Purchasing a travel insurance policy that meets your needs is only the first step in protecting yourself while you’re traveling abroad. If you do end up falling ill, or becoming injured while you’re away, you’ll need to understand exactly what provisions your travel insurance policy provides for you and how to make sure that you get access to appropriate care for yourself while remaining within the guidelines set forth by your insurer.

The most important thing, in case of a medical situation while traveling, is to be able to lay your hands quickly on your travel insurance policy information – most notably, the contact information for the company’s 24-hour assistance program. Before you leave home, you should make sure to place this information somewhere accessible in your luggage, and check to be sure that you understand how to place a call to that number from outside the country. You should also make sure that your policy number is with the assistance information, in case you need to provide it to the representative who takes your call.

Before you seek treatment for any medical situation, you’ll be required to call your travel insurance provider and notify them that you need to be seen by a medical professional. Doing so will help you avoid a claims issue later and can also get you valuable help and advice from the company’s assistance program. In the event of a truly serious emergency that requires emergency medical evacuation, your evacuation insurance provider will have to approve the evacuation and, in many cases, will make the arrangements for you; if you don’t call ahead to have them do this, they may not cover the expense in the end. Details on when and how to contact your insurance provider in case of a medical emergency vary by plan and provider, so before you depart on your trip, it’s advisable to thoroughly review these details in your policy information.

Once you are actually at a medical facility to receive care, make sure to document the experience as thoroughly as possible. You’ll need to provide records to the insurance company when you eventually file your claim, and it can be difficult to obtain the necessary documents from a foreign hospital after you’ve left that country to return home. While you’re physically at the facility, ask for copies of all records and make sure to keep them in a safe place with the rest of your travel documents. Having proof of treatment and costs, and being able to produce them in a timely manner, will assist you in filing a successful and smooth claim.

Lastly, be sure to understand up-front what your financial obligations are. Travel insurance usually works on a reimbursement basis, which means that you’re usually responsible for paying the medical costs up-front; the insurance company would reimburse you for those costs after approving your claim. Also, you should know before purchasing a plan whether you need primary or secondary coverage from your travel insurance policy. Call your regular medical insurance provider and ask about the benefits that are extended to you while you are traveling outside your home country; often, you’ll only be covered for a specified amount of the total cost, and possibly not at all. If your regular medical insurance provider doesn’t offer benefits to you outside of your home country, you’ll need a travel insurance plan that offers primary medical coverage. If your regular insurer does cover a certain percentage of medical costs outside the country, you should look for secondary coverage through your travel insurance policy.

While it can be stressful and even scary to have to seek medical attention in a foreign country, being fully aware of the benefits that are provided to you through your travel insurance policy – and knowing how to work within the system to use them effectively – can lessen some of the stress and help you get on the road to recovery as quickly as possible. Without a proper travel insurance policy in place, illness or injury while you’re away from home could end up costing you thousands, or even tens of thousands, of dollars. It’s wise to investigate travel insurance and its benefits so you can make an informed decision about purchasing a policy to protect yourself before traveling abroad.