Fed up with paying an insurance premium before you jet off? You don’t have to. You can travel anywhere in the world without travel insurance. But that doesn’t mean you should. Without travel insurance you could find yourself out of pocket if something goes wrong - anything from a few quid if you lose your passport, to hundreds of thousands of pounds if you need medical treatment on foreign shores. Oh and the travel policy you have with your bank account probably isn’t as foolproof as you thought.
Travelling without insurance isn’t illegal. It won’t get you turfed out of your taverna. But it could prove costly. It depends whether or not you are prepared to gamble with your savings and how much you can afford to lose. Here’s what you need to know.
Costs that can be covered by good travel insurance
Before we begin, let’s underline an important point: every travel policy is different. Some policies cover you for the bare minimum, others take a kitchen sink approach. The art to getting good cover is finding the policy that’s right for you, your holiday and your circumstances. More on that in a jiffy. First, here are some of the costs that can be covered by most travel insurers.
This is the big one. It’s unlikely you will need medical treatment while you are abroad, but the bill could be eye-wateringly costly if the unexpected happens. Even relatively minor ailments (broken wrist, food poisoning, chipped tooth) can cost hundreds, even thousands, to treat. Meanwhile a medical emergency - such as a heart attack - could land you with a bill for tens of thousands of pounds. The same applies if you need to be flown back to the UK for treatment.
“What about my EHIC?” we hear you ask.
The UK has reciprocal healthcare agreements with a number of EU countries. A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles you to the same level of subsidised treatment as the locals receive - i.e. medical care will be either free or reduced (EHICs cost nothing but must be renewed every five years.) Yet EHICs are not a failsafe and rarely cover miscellaneous costs such as ambulances and administrative costs. In France, for example, you will be liable for a hospital fee called the forfait hospitalier (around €18 per day). Finally, there’s always the chance that you will be blue-lighted to a private hospital, where fees are not covered by your EHIC.
In such cases, your travel insurer can pick up the bill.
Sometimes travel plans need to be cancelled at the eleventh hour. The roof might fall in your house. There could be a family emergency. Something urgent may come up at work. When you think about it, there are hundreds of things that could jam the brakes on your travel plans. And that could mean losing a lot of money on your flights, accommodation and tickets for tourist attractions. With the right travel insurance, you can claim the money back.
What if something unexpected causes you to miss your flight? Maybe your car breaks down on the way to the airport. Or your airport transfer doesn’t turn up. That could leave you facing a pricey bill for new flights, additional accommodation or the cost of accommodation you haven’t used. Again, travel insurance can pick up the bill for you.
Smartphone, cash and baggage
We seem to be taking more and more stuff on holiday these days. Smartphones, tablets, cameras and oodles of outfits. A good travel insurance policy will cover you for the loss or theft of your cash and possessions as well as the cost of buying some short-term sartorial essentials if your baggage goes AWOL. You can also get cover for less obvious things such as the cost of arranging emergency travel documents if your passport is stolen or the bill for replacing lost medication.
Exclusions and inclusions: getting the right type of cover
The most infuriating thing about insurers is when they refuse to pay out on a claim. Unfortunately it’s often because people haven’t gone into the intricacies of their policy and checked that it’s right for them. Certain holiday activities require special policies, while there are a number of exclusions that will invalidate your policy. Let’s go through some of them, one by one.
It’s really important that you tell your insurer about any medical conditions you have - no matter how small. Failure to do so could invalidate your policy - and, yes, your insurer will check your medical records in the event of a claim. Most insurers have a simple medical screening procedure that you can complete online or over the phone. Specialist insurers can cover even the most complex medical conditions.
Many cruise operators will not let you step on board until you have travel insurance. That can mean forking out for an expensive policy at the port with an insurer that the cruise operator is partnered with. Save time and money by doing your research before.
Sports and activities
If you are the active type, make sure your insurer covers you for the activities you plan on enjoying while you’re away. Water sports and winter sports are the obvious ones you will want to make sure your insurer knows about, but there are less obvious activities such as horse riding or jet skiing that you will need to check you are covered for. If you are injured doing an activity that your insurer doesn’t cover (or didn’t know you were going to be doing), they won’t pay out.
Freedom to roam
Some policies limit you to 28 days in a single location. With others you can travel wherever you want, whenever you want, notching up those passport stamps as you scamper across national borders. No worries! Most travel insurers are pretty flexible and will give you a range of travel policies to choose from. If you are unsure which best suits your plans, give them a call.
Travelling against official advice
Sometimes travel is simply too dangerous to insure. That’s the case when you are travelling to conflict zones or areas that have recently been affected by natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office provides up-to-the-minute travel advice for every country you can think of (and more). If you are visiting an area that’s unsafe, the FCO will know about it and publish a message advising against travel to the affected areas. If you ignore this and travel anyway, you will invalidate your policy. (Remember you will be able to claim for the money you lose on your trip if you already have a travel policy that includes cancellation cover.)
Covered by your current account? Don’t bank on it...
Many banks offer travel insurance as an add on to certain products. The thing is, travel insurance is an expert field. Generally speaking banks will be far less concerned than a specialist travel insurer is about making sure you get the right policy. And as we discussed above, getting a policy that fits your plans is essential. You wouldn’t go to a travel insurer to get a loan or a mortgage. Why go to a bank for your travel cover?
Conclusion: do you need travel insurance?
Some people stubbornly resist getting travel insurance. Others take out cover the moment they have booked their holiday. The fact is that without travel insurance you are always open to chance. You might be able to stomach the cost of replacing a stolen smartphone or a lost passport or even the cost of a holiday that you have to cancel at the last minute. The one thing that may prove too much to handle is the bill for medical treatment in a foreign country, which could run in to the thousands.
You can get a no-frills travel policy that covers medical conditions and the bare essentials. And they are almost always cheaper than the all-singing, all-dancing policies. For the sake of a few pounds, it’s worth it. The it-will-never-happen-to-me mindset is all well and good. But it always happens to someone. 470,000 Brits needed consular assistance on their jollies last year and 3,250 were hospitalised. Whether you are a seasoned traveller or are taking your first trip, the simple truth is that - just like at home - you never know when something unexpected might rear its head.
With the right travel policy, you have a financial fallback.