"We don't want foreigners just passing through Slovakia to buy travel insurance here and later, if something happens to them abroad, come and try to get money."
Júlia Kováčová of Allianz
Travel insurance is difficult to get if you are a foreigner without Slovak health coverage.
The major condition set by Slovak insurers is that foreign buyers have either a long-term (one-year renewable) residence permit or a permanent (five-year, issued for those who marry Slovak nationals) 'green card'.
"We require this because we simply don't want foreigners who are just passing through Slovakia to buy travel insurance here and later, if something happens to them abroad, to come to us and try to get some money for it," said Júlia Kováčová, the head of the travel insurance department at Allianz.
A foreigner is also obliged to have a Slovak health insurance plan, as only the most essential initial stages of an injured traveller's treatment abroad are covered. As soon as medically possible, the patient is returned to Slovakia, and from that moment all treatment costs are covered by the client.
A residence permit and health insurance are required even when the foreigner wants to be insured for a holiday trip booked through a travel agency in Slovakia.
The only exception to these rules is when a travel agency has an exclusive contract signed with an insurer. In that case, travel insurance is included in the price of the trip and the traveller gets it without question.
However, most travel agencies in Slovakia sell insurance separately from the actual holiday.
Even if the foreigner has all the required documents, there is still one hurdle to jump - travel insurance is available for every country of the world except for the foreigner's country of origin, a small but often important and annoying restriction.
There are occasional exceptions to this rule, for example at the state-owned Slovenská poisťovňa (SP) insurer which can offer native country cover in cases when the foreigner holds a permanent stay permit in Slovakia.
If a foreigner is eligible to buy insurance, some market research is advisable to weigh up the differences between individual products.
Traditionally, insurers offer medical expense insurance. Other related products, such as accident insurance, baggage and personal belongings insurance, liability insurance and some additional assistance for clients, are offered together with the medical insurance and can be included in the package.
One of the cheapest deals currently available in Slovakia is the one-year medical expense insurance offered by German R+V for Sk495 ($10).
However, the stay abroad cannot exceed 37 days in order to claim in the case of illness or accident.
The insurance also does not include other products which often go with travel insurance in the package.
However, the whole package - from broken bones to lost luggage - can be bought at the German Allianz. A 10-day travel insurance package at the insurer costs Sk290 ($6) for European and Mediterranean countries, and Sk550 for the rest of the world.
Allianz offers a one-year travel insurance package for Sk4,590 ($94) covering Europe and the Mediterranean, and Sk6,885 for the rest of the world.
Cheaper deals can be found at Slovakia's biggest insurer, SP. They offer a one-year travel insurance package for Europe for Sk2,010 ($41) and Sk2,600 for the rest of the world.
It is also worth looking at the maximum amount of money individual insurers are willing to compensate their clients should an accident or sickness occur.
While SP says it can pay 50,000 Deutsch marks for one insurance event abroad, Allianz does not set any price limits. R+V says it can cover 40,000 euro for their cheap yearly insurance.
If the client needs just one visit to the doctor, generally he or she pays the doctor and brings the receipts to Slovakia to get them reimbursed by the insurer.
If the client does not have enough money to cover treatment, he or she has to contact the insurer's assistance service abroad which then pays for the treatment.
If the client is hospitalised, the insurer must be contacted while the client is in the hospital, which then invoices the insurer instead of charging the patient before leaving the hospital.
However, all insurers say that rather than investing hundreds of thousands of crowns into treatments abroad they prefer to bring the client back to Slovakia where medical services are much cheaper.
Vladimír Šimkovic of the SP travel insurance department said: "In Slovakia an average operation costs 1% of what it is in the US, while two days in the hospital in Switzerland can pay for one ambulance trip from Slovakia to Switzerland and back."
5. Nov 2001 at 0:00 | Peter Barecz