Everything you need to know about travel insurance (yes, it's boring, but it is essential...)
There’s never been a better time to buy travel insurance. OK, so it’s not the sort of news that’s going to have you partying in the street, but the fact remains that for travellers it is now possible to insure a wider range of trips for less money than ever before.
There are hundreds of different companies in the UK offering thousands of different policies between them. You can buy travel insurance from banks, supermarkets, charities – even from Wanderlust. All this competition, plus internet-enabled price comparisons, have forced down premiums to the point where you can get good cover for minimal cash.
But if we’ve never had it so good, it seems we’ve also never been so confused. Do you know what you're covered for?
As we travel more adventurously, in greater numbers, and take longer trips, grey areas are multiplying – and the lists of exclusions on policies are lengthening. With insurance, cheaper is very rarely better. So what do you need to check to ensure you’re not caught out? And how do you find the policy that’s right for you?
Unless you are very wealthy and/or addicted to risk, the answer is yes. Even in Europe, medical costs arising from an accident or illness can run into thousands of pounds or euros, and in the US/Canada or anywhere an air ambulance or repatriation is required, you could be facing a bill of £20,000-£30,000+.
Don’t expect to be bailed out by anyone else, either. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office may give you practical assistance if you get into trouble, but consulates can’t pay bills or give you money. In Europe, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles you to emergency medical treatment but won’t cover private bills, repatriation or compensation.
Most reputable tour operators require you to have adequate travel insurance – or buy their own – as a condition of booking. If you have an accident on a tour, you’ll only receive compensation from the operator if you can prove that it has acted negligently.
Yes, but it’s far from automatic. “Many personal travel policies don’t cover terrorism – so in a Bali bomb scenario, you’re on your own,” says Graham Trudgill of the British Insurance Brokers Association (BIBA). Even those policies that don’t exclude war and terrorism-related claims may limit the type of claim you can make – for example, they may pay for medical expenses but not loss of possessions.
Delays or cancellations arising from terrorism or terror threats are also widely excluded. And if you decide you no longer wish to travel because there has been a terror attack where you’re heading, insurers are highly unlikely to accept a claim unless the FCO changes its advice.
Your best option is to find a policy that at least provides cover for medical expenses, repatriation and baggage. If you’re travelling to a country or region at risk from terrorism, check the small print of your policy, talk to your insurer, and if you’re not happy, shift to an insurer that will cover you.
Most standard travel policies exclude claims if you visit a country or region to which the FCO advises against all or ‘all but essential’ travel. A few will only exclude claims relating to the perceived threat (for example, you might be able to claim for a trekking accident, but not for a gunshot wound) – but most will exclude all claims for any reason.
That depends on what you’re doing. Most policies have a long list of sports and activities that they will cover, so check the small print carefully. Common exclusions are whitewater rafting, scuba diving, high-altitude climbing and bungee jumping. Winter sports are usually covered under a separate schedule. If you’re doing voluntary work as part of your trip, manual work such as painting or building may be covered, but power tools and machinery probably won’t.
If you’re taking light aircraft flights (on safari, for example) these too may be classified as hazardous. The golden rule is: if you’re planning an activity that isn’t specifically mentioned (or want to try one once you’re abroad), contact your insurer: you may be able to pay an additional premium to have it covered.
According to Age Concern research, 92% of insurance policies impose an upper age limit. No matter how old you feel, once you’re over 65, the whole insurance picture changes: premiums soar (typically in brackets at 65-69, 70-74, 75-79 and 80+), and medical excesses frequently double. Many insurers also only offer single-trip policies for older travellers, or limit annual policies to Europe, or to trips shorter than 31 days.
However, there are exceptions – you just have to find them. Huge savings can be made if you’re willing to spend time on the internet and/or use a specialist broker. With Wanderlust Insurance, there's no upper age limit.
Since medical expenses are the major risk with these policies, some insurers will offer you a discount if you exclude personal possessions cover and get them covered under your home contents insurance instead. Excluding the USA and Canada from your policy can also lower premiums, as healthcare in North America is notoriously costly.
The biggest battleground in insurance claims is over pre-existing medical conditions, which must be declared to an insurer for your cover to be valid. “If in doubt,” says BIBA’s Graham Trudgill, “tell them everything – it’s completely confidential.”
Past conditions (including cancers that have been given the all-clear) must be declared, as well as controlled conditions such as asthma, diabetes, thyroid conditions or high blood pressure. If you take regular medication, say so.
Remember too that for cancellation and curtailment cover to be valid, you need to declare the condition of “anyone on whom your travels depend” – for example, a relative that you might need to cut short your trip to care for. Ultimately, the onus is on you to tell your insurer anything material – otherwise you could find your claim rejected. With Wanderlust insurance, all pre-existing conditions are considered.
Some conditions will be covered for no additional premium, others will attract a higher premium or be specifically excluded, and some will be declined outright. If you’re having difficulty, try a specialist medical insurer.
Most standard travel policies offer limited cover for valuables – typically £200-£300 – and will take account of depreciation. With higher value items such as cameras and jewellery, you’re often better covering them under the ‘all risks’ option on your home contents insurance.
Remember, with any loss you need to contact the police and get a written report within 24 hours.