime. South America has a long history of drug trade in countries like Colombia and Bolivia. Police investigations can close down hotels and create long lines at the airport, leaving you with a last-minute change of plans.
  • Adventure activities. South America’s vast, diverse landscape is perfect for adventure activities like hiking and paragliding.

What doesn’t travel insurance cover?

The following exclusions typically apply to most travel insurance policies:

  • Pre-existing medical conditions not covered on your policy
  • Visits to a country against a US Department of State travel advisory
  • Illnesses from epidemics, pandemics or STDs
  • Complications from pregnancy or childbirth
  • Irresponsibility, such as leaving your luggage unattended in a public place
  • Accidents while you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Intentional self-inflicted injuries or attempted suicide
  • Illegal or unlawful activities
  • A government authority detaining, confiscating or destroying anything
  • Working while in South America

Case study: Chilean ACL surgery

Michael was approaching the last few weeks of his three-month trip around South America when he set to sandboarding on the dunes of Valle de la Muerte (Marte).

Carving up the dunes in style, he injured his knee trying to land a trick. He was rushed to the closest hospital, where he was diagnosed with a severely torn a ligament. One of the hospital’s top surgeons was able to fix his ACL the next day, preventing any permanent damage.

On crutches and painkillers, Michael called his travel insurance company from the hospital. To his surprise, Michael reached help immediately to explain his situation.

Because Michael had purchased extra coverage for extreme sports, his insurance covered the bill in excess of $16,000 for:

  • Ambulance
  • Surgery
  • Anesthetist
  • Hospital stay
  • Medications
  • Transportation from the hospital to the airport
  • A later flight home
  • Upgrade to business class for extra leg room

The benefits of backpacker insurance

salt-flatsTravel insurance offers several unique benefits tailored to independent travel:

  • Coverage for up to 18 months. Continuous coverage is great if you plan to backpack over the whole of South America.
  • Wider region coverage. You won’t have to arrange a policy for each country you plan to visit in South America.
  • Designed for workers. Your policy may include coverage for while you’re working abroad.
  • Covers select risky activities. You’re protected while taking part in adventure popular with younger travelers that aren’t usually covered by basic insurance.

If something goes wrong, what do I need to make a claim?

If you need to submit a claim, start by getting everything in writing — including contracts with tour operators or adventure activity:

  • Collect all documents. Including police reports, your tour company details, airline or hotel, receipts for belongings and medical bills. If your wallet is stolen, you’ll need a police report and a receipt or picture of your wallet.
  • Contact your insurer. Provide all the details of the incident, submitting the claims form along with all related supporting documents.
  • Request upfront payment, if needed. Some medical emergency cases require immediate payment from your insurer.
  • Carefully read the fine print. Check your policy for exclusions to make sure you’re covered, and read through your policy’s appeals process if your claim is denied.

Tips for purchasing travel insurance for South America

South America is a popular destination, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding a policy to meet your needs. But take steps to protect yourself:

  • Be wary of buying a policy from a travel insurance agent. You might save on commission by buying directly from an insurer online.
  • Compare your options. Weigh quotes and benefits from several companies to get the best policy you’re eligible for.
  • Consider the coverage you need. If you’re visiting a dangerous area or want to try a new sport, buy an add-on.
  • Read the terms and conditions. Look into the benefits and limits that apply to each option, paying close attention to any exclusions.
  • Travel Accident Coverage : up to $50,000
  • Pre-Existing Medical Condition : Available
  • Concierge : Included

Our top pick: Allianz International Travel Insurance

Customizable coverage that can give you peace of mind when traveling to popular or remote destinations.


    Common South American travel scams

    In South America and many other parts of the world, you’ll want to keep your head up to scams that include:

    • Fake or dishonest taxi drivers. Look for legitimate taxi drivers before you set off. You may need to agree on a price beforehand and familiarize yourself with the best route to protect yourself from unnecessary high costs or long journeys.
    • Fake police officers. Be wary of scammers posing as police officers who try to swindle you out of your money — or worse.
    • Passport checks. Keep an eye on your passport, especially when handing it over at border crossings.
    • Hotel price changes. Get the price of the hotel room in writing at the time of booking to prevent dodgy operators from claiming you “misheard” the rate over the phone.
    • Extra items on your bill. Scrutinize your receipts when eating out to avoid paying more than you need to.
    • Locals who want to practice English. A friendly approach can quickly turn into increasingly aggressive pleas for money.

    Who do I contact in an emergency?

    If you find yourself in an emergency in South America, helpful contacts include:

    • Your travel insurer. Call your provider’s 24/7 helpline for claims and medical emergencies.
    • Embassies and consulates. Get help with passport replacement and countrywide advisories.

    South America travel tips

    So you’ve booked and paid for your South American adventure and now can’t wait to head off on your journey. Here are a few things to know before boarding your plane:

    • Buses are often the best way to get around. Domestic flights are expensive in South America. Look to public ground transportation to save money when seeing the sights.
    • Don’t try and see it all at once. South America is a big continent with so much to see and do. Unless you’re planning an extended stay, don’t pack too much into one trip. If you do visit more than one country, make sure to clear it with your insurer before you leave.
    • Learn Spanish. To broaden your horizons, consider Spanish lessons before you arrive. It’ll make it a whole lot easier to get around and interact with locals.
    • Keep a credit card separate. Carrying money and a card in a different pocket can be a lifesaver if your wallet is stolen.
    • Scan your important travel documents. Keep all your files on a USB drive with online backup.
    • Get necessary vaccinations. If you get sick from something you could have prevented, your insurer may not cover you.
    • Don’t call attention to yourself. Be discreet when handling your cash and refrain from wearing a lot of jewelry. Stay away from dark alleys and dangerous areas of town.

    Bottom line

    South America is a rich and diverse continent with much to explore. Spend a week lounging on the beaches of Brazil or a year backpacking across the continent on a quest to climb as many mountains as possible. A travel insurance policy can help keep you — and your wallet — safe from any misadventures.

    Frequently asked questions

    How does coverage for chartered boat tours work?

    You’re covered, but while the boat may look seaworthy and be skippered by a captain who’s been doing this for a while, your insurance will only cover you if the captain is licensed to carry passengers. If you’re unsure, ask to see their papers.

    When is the best time to travel to South America?

    You might want to avoid the rainy season, when it can be humid and unpleasant. For nicer weather, try late and early in the year:

    Region or countryWhen to go
    AndesOctober to April
    BoliviaNovember to March
    AmazonNovember to May
    EcuadorNovember to May
    ParaguayDecember to April
    SurinameDecember to July
    French GuianaJanuary to June
    Buenos Aires, Chile, Venezuela and BrazilAll year round

    What currency will I use in South America?

    Each country in South America has its own currency:

    • Argentina: the peso
    • Bolivia: the boliviano
    • Brazil: the real
    • Peru: the nuevo Sol
    • Venezuela: the bolivar

    If traveling to more than one country, have local currency on hand for each destination you plan to visit — at least enough to cover taxis, meals and other immediate needs when you arrive.

    US dollars are accepted in many South American countries, so your access to cash may be no further away than the nearest ATM. You can also take along a travel money card from Visa, Mastercard and American Express.

    Learn more about travel money for South America

    Picture: Shutterstock

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