How to Choose the Right Travel Insurance
As a rule, buying appropriate coverage takes place before you travel out of the country.
Information in this guide explains the importance of choosing the right kind of foreign holiday insurance.
Consider it as being an all-inclusive review on what to think about before buying insurance for a trip overseas. You will find expert guidance on a range of issues, including:
- The cost of having inadequate cover or no insurance plan whatsoever. Being uninsured can be very expensive if you need emergency medical treatment abroad. Costs can escalate if you need help getting back to the United Kingdom. Travel insurers call it ‘repatriation coverage’.
- What international travel insurance plans cover and what they do not cover. This includes special information on:
- The destination of the voyage.
- Any particular requirements (e.g. on cruises, in leisure activities, and in sports).
- The importance of answering questions about existing medical conditions asked by the insurer.
- Where to get advice about different insurers or get help with specialist advice. Find out how different policies are set up to meet your needs (e.g. health requirements).
- The correct procedures to follow while touring overseas of the United Kingdom. You should always carry the details of your insurance policy on your person. It should include the emergency telephone numbers and how to contact the insurer. It is also wise to leave a copy of the policy with close family or friends back home.
Note: Most people will shop around to find the best value overseas travel insurance plan. But, be aware that the cheapest policy may not be enough to cover all your needs.
What should Foreign Travel Insurance Cover?
A Health or Medical Emergency
The costs of paying for unexpected accidents abroad can be an expensive experience. These are three real case examples. They are medical emergencies that actually happened in an overseas country:
- Hospital treatment and flights after a fall in Spain which resulted in a broken hip: £15,000.
- Surgery following a moped accident in Greece with repatriation to Britain: £25,000.
- Treatment for a stomach infection in a hospital in the USA with return flights: £100,000.
You have certain responsibilities and obligations to meet as an overseas traveler. You must make sure you can cover the costs of any medical treatment abroad.
Note: There may be a nearby embassy, high commission, or consulate. Even though they will help with certain issues abroad, they will not pay for health and medical costs.
You can cover the cost of treating holiday illness or injuries with foreign travel medical insurance. Whether it is an annual or single trip cover, the plan should be able to pay for:
- Emergency medical treatment (including any ambulance fees and hospital charges).
- Temporary emergency dental treatment if you need to get immediate relief from pain.
- Assistance from 24 hours help-lines. They offer support and advice about the most appropriate treatment.
- The cost of getting you back home after receiving medical treatment overseas. You are going to need repatriation if you are unable to use the original return ticket.
- Any reasonable expenses for transport and accommodation for a close relative or friend. They may need to stay with you abroad or travel out from the UK to escort you back home.
Pre-existing Medical Conditions
All international travel insurance policies have a ‘pre-existing medical conditions’ section. The insurance provider will need to know about the medical history of the policyholder.
You must be accurate and truthful when answering questions about your medical records. You may not get full insurance coverage if you withhold details of your medical history.
In case you are wondering:
It is not uncommon to encounter some difficulty in finding cover due to a medical condition. You can find specialist providers that address these types of situations (see below).
European Health Insurance Card
The EHIC card covers overseas travel in the European Economic Area or Switzerland. You should apply for a free European Health Insurance Card before you take a trip abroad.
The EHIC scheme only provides cover for a temporary stay in any of the specified countries. Even so, carrying the card gives you the right to access state-provided healthcare abroad.
Note: You should not use the EHIC as an alternative to having foreign travel insurance. It does not cover private medical healthcare or associated costs. It is not valid on cruise ships and it would not cover mountain rescue in ski resorts, lost or stolen property, or repatriation.
Different Types of Insurance for International Travel
International travel insurance companies offer a wide range of products. Most will offer cover for all kinds of eventualities for consumers.
Besides medical expenses, it covers a trip getting cut short or cancelled altogether. It can also extend to theft (or loss) of personal possessions.
So, here’s the bottom line:
Shopping around for the best travel insurance deal is prudent. But, buying any policy based on price alone can cost you more in the long run.
You should check whether the cheapest policy you can find will safeguard everything you need it to.
Make sure the policy provides comprehensive cover for all the necessities. Often, that will include a pre-existing medical condition. But it can also include a participation in any sports or tour activities (see below).
There are several other considerations for globe-trotting British nationals to think about. Before buying overseas travel insurance, take some time to plan and review:
How Long Will You Stay Overseas?
What will be the length of your trip or trips? You may find that an annual policy includes limits on the number of days for each separate trip. There may be a maximum number of travel days for the course of the year.
Note: Either a gap year or a backpacker policy may be better suited for anyone going on their travels for a long period.
How Often Do You Travel to a Foreign Country?
Consider buying an annual multi-trip policy if you take more than one holiday in a year. Whereas, people with a medical condition, and older travelers, may find a single trip policy to be more cost effective.
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You might already have travel insurance as part of a bank account or a credit card. If so, check through the policy terms. It is not uncommon to have age or trip limits on these types of policies. As always, make sure it covers all your health and activity needs.
Many of the annual policies place limits on where you can go. Hence, some will only cover short haul destinations to countries in Europe.
So, what about those who will be traveling abroad to exotic places that are further afield? You may need to buy a worldwide policy or find a single trip plan that covers your chosen destination.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office provides regular travel advisories. The FCO also give warnings about terror threat levels and national emergencies.
