On this page you will find advice and information explaining why having travel insurance is important; what a travel insurance policy should cover; what a travel insurance policy doesn’t cover; how to use your travel insurance; what a GHIC is and how to obtain one; what help the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) can provide, as well as answers to commonly raised questions about travel insurance.

Why is having travel insurance important?

Whilst you hopefully won’t have to make a claim, travel insurance is there to protect you in the event that something goes wrong – it will cover you for medical costs should you need treatment abroad; cancellation charges if you fall ill or lose your job and it can provide some compensation if your possessions are stolen.

What should a travel insurance policy cover?

A good comprehensive policy will cover the following areas.

Medical expenses: these can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, sometimes even higher, particularly in the USA. Travel insurance will cover those bills. We suggest that you choose a policy with a minimum of £2m of medical cover in Europe and £5m worldwide. Note that if you have a pre-existing medical condition it is vital you declare it to the insurance company.

Always check the small print, but most insurance policies will cover:

  • Emergency medical treatment
  • Medications
  • Repatriation
  • A return flight should you miss yours due to medical problems
  • Accommodation and travel expenses for someone to stay with you
  • The cost of someone to travel out from the UK if your doctor recommends it.

Cancellation charges: if you fall ill or lose your job and are unable to travel the resulting cancellation fees should be covered by your travel insurance. For this reason it is important that you purchase insurance at the time of booking as you can never predict when you might need to cancel. Check to see what financial level of cover your policy provides and what type of cover your policy offers for the following:

  • Accident
  • Illness
  • Family bereavement
  • Pregnancy (unknown when you buy the policy)
  • Jury service or witness summons
  • Home emergency: fire, storm or flood, burglary
  • Redundancy
  • Bad weather – affects the departure of flights and ships.

Lost luggage and belongings: we suggest your policy provides – as a minimum – financial cover equivalent to the value of the luggage and belongings you are taking.

Look for insurance that protects your possessions and baggage at all points of your holiday – particularly baggage lost while it is in the care of an airline.

Most travel insurance policies will cover:

  • Individual valuable items – although there is generally a cap on how much is paid out per item
  • Lost and stolen items and luggage
  • Lost and stolen cash and travellers’ cheques
  • Travel insurance will cover lost and stolen belongings but make sure that you take good care of them. For example, if you leave your baggage unattended or in an unlocked hire car or check high value goods into the aircraft hold, the insurance company may take the view that you did not take due care and this may affect your claim.

Association of British Insurers (ABI)

If you are in doubt about your policy, check the ABI's website, which provides you with general information on insurance.

What a travel insurance policy doesn’t cover

This will vary from policy to policy, so always check the small print. The following are a list of common travel insurance exclusions:

  • Incidents that occur after drinking too much or taking drugs, you might not be covered if you have an accident or lose something. Don’t leave your common sense at home!
  • Theft of unattended possessions – many insurers require that you take ‘reasonable’ care
  • Sports, extreme sports and some leisure activities such as skiing, white water rafting or bungee jumping – you may need to extend your policy or buy a specialist policy
  • Medical treatment resulting from existing medical conditions that you have not declared or conditions preventable by vaccine or advisable medication such as anti-malarials
  • Medical costs incurred if you stay abroad after your doctor advises you are fit to return to the UK
  • Strikes and industrial action, if the date of the strike/industrial action was known when you booked your trip
  • Rescheduled flights, where the airline has cancelled and then rescheduled your flight
  • Travel to destinations where the FCDO advises against all but essential travel – this is easy to check.

How to use your travel insurance

Once you’ve taken out your travel insurance policy, it is really important that you, the people you are travelling with, and friends or family back home know how to activate your insurance should you need it.

Have your policy details on you

Keep your policy number and your insurer’s international phone number on you when you are on your travels. Having it with you at all times means that you have it to hand should you need it – this will help you get access to any support or medical care you need as quickly as possible.  

Keep Health & Medical ID section in your smartphones up-to-date

If you are a smartphone user, keep the medical ID section in your phone up to date (including an emergency contact for a friend or family member) and store your policy number and insurer’s international phone number in the medical notes section.

For step-by-step advice about how to add medical and insurance information to:

Ring your insurer first

If you need advice and assistance regarding medical care whilst overseas, contact your travel insurance company. They’ll be able to advise on the best way to access medical care where you are staying and may have preferred or recommended hospitals or medical centres nearby.  

