Tips and advice on why taking out travel insurance is crucial when you book your holiday – whether it's a domestic break or overseas.
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 an EHIC is and how to obtain one; what help the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) can provide, as well as answers to commonly raised questions about travel insurance.
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; if your flights are cancelled or delayed and it can provide some compensation if your possessions are stolen.
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 recommend 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:
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:
Lost luggage and belongings: we recommend 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:
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.
This will vary from policy to policy, so always check the small print. The following are a list of common travel insurance exclusions:
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.
What is an EHIC?
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) allows any EU citizen to access state medical care when they are travelling in another EU country. A valid EHIC gives you the right to access state-provided healthcare at a reduced cost or, in many cases, free of charge, during a temporary stay in another European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland.
The EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance and you still need travel insurance as it will not cover any private medical healthcare or costs, such as being flown back to the UK if you are seriously ill or mountain rescue in ski resorts, which can be extremely costly should you require an air ambulance or mountain rescue. EHIC also does not cover cancellations or lost or stolen possessions.
Remember that state-provided medical care abroad may not be same as in the UK and this care may not include ancillary services such as food, bathing or bed linen. Many countries expect patients to contribute up to 20% of the costs and many also exclude dental care. This makes it important to have both an EHIC card and a valid private travel insurance policy. Some insurers now insist you hold an EHIC, and many will waive the excess if you have one.
If you have travel insurance you may be able to use private medical facilities however you should check the medical cover details in your policy. Some insurance policies include a clause that they will only provide cover if you have and use an EHIC and may specifically exclude private facilities and reserve the right to move you to a public facility.
The NHS has a comprehensive list of what is available in each country.
How to get an EHIC
The NHS website is also the place to go to apply online for an EHIC, which is available free of charge.
Please note a number of official-looking websites, most of which appear above the NHS site when you do an internet search, offer to help you apply for your card for a charge. There is no benefit in using these sites as applying through the NHS site is free, a very straightforward process and the card is usually issued without significant delay.
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.
It is important that people understand what the FCO can and cannot do to help British nationals who get into trouble abroad. Many holidaymakers mistakenly believe that if something happens to them abroad, the Foreign Office will pay their medical bills get them home. The Foreign Office provides an invaluable service in helping British nationals abroad but they cannot cover medical costs, that’s why it’s so important to have travel insurance.
The FCO can:
For a more detailed breakdown of what the Foreign Office covers visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-insurance.
Detailed below are answers to some of the other commonly asked questions about travel insurance.
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.
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 advisable 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.
If you are a frequent traveller or if you travel at short notice, ABTA recommends you take out an annual policy. It will 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.
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 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.
Do I have to declare medical and pre-existing conditions?
Failure to declare pre-existing medical conditions can void your policy so make sure you mention anything when you buy it, however trivial it may seem. If you do not, this could later result in the insurance company rejecting a claim.
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.
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.
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.
If you do not tell your insurer about any pre-existing conditions then your insurance will be void and your insurer may not pay your claim.
Do not be tempted to leave anything out to try and bring your costs down, tell your insurer about:
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.
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 recommends you watch out for:
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.
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.
Specialist cruise cover is recommended as cruising presents particular challenges to medical care, for example, access to hospitals or medical facilities may be more difficult.
Cruise cover will also protect you against eventualities on and off the boat as well as particular problems such as missing a port due to bad weather, being confined to your cabin and excursions.
If you are going backpacking or taking a gap year, specialist travel insurance is highly recommended. 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.