A flight will be cancelled and you’ll miss a connection, or your husband will break his ankle, or your child will lose her asthma medication. You don’t want to be left paying thousands for something that could have cost you €50 a year.
The differences between health insurance and travel insurance
The main difference is that health insurance insures only your health costs (and, perhaps, related incidentals such as the cost of repatriation if you are gravely ill). Travel insurance is relevant for a number of things.
See our Global Guide to Health Insurance for more information.
What does travel insurance cover?
Of all the things that could go wrong with a trip, medical expenses are the most costly – and therefore the most important thing to have covered.
Medical expenses will vary in price depending on where you’re travelling to (the US, for example, is very expensive and policies often charge more for including it) but make sure your policy will cover costs of least £5million.
Your travel insurance should also cover ‘repatriation expenses’ – the cost of getting you back to your home country for medical reasons. This can be extremely expensive, so be sure that it is included in your policy.
Not all policies will cover a dental emergency, but it’s a good extra if you can get it. A tooth infection needs immediate attention (and you’ll want immediate attention, believe me!), and it can cost a lot to have it sorted privately at short notice.
It’s a good idea to buy your travel insurance well in advance. Emergencies crop up and sometimes you just can’t take that trip.
Travel insurance should cover flight and accommodation if you need to cancel.
Be aware that ‘cancellation cover’ will not pay out if you merely change your mind about going abroad. The specific accepted reasons should be detailed in your policy – read them carefully – but common ones are:
- Bankruptcy or closure of your travel company
- Injury or illness for you or a close family member (and, sometimes, for business partners – if the business trip you’re taking relies upon their health)
- Similarly (but not the same), a traumatic event such as a car accident or assault – even if physical injuries don’t stop you from being able to travel, the mental trauma might make the trip difficult
- Being the victim of a crime or disaster that damages your property, meaning you need to deal with it promptly
- Legal inability to travel: for instance, if you’re called up for jury duty, a court date or military deployment; or your child’s school year is extended
- Inability to travel due to your job: if they’ve fired you, made you redundant, or sent you abroad
- The theft of your travel documents (passport or visa)
- The loss of your accommodation abroad due to change in circumstance of the host (usually illness, death, or a death in the family)
- Natural disaster at destination
- Terrorism attack at destination
- Mandatory evacuation for other reasons (e.g. chemical leakage) at destination
It looks pretty grim listed out like that, but they’re all possibilities you need to consider (in the case of the last three, they’re far more common in certain countries than in others).
Be aware that you will need to provide evidence for the listed reasons. You can’t just tell your insurance company that you were ill: you’ll need to provide the doctor’s note. If your passport is stolen you’ll need to report it to the police and get a case number.
Make sure that your policy has a good amount of cancellation coverage: US$300 cancellation cover is not much good if you want to book a US$7,000 cruise!
Missed departure or delay
You should be covered if you miss your train, boat or flight if the situation is out of your control (e.g. the trains being delayed or your car breaking down en route to the airport). If you simply overslept, most policies won’t cover you.
Your travel insurance should cover any lost, stolen, damaged or destroyed luggage. Some policies will cover the essentials if your luggage is delayed.
Your insurance should cover you if you have to pay damages to anybody (e.g. for accidentally damaging their car).
Does your policy include expenses (such as more nights in a hotel) if you lose your passport or other important paperwork while you’re abroad? Not all policies will, so check.
Not all travel insurance policies will include cover for the loss of cash while travelling. Check this out.
One-trip or annual cover?
If you know you are only going to be taking one trip abroad in a year, you can take out single trip insurance.
If you are going to be making multiple journeys, it often makes more financial sense to buy annual cover. An extra advantage here is being covered for cancellation even if you book a trip last-minute.
If you are travelling with your family, it can often make financial sense to buy family travel insurance.
Check whether your children are covered if they travel without you (on a school trip, for example, or a teenager making a trip into the next city whilst you are on holiday).
Where in the world?
If you are booking a single-trip policy and you are sure that you’ll only be visiting one country, you can sometimes pay for coverage only in that country (though many companies don’t offer this choice).
If you are buying annual coverage or think you may visit several countries during a single trip, then you will need multi-country insurance.
Quite often, you can choose between three options:
- Europe (or another continent) only
- Worldwide (excluding US)
- Wordwide (including US)
‘Including US’ is more expensive because of the high cost of healthcare in the country. Obviously, number three is best – but if you are really sure you won’t be going Stateside, ‘Worldwide (excluding US)’ should be fine.
Many insurance policies don’t cover you for high-risk activities such as skiing or SCUBA diving. Those that do will be considerably more expensive. If you don’t often make trips including high-risk activities, it can be worthwhile to buy single-trip policies covering these activities on top of your normal annual insurance.
Who should you buy travel insurance from?
There are huge numbers of travel insurance companies out there.
The internet is your friend! Cheap is rarely best when it comes to insurance, but price comparison websites can stop you from being ripped off. My internet-phobic husband, against my advice, recently bought a single trip policy to the US through our local post office and ended up paying £85! A quick look online right now tells me he could have got a similar policy for around £16.
The internet is also good for looking up the reputation of the insurance company, which is something you should always do. If a search for “Insurance Company X problems” brings up hundreds of people complaining about being ripped off, you should probably avoid Insurance Company X – even if it seems like a really good deal.
Important things to look out for
Always make sure:
You are dealing with a reliable company
Some see paying out as an optional extra or a reward for completing their administrative obstacle course. It is well worth paying a little extra to deal with a company that has a culture of prompt payment.
You read the policy document
I know that this is tedious and that most people don’t bother, but this is such an important document. You really need to make the time.
You comply, strictly, with any conditions attached to the policy
If you don’t, they are likely to refuse payment
You make full disclosure of your medical history
If you don’t, they are likely to refuse payment
Making a claim
You and the insurer both hate it when this happens!
Some companies are much better than others when it comes to dealing with (and paying out on) claims. Do a Google search on the company you are thinking of using – “XXX problems claims”. You will probably be surprised. This could be the most important step in the whole process of obtaining insurance.
Study your policy carefully. Look at exactly what documents they need in order to make a claim and then make sure you have them to hand at home, in your car, digitally on your iPhone and in your handbag.
What will it cost?
This will depend massively on where you live, how old you are, and how generally healthy you are.
The overall average cost for a multi-trip policy is about US$80/€70/£60. If you are 30, with no pre-existing health conditions, this is likely to be much lower. If you are 75 with diabetes and a heart condition, it will be much higher.
Again, please keep in mind that cheapest is very rarely best when it comes to insurance.