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When it comes to jetting off overseas, organising your travel insurance may not be at the top of your “to-do list.”
But it’s one task you need to make time for, as without the right cover in place, you are putting yourself – and your loved ones – at risk should anything go wrong.
Going without insurance is false economy, as this could mean huge bills for medical treatment and services if you fall ill or need treatment in a hospital overseas.
A comprehensive travel insurance policy will offer the most extensive protection for you and your family, and will also include cover for repatriation, personal liability, cancellation and loss of possessions and cash.
Put simply, travel insurance is a must-have for anyone travelling abroad, not a luxury purchase. This applies whether you’re jetting off to Bali or soaking up the sun in the South of France.
Here we take a closer look.
Feature to look for
When choosing a policy, it’s important to check exactly what you are getting as the levels of cover vary considerably from one insurer to the next.
As a guide, you should look for a policy offering at least £2 million for medical expenses, £1m personal liability, £3,000 cancellation (or enough to cover the totally cost of your holiday), £1,500 for baggage, and £250 for cash.
Once you’ve booked a holiday, you should look to have your travel insurance in place at the earliest opportunity. This will ensure you are covered should you need to cancel due to unforeseen circumstances, such as serious illness or injury, or being made redundant.
If you are travelling independently – for example, you’ve booked your hotel and flights separately, rather than a package holiday – you might also want to look for a policy offering “end supplier failure.”
This will ensure you get a full refund if your airline or accommodation provider goes bust before you travel.
It will also help to cover the cost of any arrangements you need to make if this happens while you are away, away, such as booking a return flight.
Don’t rely on the EHIC alone
Many people wrongly believe that if they are travelling to the Continent, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is an adequate replacement for travel cover but this is not the case.
An EHIC entitles you to state healthcare at a reduced cost or sometimes for free, meaning you get access to state-provided healthcare on the same basis as a national in the country you are visiting.
However, it doesn’t cover any private medical costs, repatriation, cancellation, or the cost of having possessions lost or stolen.
For this reason, it is still essential to have comprehensive travel insurance in place.
Equally, it’s worth noting that even though the UK has voted to leave the European Union, for now, at least, nothing has changed as far as the EHIC is concerned. Only once the details of Brexit are resolved will we then know if we remain part of the scheme.
When applying for an EHIC, make sure you use the official link (NHS.uk) to apply for free, as a host of unofficial sites will charge a fee of up to £35 to “process” your application. Your card should be with you in a couple of weeks.
Check cover for adventurous sports
If you are planning on taking part in any “adventurous” activities during your holiday – such as quad-biking, bungee jumping or white-water rafting – you need to check whether these are covered.
Standard insurance will only cover you for a range of low-risk activities, so if you want to try your hand at a more “extreme” sport, you may need to pay an additional premium for a bolt-on package. Read the policy summary very carefully to make sure it covers what you plan to do.
Invest in a decent winter sports policy
Similarly, if you are going on a ski trip, you shouldn’t assume you have cover under your standard policy. You may have to buy additional cover, or a new policy.
A decent winter sports travel policy will cover you for medical costs and repatriation, lost or stolen equipment, lost ski passes, and “piste closure” should you end up losing a couple of days on the slopes due to high winds, a lack of snow – or even too much snow.
More advanced and adventurous skiers and boarders should also check if their winter sports insurance covers them for going off-piste. Many policies will only allow “restricted” off-piste with a professional guide, while some will not permit off-piste skiing at all.
Also be aware that most insurers will refuse a medical claim if they deem you were under the influence of alcohol.So it pays to play it safe and save the “vin chaud” for once you’re safely back from the slopes.
Make sure you declare all pre-existing medical conditions
When buying cover, it is essential that you are totally honest when you apply. This includes declaring any medical conditions, even if your insurer hasn’t asked you specifically whether you have one.
The danger is that, if you don’t inform your provider, your policy will be invalid, and you won’t be covered if you have an accident or fall ill while abroad.
For example, if you suffered a heart attack, but hadn’t declared a pre-existing condition and the fact you’re on medication, you might have to pay your own medical bill and repatriation costs. This could run into tens of thousands of pounds for those travelling to Europe, or hundreds of thousands for longer-haul trips.
While premiums for those with pre-existing conditions will be higher – as insurers will view these individuals as a greater risk than those without – you still need to ensure you are adequately protected.
Getting cover as an older traveller
Older travellers, and particularly those over 65, may find it difficult to get travel cover at an affordable price, as many policies carry an upper age limit.
Insurers say the higher premiums reflect an increased risk of medical claims, with older people falling ill more often, and more prone to different types of accidents.
Once again, it may be worth approaching insurers specialising in policies for those in their later years, or for those with pre-existing medical conditions.
Ways to save money on travel cover
- If you are only travelling to Europe, a Europe-only policy will be less expensive than a worldwide policy.
- If you are likely to go abroad more than once in 12 months, an annual worldwide policy should work out cheaper than several single-trip policies. But make sure you compare both options.
- It usually costs less to insure the whole family on one policy. But check the terms and conditions as some joint or family policies may not cover you to then travel individually.
- As winter sports cover can add a significant premium to the cost of your policy, only pay for this extra cover if you are going to use it.
- Never automatically renew your travel insurance at renewal time, as you are likely to end up paying over the odds. Spend time shopping around and comparing policies to find the best policy for your needs, but remember that cheapest isn’t always best, as this could prove a false economy if you end up with a very basic level of cover.
- Useful sites for comparing policies include Moneysupermarket.com, Gocompare.com, Confused.com and Comparethemarket.com.
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Money Means is a news and information series written by independent financial and consumer journalists and experts*. FSCS launched Money Means in 2016 to help give people clear and useful information about personal finance, to increase their understanding and confidence when dealing with money.
*THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN MONEY MEANS ARE OF THE WRITERS AND NOT OF FSCS AND SHOULD NOT BE REGARDED AS ADVICE.