In the event of an emergency or hospitalisation if you are able, contact the insurance provider as soon as possible.  

If you are incapacitated, providing that they have access to the insurance policy number and the insurance company contact details, your travelling companion or emergency contact at home or in some cases the treating doctor can do this for you.

Tell your travel companions about your travel insurance 

It’s important to remember that if you need your travel insurance, you may be in a situation where you can’t contact your insurer yourself. 

To make sure you get the help you need as quickly as possible, tell the people you are travelling with how to contact your travel insurer on your behalf. Let them know the name of your travel insurance company, where your insurance details are kept, or even give them a copy of your details. 

Leave details of your travel insurance with friends or family back home

Depending on the circumstances, you may need a friend or family member back at home to contact your travel insurance company on your behalf. Leave a copy of your travel insurance documents with friends or family back home, and make sure they are aware of your essential details eg date of birth, address, policy number.

GHIC (Global Health Insurance Card)

What is a GHIC?

The Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) allows UK residents to access medically necessary state healthcare when travelling, either at a reduced cost or for free. 

This means that if you have a pre-existing medical condition, need a prescription while abroad or have a medical emergency in any country where the GHIC is accepted, you will be entitled to the same level of care that a resident of that country would receive.  

The card itself is free of charge and is accepted in all 27 EU countries, as well as Switzerland, Montenegro, the Channel Islands and Australia. It replaces the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), but if you already  have an EHIC it will remain valid until it expires.

The GHIC is not a replacement for travel insurance, as it won’t cover all of the medical bills you could incur if you fall ill or are injured abroad, for example, if you need an air ambulance, treatment in a private facility, ski or mountain rescue, or being flown back to the UK. 

This makes it important to have both a GHIC and travel insurance, as they can be complementary. For example, GHIC will cover pre-existing medical conditions in the country you’ve travelled to, while travel insurance should cover you to travel back to the UK. 

Your travel insurer may insist you hold a GHIC as part of the policy agreement. 

How to get a GHIC

You can apply for a GHIC for free on the NHS website. GHICs are valid for five years, so do keep an eye on the expiry date.  

Families should be aware that everyone, including small children, will need their own card. The NHS site also details the level of cover and any relevant charges country by country.

Beware of unofficial websites, they may charge you a fee to apply.

How much does travel insurance cost?

Travel insurance is relatively low cost – according to the Association of British Insurers, Britons spend more than double the cost of an average single trip travel insurance policy on magazines and sweets at the airport.

However, it is important not to just opt for the cheapest policy or the first one you see, have a think about what you need from your policy and ensure you are covered for everything you plan to do.

When should I buy travel insurance?

The vast majority of insurance providers require you to be in the UK when you buy your policy – and if you buy it when you are already overseas, it will invalidate it.

There are very few policies that you can buy if you are already away but they do exist so all is not lost if you forgot to buy it before you go but you can expect to pay more.

If you regularly travel or often travel last minute, then an annual policy is suggested so you are always covered.

It is worth remembering that most policies will cover you should you need to cancel your holiday due to ill health, redundancy or a family bereavement so it may be worth purchasing a policy when you buy your holiday.

Should I choose single trip or annual travel insurance?

If you are a frequent traveller or if you travel at short notice, ABTA suggests you take out an annual policy. It can often be cheaper than buying individual policies and takes away the need to book a policy every time you travel.

For those planning just one trip or very different holidays, a single trip policy will suffice.

How do I choose between European or Worldwide cover?

European cover is generally cheaper so if you are staying in Europe it makes sense just to purchase this kind of policy.

Remember though that popular holiday destinations like Turkey, Dubai, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia where thousands of Brits travel each year will not be covered by a European policy. 

If in doubt, check with your insurer.

What is the difference between a single, couple or family policy?

If you regularly travel with your partner or your family look into joint policies as this can bring costs down and it is easier to have everything in one place.

The definition of family will also differ from insurer to insurer, so find out exactly who’s covered before you buy.

Does my home insurance cover me on holiday?

No. Whilst your home insurance may cover certain possessions away from your home it will not cover you for medical care and cancellations.

If you know that your home insurance covers your possessions abroad bear this in mind when choosing a travel policy as a policy with a lower level of personal property cover could bring the cost of your travel insurance down.

