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Eye-watering overseas costs without insurance

Ever skipped on travel insurance and thought 'it'll never happen to me'? Susie Maggie Thorne explains some of the medical costs involved in nursing you back to health abroad and getting you home

Susie Maggie Thorne

The idea of having to receive medical care while on a trip seems to scare many travellers, yet year-on-year we hear the same horror stories of people getting hurt without travel insurance to help them out of sticky situations. They may not have bought travel insurance as they were on a tight budget, or because they were unaware of the potential costs involved if they got into trouble. Some people simply think 'it will never happen to me'...

Do you know how much it could potentially cost if you didn't have travel insurance and...

  • You broke a leg in Europe?
  • You had a ski accident?
  • You needed to stay overnight in a hospital in India?
  • A doctor needed to escort you home from America or Canada?
  • You needed a helicopter rescue from Everest Base Camp?

Medical treatment abroad

  • One traveller had to pay £20,000 to cover the cost of treatment for a heart infection and bleeding on the brain. Costs included treatment at two hospitals and an air ambulance back to the UK from Spain.
  • £11,000 to treat a holidaymaker who suffered a broken arm after a fall in Spain.
  • Medical bills in the USA average £4,726 – the world's most expensive destination for emergency medical care.
  • £54,000 to treat a holidaymaker who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder while holidaying in the USA and then needed to be flown back to the UK with a doctor escort.
  • £100 to lance a blister from a burn in Tenerife.

(Sources include: All Clear Travel, Wanderlust)

For British travellers, an European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will cover you for a variety of medical emergencies, it does not guarantee free heathcare across the continent. Different countries have different policies and, in many cases, travellers need to pay up front and be reimbursed later. In France, travellers are expected to pay up front for a consultation but will be reimbursed up to 70% of the cost later. In Belgium, travellers could be reimbursed up to 75% for a doctor's consultation but could be expected to pay the full cost of an ambulance if it was required.

Hospital costs

If you're having to stay in a hospital for treatment for 24 hours, the average cost in US Dollars can be:

  • Argentina $429
  • South Africa $665
  • France $853
  • New Zealand $979
  • Australia $1,472
  • USA $4,287

(Source: International Federation of Health Plans, 2012)

Everest evacuation

Always wanted to trek to the iconic Himalaya mountains? If you're stuck without travel insurance, an average helicopter used for evacuation from Everest Base Camp costs US$2,500 an hour and would normally take two hours to be evacuated from Base Camp to nearby Lukla.

(Source: Mountain Guides)

Skiing

  • Helicopter evacuation from a ski slope will cost up to £1,500 in Europe.
  • Getting back to the UK from a ski accident means a special flight costing up to £4,000 from Europe and £8,000 from the US and Canada.
  • Even a rescue sledge (for some reason called a blood-wagon) ride off the slopes could cost around £200.

(Source: The Daily Telegraph)

Emergency flights home

If you need to get home in an emergency from another country, it can cost you thousands of pounds if you don't have the right cover. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) quote some of the expected costs:

  • £35-45,000, air ambulance from USA’s East coast;
  • £12-16,000, air ambulance from the Canary Islands;
  • £15-20,000, scheduled flight, stretcher and doctor escort from Australia.

With all of those panic-inducing examples in mind, you're probably scrabbling to find travel insurance straight away, but sometimes buying insurance can be confusing. Here's a guide of what it should cover and what it often doesn't cover so that you know what to look out for.

When it comes to insurance, cheap usually isn't best, the more expensive policies usually cover you for more...

Medical cover:

  • Insurance policies should have a minimum of £5 million in case all of the worst-case scenarios happen at once;
  • They usually cover you for any medical, surgical, and hospital treatment as well as ambulance bills incurred as a result of something that happened while travelling;
  • Emergency return to your home country should you not be able to continue with the trip;
  • Repatriation to your home country (usually up to about £5,000);
  • Most policies have a list of activities or sports that are covered so check the list for anything you think you'll take part in. You may have to pay extra for specialist activities such as bungee jumping, elephant trekking or hiking above certain altitudes;
  • You must make the company aware of any pre-existing medical conditions as this would affect your claim.

Personal accident:

  • A minimum £10,000 in compensation for loss of limbs or sight or permanent disability;
  • Check if it covers legal fees incurred, especially in countries with poor or no legal aid system.

Baggage, personal items and money:

Unexpected event cover:

  • Such as terrorism, civil unrest, strikes, volcanic ash, scheduled airline failure or holiday failure;
  • Only 60% of insurance policies cover for terrorism (including InsureandGo);
  • If you were aware of problems before you left and the claim is caused by this, you are liable as you were aware of the risks.

Optional extras:

Most companies charge for extra cover and it usually proves to be cheaper to buy it as part of your plan rather than potentially face the charge abroad. This includes things like winter sports (skiing and snowboarding), excess waivers to save you handing out cash if you claim and aforementioned specialist activities such as golfing, bungee jumping etc.

The small print:

We read it, and so should you!

It may seem like common sense but there are certain things that will void your claim. Common problems include:

  • Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol when the accident happens (with the exception of prescribed medication);
  • If your items are stolen from an unattended vehicle, a roof rack or overhead baggage compartments on public transport;
  • If you did not report your stolen items to the police within a reasonable time (usually 24 hours);
  • If you contract a tropical disease and did not receive the recommended vaccinations before travel;
  • Not wearing seatbelts and helmets during relevant activities, including winter sports;
  • If you have a pre-existing medical condition that you did not make the travel insurance provider aware of;
  • Taking part in risky or criminal behaviour;
  • Motor vehicle racing;
  • Suicide, dangerous activity (unless attempting to save a life) or fighting (unless self-defence);
  • If the event or accident happens in a country where the British FCO have advised not to travel.

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