How to get travel insurance when you have cancer

Written by
Kara Gammell
11 March 2022
5 min read
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When you’ve had health problems, a holiday could be just what the doctor ordered. 

But a pre-existing medical condition such as cancer can make finding quality travel insurance difficult, not to mention more costly. 

From an insurer's point of view, you are unfortunately a bigger risk. As the provider will see it, you’re more likely to make a claim – for example, for cancellation because you’ve become too ill to travel or need treatment that cannot be rescheduled. 

Cancer Research UK figures show that while 1,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every day, the survival rates are improving, doubling in the UK in the last 40 years. So there’s good news in that around half of those diagnosed with cancer will survive for 10 years or more. 

This means that millions of people afflicted by the disease may at some point need to get travel insurance – but they will need to jump through a few hoops to ensure they’re properly protected. 

And unfortunately, travel insurance premiums tend to go up if you have cancer - even if you’ve had it in the past and are in remission - while some who are living with the disease will be denied cover completely. 

The reality is that these inflated insurance costs - or even lack of cover - can mean cancer sufferers are missing out on making holiday memories with families and friends, as travelling without insurance is too big a risk. 

Cheapest isn’t always best 

While some mainstream travel insurance companies will cover you if you have a doctor’s certificate saying you no longer have cancer and are fit to travel (typically after five years of full remission), in some cases, the insurer might not provide cover at all. 

The good news is that there are companies that specialise in providing cover to those with cancer or those who are in partial remission. Premiums generally reduce the longer you are cancer-free. 

It’s always a good idea to shop around for travel insurance, and even more so if you have a pre-existing condition. But, as well as looking at prices, you should compare the features and exclusions of each policy. The most important thing is that the policy is appropriate for your circumstances. 

It can be tempting to take out the cheapest travel insurance policy you find when prices are high, but this may not be the best value for money for you if it doesn’t give you the cover you need. 

Don't be fooled that travel insurance provided as a free-of-charge "extra" by banks and building societies will be adequate cover, as pre-existing medical conditions are rarely taken into account. 

Bear in mind that the conditions of this type of insurance policy may be that you must be "fit to travel" – but the definition of this varies from one insurer to another, so read the documents carefully or speak to the company if you are not sure. 

To find the best-value cancer travel insurance for you, it’s worth comparing a number of policies before committing and using a specialist travel insurance company if mainstream ones don’t offer the levels of cover you’d like. 

According to the Financial Ombudsman Service, an insurer can reasonably reject a claim that has nothing to do with a pre-existing condition if it meant they’d have refused you cover in the first place 

How can I keep the cost of my travel insurance down if I have cancer? 

Don’t be tempted to forgo insurance or hide your diagnosis from your insurer. 

If you gloss over medical conditions to reduce premiums, you run the risk of not being covered if you then have to make a claim related to your condition. This could be a false economy, as medical bills can run into tens of thousands of pounds – particularly for those travelling to America. 

You are also at risk of not being covered for any complications that arise during treatment that are a result of the pre-existing condition. For example, if you failed to disclose cancer as a pre-existing condition and then fainted and suffered a head injury, the insurer is unlikely to pay out if it is deemed a direct result of the undisclosed condition. 

The connection between condition and claim may not always seem directly related. 

According to the Financial Ombudsman Service, an insurer can reasonably reject a claim that has nothing to do with a pre-existing condition if they can show that they would not have allowed the policy to be taken out in the first place had the condition been disclosed. 

For instance, if you break a leg while on holiday and an undisclosed condition such as cancer means you require more complicated treatment, an insurer could dispute the validity of your claim. 

When you apply for travel insurance, be prepared for questions about: 

  • Your cancer type 
  • How big your cancer is or was at diagnosis and whether it had spread (stage) 
  • The grade of your cancer 
  • The treatment you are having or have had 
  • Your outlook (prognosis) 
  • Follow up care you are having 

It’s best if you have these details before you apply. If you’re unsure of anything, contact your doctor or specialist nurse who will be able to answer your questions. 

Bear in mind that you will need to provide an updated doctor’s certificate every time you travel if you have an annual or multi trip policy. 

Be prepared 

It’s wise to get advice from your doctor before you book travel abroad. 

Start by making informal enquiries. Some companies might ask if you’ve been turned down by another company. If you’ve only made informal enquiries, this won’t affect any applications you make. 

Your insurer may want to see written confirmation that you are well enough to travel, or you might need a ‘fit to fly’ letter – sort these out well in advance of your trip. 

Bear in mind that you will need to provide an updated doctor’s certificate every time you travel if you have an annual or multi trip policy. 

As a condition of covering you, some insurance companies insist that you also get their travel insurance for everyone travelling with you – so do your sums in advance. 

If you need to take medical equipment away with you, make sure this is covered by a policy. As far as medication is concerned, it’s worth taking a few days’ extra supply in case of travel disruption. 

And finally, also take a doctor’s note plus your prescription in case you need to show it to security officials or a pharmacist. 

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Don’t forget that while you may think that this article is brilliant, it is intended for information purposes only and should not be mistaken for financial advice or recommendations.