Seeking adventure in Central America? Find the right travel insurance for you next trip
Situated just north of South America, Central America offers a diverse array of experiences for travellers. Encompassing the countries of Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize, Central America includes everything from lush rainforests and ancient Mayan ruins to some of the world’s most unspoilt beaches.
Do I need travel insurance for Central America?
If you’re planning a holiday to Central America, it’s essential that you take out sufficient travel insurance before beginning your journey. Travel insurance offers financial protection against the specific risks of Central America, as well as common travel mishaps including:
- Overseas medical emergencies including hospital treatment and repatriation
- Lost and stolen items including cash, passports and valuable laptops
- Cancellations for non-refundable travel items such as flights
Travel cover allows you to enjoy complete peace of mind while you explore this beautiful region of the world.
Learn more about the importance of travel insurance cover for Central America or enter your details below to get a personalised travel insurance quote.
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Here are a few potential travel risks you should be aware of when travelling to Central America.
- Health risks. Several months before your planned departure date, speak to your doctor about any vaccinations you may need for the countries you plan on visiting. For example, you may need a yellow fever vaccination if you are visiting Panama. Vaccinations against malaria, rabies, typhoid, hepatitis and a range of other conditions may also be required. The good news is that if you do fall ill while overseas, your travel insurance policy will cover emergency medical and hospital expenses.
- Zika virus. Every traveller planning a trip to Central America should consider the risk posed by the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Protecting yourself against mosquitoes is essential. If you’re pregnant, you may also wish to reconsider your need to travel to Central America.
- Altitude sickness. Several parts of Central America (such as parts of Costa Rica) are located at high altitudes, which means altitude sickness can be a problem for some travellers. Staying hydrated, avoiding strenuous activity and eating small amounts of easily digestible food can help combat the condition.
- Petty theft. Petty theft is a problem in many cities around the world, so visit the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Smart Traveller website for advice on protecting yourself from theft. For example, if you’re travelling to Costa Rica, the Smart Traveller website recommends staying aware of your surroundings in places like Tamarindo, Jaco, Quepos, Manuel Antonio and Tarcoles River on the Pacific Coast and Puerto Viejo and Cahuita on the Atlantic Coast. If your luggage, passport or personal belongings are stolen during your trip, your comprehensive travel insurance policy can reimburse you.
- Violent crime. Violent crime, such as murder, carjacking and robbery, can pose a threat to travellers in some regions of Central America. Check the Smart Traveller website for up-to-date safety advice and make sure to exercise simple safety precautions.
Oscar’s travel insurance saves the day
Although he’s lived in Australia since he was just a few years old, Oscar stays in regular contact with his grandparents and extended family in El Salvador. Having not seen his grandparents in 10 years, Oscar is thrilled to finally be taking a two-week trip to El Salvador to catch up with his relatives.
But on just the second day of his journey, Oscar comes down with a serious case of food poisoning and is hospitalised in San Salvador. He requires medical treatment and spends two nights in hospital, all of which adds up to a substantial medical bill.
Thankfully, Oscar had purchased a comprehensive travel insurance policy before beginning his trip and his insurer covered the full cost of his medical bills. After a couple of extra days to recover, Oscar was ready to continue his long-awaited adventure around El Salvador.
Cost covered by insurance
- $2000 in hospital expenses
- $120 in medicine
Out of pocket costs
- $200 excess
- Hiking. From trekking in Costa Rica’s Tortugeuero National Park to climbing any number of spectacular peaks, hiking in Central America is an unforgettable experience. Just remember to check whether your insurer imposes a limit on the maximum altitude you can trek to.
- Whitewater rafting. If you’re planning to go whitewater rafting in Costa Rica, Panama or Belize, check the maximum grade of rapids your insurer will allow you to explore.
- Scuba diving. Planning on exploring one of the many spectacular dive sites off the Central American coast? Check your policy for the maximum dive depth and whether your insurer requires you to dive with a licensed instructor.
- Horse riding. Horseback riding tours are popular in several Central American countries, so check whether horse riding is automatically included in your policy or if you need to purchase extra insurance.
If you need to make a claim on your travel insurance policy, you’ll need to notify the insurer as soon as possible. This can usually be done over the phone or by filling out an online claim form.
