Travel insurance

Going on holiday without travel insurance is a high risk and reminding holidaymakers of this is one of our most important campaigns. Over many years, we have partnered with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to spread the message far and wide as it is one of their single most important concerns.

Travelling without insurance puts people at risk of paying substantial medical expenses if they fall ill or hurt themselves abroad. Even worse and in many cases, some hospitals may refuse to treat patients if they do not have holiday insurance or sufficient funds to cover their treatment.

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 protect you from medical costs should you need to visit a doctor abroad, if your flights are cancelled or delayed and it can provide some compensation if your possessions are stolen.

ABTA has guidance on what your travel insurance policy should cover and what to look out for when buying a new policy. Information is also given on specialist areas such as medical travel insurance, skiing, backpacking and cruising and if you have accessibility needs.

What should my 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 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:

  • 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 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 recommend your policy provides at least £1,500 to cover lost or stolen possessions.

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 isn’t covered

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 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 FCO advises against all but essential travel – this is easy to check.

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 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.

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.

Single trip or annual travel insurance?

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 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.

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.

Declaring 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. 

Activities

We often do things on holiday that we may not do in the UK, which are potentially risky. So if you are going to try sports or go on an excursion such as white water rafting, let the insurance company know to ensure that you have appropriate cover. 

Other kinds of cover

EHIC (European Health Insurance Card)

What is an EHIC?

The EHIC was introduced in 2006 and replaced the E111 form. It gives the card holder access to state medical care in all 27 countries of the European Union and the four members of the European Free Trade Area - Lichtenstein, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. 

But you still need travel insurance as the EHIC only provides access to state medical care and does not include repatriation to the UK if you are seriously ill. This can be extremely costly should you require an air ambulance. The EHIC also does not cover cancellations or possessions.

Remember that state medical care overseas may not be same as in the UK and this care may not include such basics as food and bed linen. Many countries expect patients to contribute up to 20% of the costs and many also exclude dental care. If you have travel insurance you can use private facilities, where standards will generally be higher.

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.

EHIC quick facts

  • How to get an EHIC
  • Where EHIC is valid.
  • EHIC cards are free – you should not be charged.
  • You need to renew it every five years.
  • Who needs an EHIC - Each individual, including babies and children, must have their own EHIC.


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.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)

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 its so important to be protected.

The FCO can:

  • Issue you with replacement travel documents
  • Provide information about transferring money
  • Provide help if you have suffered rape or serious sexual or physical assault, are a victim of crime, are ill or in hospital
  • Give you a list of local lawyers, interpreters, doctors or funeral directors
  • Contact you if you are detained abroad
  • Contact friends and family back home for you if you wish
  • Provide help in cases of forced marriage
  • Assist people affected by parental child abduction.

For a more detailed breakdown of what the Foreign Office covers visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-insurance.

Medical travel insurance and special assistance

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.

Medical travel insurance

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:

  • 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.

Travel insurance for pregnancy

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:

  • 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 eg. a ‘Fit to Fly’ 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 Fly’ certificate and you choose to go ahead, this can invalidate any claim you may wish to make.

Travel Insurance for the over 65s and elderly

If you are over 65 it cannot be denied that 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.

Travel insurance for ski, cruise and backpackers

Holidaymakers should always look for travel insurance that is suitable for their specialist holiday activities. This page gives detail on what you should look out for if you are going on a winter sports holiday, a cruise or taking some time out backpacking.

Travel insurance for skiing and snowboarding holidays

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.

Travel insurance for cruises

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.

Travel insurance for backpackers and gap years

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.

Taking out travel insurance is key, make sure your policy offers you protection before and during your holiday.