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Praveen Kumar (left) and Sarath M.S while Sarath’s father Sasi Mulloli (inside ambulance) was being repatriated to India last week. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: It's better to be safe than sorry. An Indian expat, whose father was hospitalised for five months while on a visit to the UAE, has shared his experience to highlight the importance of procuring travel insurance.

Sarath MS, 31, who works with an electromechanical company in the UAE, said his father Sasi Mulloli, 59, had been hospitalised here since May 18 before being finally repatriated last week. “My father arrived on April 6. He had contracted COVID-19 and turned out to be positive. He had come down to look for a job as our family had been facing financial difficulties after he lost his job as a mechanic in another Gulf country two years ago,” Sarath told Gulf News.

Due to complications, Mulloli’s kidney, liver and lungs got affected, he said. A medical report said the patient had to be ventilated. Later, he underwent tracheostomy and haemodialysis.

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Sasi Mulloli on a visit to the UAE ended up being in hospital for five months. Image Credit: Supplied

When he became fit to travel, the Indian Consulate in Dubai helped repatriate him on a stretcher, along with a doctor and a nurse as medical escorts.

While the cost of the repatriation was borne by the mission, Sarath said he could settle as much as Dh149,000 in hospital bills only through travel insurance.

“When I booked his ticket from India, I only paid around Dh100 for the insurance. I had never imagined that it would be of such great help. I wanted to share our experience so families here make it a point to tell visiting relatives to travel with insurance,” said Sarath, who also thanked the Indian mission for bearing the repatriation expenses and the hospital for waiving the remaining amount in the bill.

Another beneficiary

Another Indian expat, whose mother faced an emergency health crisis while on a tourist visa in the UAE earlier this year, said the initial treatment cost at a private hospital in Dubai was covered by travel insurance.

“I had taken the insurance for her. It cost just Dh90. But the coverage was for Dh150,000 and we got billed around Dh57,000 by the hospital, which was reimbursed. It was a great relief.”

Many, however, are suffering

Praveen Kumar, a social worker volunteering for the Indian Consulate in Dubai, said many visitors have racked up massive medical bills at hospitals in the UAE in the absence of travel insurance.

“Many people skip taking the travel insurance, which is actually very cheap,” said Kumar, who helps with repatriation of Indian patients. In 2019, the Indian Consulate had repeatedly issued advisories urging all Indian tourists and visitors flying into the UAE to purchase travel insurance in view of several requests for assistance to foot huge medical bills for those who had come over without purchasing an insurance.

Kumar said people unknowingly take big financial risks by not purchasing an insurance policy while travelling. “I have seen many families financially crash due to hospital bills for visiting family members. If they have travel insurance, they can get some financial assistance.”

He said a patient, who was repatriated to India last year, had a whopping Dh1.6 million in hospital bills. “Thankfully, the hospital helped him out. Hospitals here provide the best treatment and they should not be burdened.”

Mandatory requirement

Rashida Zahid, head of operations at UAE-based online travel agency Musafir.com, said travel insurance with comprehensive coverage is a must for tourists travelling to the UAE. “We issue insurance for all tourists,” she told Gulf News.

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Rashida Zahid Image Credit: Supplied

Though the number of people who have ended up using the insurance coverage is less, she said it is something that should not be ignored as emergency health issues can strike anyone at any time.

Optional while renewing

She said many visitors, who take the travel insurance on their first entry, do not bother to take a fresh one when they extend the visa. “But they must keep themselves covered.”

How much does it cost?

Travellers’ insurance policies to the UAE are available for as cheap as Dh50 for a one-month short-stay tourist visa to Dh100 for a three-month long-stay tourist visa, said Zahid. “Most of these insurance policies offer basic coverage from Dh20,000 to Dh150,000 depending upon the premium preferred. For parents aged over 70, the premium is a little higher. Still it is very affordable and it’s worth it,” she added.