Provide the necessary documentation
Your insurance provider will then let you know what you need to do next and provide details of any supporting documentation you may need to provide. This could include police reports, medical certificates and receipts.
Have you travel insurance details ready in medical emergencies
Australia does not have a Reciprocal Health Care Agreements with the governments of Central American countries. This means that you will not be able to access subsidised medical care if you’re hospitalised overseas, and you’ll need to rely on travel insurance to cover your medical expenses. Depending on which country you’re in, a hospital may require confirmation that your insurer will cover your medical expenses before offering you treatment.
Emergency services numbers
It also pays to take note of the relevant contact numbers for emergency services (police, fire and ambulance) in each country you visit.
Note: The data is accurate as of September 2017.
There are a few different means of contact depending on the type of emergency
- Family and friends. If you need financial assistance, you may be able to contact family and friends;
- Your travel insurance provider. Your travel insurance provider can help for situations such as lost baggage and travel delays.
- Australian Embassy. Consular assistance is available from the Australian Embassy as shown in the map below.
The only Central American country for which Australian travellers require a visa is Cuba (which is sometimes included in the Central American region). A USD$5 entrance fee is payable when you arrive in Nicaragua, and a USD$18-USD$20 entrance fee applies in Belize. Several countries also charge exit fees that range from USD$20 to USD$40, including Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Belize, Guatemala and Panama.
Check with Smart Traveller to make sure there are no extra specific entry or exit requirements for the Central American countries you are visiting.
Central America is blessed with a tropical climate that makes it a viable holiday destination all year round, but your best bet for a relaxing holiday is usually during the dry season from December to April.
Be aware that it can get quite cold at high altitudes during the winter months, and hurricanes pose a potential problem in countries on the Caribbean coast between June and November. Once you know exactly where you’d like to go in Central America, you can plan a travel itinerary that will allow you to take advantage of the best possible weather conditions.
The best bet when travelling through Central America is to use the local currency in the country you are in. You can generally get better value for money using the local currency and it will also be accepted everywhere you go. US dollars are also widely accepted throughout Central America, so having a supply of greenbacks is also recommended.
Here are a few other simple tips you should remember when spending money overseas:
- Watch out for foreign transaction fees and currency conversion fees on credit cards
- Make sure you’re aware of your surroundings when withdrawing any cash
- Don’t carry around large sums of money or display your cash in front of strangers
Read the guide to money in Mexico.
- Taxis. From the broken taxi meter scam to unlicensed cabs, there are plenty of scams to be wary of when catching a cab overseas. Your best bet is to make sure you use a licensed operator or, better yet, arrange private transport.
- Tourist tax. When unscrupulous shop owners and stall holders see a tourist coming, they automatically jack their prices up three or four times. Expect to be overcharged for a range of goods and services and don’t be afraid to haggle for a better price.
- The helpful local scam. Be very wary when you’re approached by a seemingly helpful local at any sort of tourist attraction. This approach can be a lead-in to any number of other scams, from the offer of cheap accommodation to a demand for payment after giving you a guided tour.
Before visiting Central America, remember that this region consists of several countries and they are all different. There are different scams to be wary of and different safety levels in each destination, so research each individual country before visiting.
- Where are you going? Consider which destinations in Central America you'll be visiting and how long your trip will take.
- What you will be doing there? Decide whether you be sightseeing around Belize or if you'l be whitewater rafting down Costa Rica.
- What is your budget? While a comprehensive policy is recommended, you may only be able to afford a basic policy.
- Do you need any extra cover? If you have a pre-existing medical condition that you will need to notify your insurer.
- Compare your options. The final step in the process is to compare the benefits, features, limits and exclusions of a range of policies. Obtain multiple quotes and see which policy offers the best combination of quality cover and value for money.
There are plenty of horror stories about claims not being paid because policyholders simply weren’t aware that they would not be covered in certain situations. For example, if your claim arises due to an incident that occurred while you were under the influence of alcohol, don’t expect your insurer to pay up. Similarly, if you leave your laptop unattended in an airport lounge and it gets stolen, no cover will be available. You can read more about travel insurance exclusions here.
If you read the fine print and make sure you’re aware of the level of cover you have in place, you can enjoy complete peace of mind when you set out to explore Central America.