Most travel insurance policies will not cover overseas visits to a country with a travel advisory in place. But, you can check the foreign travel advice pages for updates before booking a trip.
Taking Personal Possessions Abroad
Some household contents insurance policies may cover loss of items taken out of the home. The same may apply for holiday insurance as part of a bank or a credit card account.
Either way, you should check the policy limits and excess charges. They may not be appropriate for the value of possessions that you take overseas.
Think about this for a minute…
Many holidaymakers will take one or two high-value possessions with them on a trip out of the country. In this case, you might be better off getting specialist mobile phone or gadget insurance. As a rule, you would get higher coverage limits.
There are lots of terms and conditions written in overseas travel insurance policies. They all state that the policyholder must take care of belongings at all times. Failing to do so means the policy might not pay out.
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Report any lost or stolen items to the police within 24 hours. You would need proof of this notification if you were to make an insurance claim.
Security Tip: Use the same amount of care with personal property as if it was not insured at all. Most people would be better at safekeeping uninsured belongings while traveling abroad.
Traveling with a Group
You can get a family or a group policy. This may be more suitable for those who are travelling with others. Make sure you have access to any relevant medical details for people in the group. There may be an excess charged for each person if you make a claim.
The Cost of a Cancellation
Booking a holiday to distant shores can be expensive. What would happen if you were unable to travel? So, try to ensure that you would be able to recover the costs if you need to cancel the trip.
You may get compensation for certain circumstances (e.g. a cancelled or delayed trip). As a rule, the airline or the travel provider would issue the refund.
Note: You might choose to forego cancellation cover in some cases. For example, if you are travelling at short notice, with a flexible ticket, or on a low cost vacation.
Insurance Extras Worth Having?
Most policies will offer, or sometimes include, a range of extras. Among the most common for you to consider are:
Personal Liability Insurance
You might consider it worthwhile to take out personal liability as extra coverage. As a rule, it provides some legal protection for the policyholder if someone tries to sue them.
Note: It could be important if you cause accidental injury to a person or damage someone’s property.
Personal Accident Cover (disability and death)
Some foreign travel insurance companies can cover a payment made for personal accident. In most cases, it also covers a payment for permanent disability or death.
Lost Baggage by Flight Airlines
It could be unwise to rely on getting compensation from an airline if the company loses your luggage. Under the law, the airline would have to pay for the loss.
But, there is an upper limit threshold of value per kilo of lost luggage. Thus, the airline would be very unlikely to compensate you for the full value of your personal possessions.
Legal Expenses Cover
Is your chosen destination a country that does not have a legal aid system? If so, you might consider taking out legal expenses cover. It would help you to pursue compensation or damages if you get a personal injury while you are abroad.
Leisure Activities and Sports
Most vacationers will take part in some kind of sports or leisure activities. Doing so means you may need to top up the existing cover or buy a specialist policy. As a rule, standard international travel insurance plans will not cover:
- Extreme sports (e.g. bungee jumping, jet skiing, or skydiving).
- Quad bikes (check the policy to confirm)
- Winter sports
Note: Travel insurance for cruises are special cases usually requiring extra cover. This is due to the difficulty in getting sick or injured travelers to hospital for treatment.
International Travel Insurance Exclusions
The exclusions are not limited to sporting activities. Be sure to check the policy fine print for any other exclusions. For example, most policies will exclude cover for events that occur after ‘excessive alcohol consumption’.
In general, all insurance companies offer limited cover during terrorist attacks. Make sure yours covers emergency medical expenses and repatriation in any such event.
Getting Insured after Travel has Commenced
All foreign travel insurance guides tell you to arrange cover before you begin a journey. But, sometimes people forget, or it expires during the trip. In this situation, you might get a specialist provision to get insured.
It would depend on several key factors at the time. It may not be possible if you already have plans on making a claim. To counteract this, the insurer often applies a waiting period to the policy. In doing so, it would prevent you from making an immediate claim.
If the Insurance Provider goes Bankrupt
Travel insurers can go broke – it happens! But, it is even more catastrophic if the provider goes bankrupt while you are abroad. You must protect yourself against getting stranded overseas with no chance of a refund.
Several associations help to protect and support consumers from this type of scenario. The most reputable travel agents and tour operators give security through an Air Travel Organisers Licence (ATOL). Most have membership with one of the approved bodies, such as:
- AITO (The Association of Independent Tour Operators)
- ABTA (The Association of British Travel Agents)
- BCH (Bonded Coach Holidays)
Long-stay Overseas Travel Insurance
This section is for temporary residents based overseas. You can get ‘long stay’ travel insurance to cover extended periods of continuous travel. Always check the maximum duration allowed under the policy. Make sure that the coverage meets your requirements.
Note: The policy will also need to meet your needs on any specific activities or employment (paid or unpaid).
As a rule, foreign travel insurance is not meant for those with a permanent residence overseas. So, what if you are already an overseas resident or you are planning on moving or retiring overseas?
You would need to consider what insurance requirements best suit the situation. But, there should be no problem getting private medical insurance for UK expatriates. In most cases, you should also be able to buy insurance from local providers based overseas.
There is a guide highlighting some of the ways you can help yourself to stay safe abroad. It also explains what help the FCO can provide titled ‘Support for British nationals abroad: A guide‘.
Making a Complaint about Insurance Services
You should aim most questions about international travel insurance to the actual provider. You can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service if you are unhappy with their response.