Does my credit card cover me on holiday?

It’s often a good idea to pay by credit card as it will protect your money if your travel company goes out of business. Some credit card companies will also provide a very basic level of cover similar to travel insurance, but it will contain many exclusions and we would not recommend that you rely on it.

How will medical conditions affect my travel insurance cover?

Depending on who you are your travel insurance must be adapted to your needs. This page gives advice on travel insurance if you have a pre-existing medical condition, elderly or if you are pregnant.

Failure to declare pre-existing medical conditions can void your policy, or result in your claim not being settled or not being settled in full, so make sure you mention anything when you buy it, however trivial it may seem. 

Do not be tempted to leave anything out to try and bring your costs down, tell your insurer about:

  • Pre-existing medical conditions
  • Recurring illnesses or injuries
  • Ongoing conditions
  • Recent and previous surgeries and operations
  • Any current illnesses.

If you have an annual policy or have already bought your policy and your health changes you must inform your insurer even if it seems minor. This may result in a change to your premium but will ensure that you are fully protected.

How does being pregnant affect my travel insurance cover?

Travel insurance is perhaps the most important thing you take on holiday and even more so when it’s not just you that’s travelling! As well as protecting you against any pregnancy-related eventualities, knowing you have the right travel insurance will offer you the peace of mind you need to relax and enjoy your break. If you’re buying a new policy, you bought your policy before you knew you were pregnant or have an annual policy, you’ll need to check that you are covered, it’s essential you contact the provider to discuss this.

Here are the main things ABTA suggests you watch out for:

  • Make sure that your policy covers you for any pregnancy-related medical care as well as labour, premature birth and the cost of changing the date of your return trip if you go into labour
  • Some insurers will want to know that your travel has been approved by your GP or midwife so ask for a clear definition of what proof they want e.g. a ‘Fit to travel’ certificate
  • When flying, don’t assume that your airline and insurer will have the same cut-off date, you’ll need to check this with both
  • It is also worth ensuring your policy allows you to cancel your holiday in the event that something does go wrong and you can no longer travel
  • Remember if your doctor or another medical professional advises against flying or travelling or refuses to issue a ‘Fit to travel’ certificate and you choose to go ahead, this can invalidate any claim you may wish to make.

I am over 65, how does this affect my travel insurance cover?

If you are over 65 insurance premiums can increase substantially. This is frustrating for an increasingly active population who still want to travel, regardless of their age.

ABTA’s own research has found that the over 65s are one of the age groups most likely to travel uninsured. The reason why premiums rise is that once you are over 60 you are much more likely to claim than those aged under 60 and the amounts claimed rise significantly.

It is understandable that insurance companies will charge premiums, which relate directly to the amount they have to pay out, but if you are in good health without any pre-existing medical conditions many insurers will take a more sympathetic and informed view on the amount they will charge you. If you are having problems finding a suitable reasonably priced insurer check with the British Insurance Brokers Association who may be able to put you in contact with an appropriate insurance company.

Travelling with an EHIC card can also reduce premiums when travelling within the EU, but remember this will be because you will be expected to use state hospitals and cover varies widely throughout the EU, so check in advance if this is the best option for you.

Do not be tempted to hide any pre-existing medical condition when purchasing cover, this will invalidate your policy even if any medical problems you may encounter on holiday are not directly related to this condition.

Never run the risk of travelling uninsured medical expenses overseas can swiftly run into the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds and if you need an air ambulance this too can cost up to £30,000.

I am going on a skiing and snowboarding holiday – what cover do I need?

ABTA research shows that a third (30%) of skiers and snowboarders do not take out the necessary specific cover, if you are planning a ski or snowboard trip, you will need ‘Winter Sports Cover’. This is readily available from most insurance providers, but is not included in standard policies.

I am going on a cruise – what cover do I need?

Specialist cruise cover is suggested as cruising presents particular challenges to medical care, for example, access to hospitals or medical facilities may be more difficult.

Check if your insurance covers things that might be useful on a cruise, such as missing a port due to bad weather, being confined to your cabin and excursions.

I am backpacking / taking a gap year – what cover do I need?

If you are going backpacking or taking a gap year, we suggest you take out specialist travel insurance. It will be designed with popular activities in mind and should cover the entire length of your stay and all the countries you intend to visit.