Do I really need travel insurance?

Every year, millions of Brits run a financial gauntlet by travelling without insurance. But if the unexpected happens, travel insurance could save you shelling out for hefty costs and sky-high medical bills. And we really do mean sky-high...

Every year, millions of Brits run a financial gauntlet by travelling without insurance. But if the unexpected happens, travel insurance could save you shelling out for hefty costs and sky-high medical bills. And we really do mean sky-high...

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: please check the latest government travel advice that sets out what you need to do, if anything, before you travel abroad and before you return home. You should also check the latest travel advice and entry requirements for each country you visit or transit through. Travel rules can change at short notice, so check the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) for the latest information.

Kate Hughes
Insurance expert
minute read
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Posted 29 JANUARY 2020 Last Updated 15 JUNE 2022

Why is travel insurance important?

We all hope our trips abroad go without a hitch, but that isn’t always the case. When you’ve spent your hard-earned money on a holiday, it makes sense to safeguard it against unforeseen events that could put your trip in jeopardy.

In fact, before COVID-19 curbed our travel plans, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) reported that in 2019, travel insurance providers paid 471,000 claims worth a total of £377 million to travellers who needed help while they were abroad. Out of this total amount, £197 million was to cover the cost of emergency medical treatment.

Overseas medical treatment can be eye-wateringly expensive. For example, treatment for a broken leg in Spain could set you back around £15,000, while a hospital stay in the USA and repatriation lights back to the UK could cost as much as £100,000. 

While travel insurance can’t prevent mishaps from occurring, it can protect you against a variety of incidents that could potentially happen while you’re away – from health emergencies to missing luggage.

Customers with more serious pre-existing medical conditions

If you have a serious health condition, the price you pay for travel insurance is likely to be more expensive. However, there are still many providers out there and you should be able to find affordable cover. Whatever happens, don’t be tempted to lie to an insurance provider, because if you do and then need to make a claim, it could be rejected.

When you declare medical conditions on our website, we’ll only show quotes from insurance providers who will cover all declared medical conditions, with no exclusions. 

MoneyHelper has launched a directory of insurance providers who may be able to provide quotes over the phone if you have more serious medical conditions. Find more information at MoneyHelper or by calling them on 0800 138 7777.

Is travel insurance a legal requirement?

While you’re not legally required to have travel insurance, the pandemic has prompted several countries to add travel insurance to their entry requirements. Some require cover for COVID-19 and other countries require cover for all medical costs. Check the requirements for your destination, and any countries you’re travelling through, so you don’t get caught out.

Some tour operators will also insist that you have a policy in place before they confirm your travel, especially to countries like the USA where there’s no public health service.

Do I need travel insurance for Europe?

Even when travelling in Europe, insurance is a wise idea. Although a free UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) (or if it’s still in date, your old EHIC) will give you access to state healthcare on the same terms as a local, it shouldn’t be seen as an alternative to travel cover. The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) recommends having a separate travel insurance policy as well as a GHIC/EHIC when visiting Europe.

What travel insurance do I need? 

There are a variety of travel insurance policies to choose from, depending on your needs. Before making a decision about which policy to take out, consider: 

  • Where you’re going
  • How long your trip is
  • Your age
  • Any medical conditions you have
  • What kind of activities you intend doing on your trip
  • How often you’ll be travelling over a 12-month period
  • How many people are going on the trip.

Types of travel insurance 

Whatever your circumstances, it should be possible to find the right level of cover that’s tailored to your needs. Examples include: 

If you have a pre-existing medical condition, make sure you check whether your condition is covered. You may need to pay more to add extra cover or take out a specialist policy to get the protection you need.

Does travel insurance protect my possessions too?

Yes, usually. If you suffer the misfortune of losing your luggage, passport or bank cards on holiday, it can be some comfort knowing that you have an insurance provider on hand to provide 24-hour assistance.  

The right policy can cover lost, stolen or damaged baggage and personal possessions. Be warned, though, you probably won’t be covered if you leave your belongings unattended and they’re then taken, so don’t go wandering off to the bar or pool, leaving your tempting beach bag behind – not even for a minute. You should also report any theft to the police as soon as possible as some insurance providers require you to have done so within 24 hours for your claim to be valid.

Standard travel policies can vary wildly in the amount covered. It’s important to check both the total limit your insurance provider will pay out if your baggage is lost, stolen or damaged and if they have a single item limit – the most they’ll pay out for any one high-value item. Depending on what you’re packing, when you get a quote you may need to choose a higher limit to take your policy to the level of cover you need. This might depend on your taste, whether you’re a minimal packer or if you bring your designer wardrobe in exclusive high-end luggage. If you’re taking gadgets such as tablets, phones and laptops, you may want to consider travel gadget insurance.

What else does travel insurance cover?

We’ve already outlined the importance of travel insurance for covering the cost of medical emergencies and lost or damaged personal possessions. But that’s not all. Your policy might also cover:

  • Cancellation of a pre-booked holiday because of unforeseen circumstances, such as a family bereavement or jury service.
  • Missed flights, cancellations and delays 24/7 assistance.
  • Personal liability cover if you cause an accident while you’re away.
  • Coronavirus cover can help protect you financially, for example, if you test positive in the 14 days before you travel and have to cancel.  When you get a travel insurance quote with us, it’s easy to compare levels of COVID-19 cover. Just use the ‘more details’ option on the quote results page. 

Cancellations and delays will only be covered for valid reasons specified in your policy. If an airline offers compensation, most travel insurance providers won’t then pay out as well. And those that do will only usually cover the difference on top of the airline’s compensation – another reason to check the small print carefully. 

Standard travel insurance can differ between providers. Always read their terms and conditions carefully before committing to a policy to ensure you have the level of cover you want.

What won’t travel insurance typically cover? 

If you’re travelling to a country that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advises against, your travel insurance policy may be invalid. Check its relevant country travel advice pages for updates on your chosen destination.

Typically travel insurance won’t cover you for:

  • Accidents that happen while you’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Pre-existing medical conditions
  • Natural disasters, which can include earthquakes and problems resulting from volcanic ash. Some policies might offer cover for this as an optional extra
  • Terrorism.

Do I need extra travel cover for adventure sports? 

Maybe. If you’re planning a more adventurous holiday, you might need to pay to add extra cover to your policy or even look for a specialist insurance provider that covers more extreme activities

Check your policy details carefully if you’re intending to do any sports activities while you’re away. Sports cover can vary greatly between insurance providers, and some of the inclusions and exclusions can be surprising, so make a note of what does (or doesn’t) appear in standard policies. This is especially important for winter sports and water sports. Again, you may need extra cover or specialist insurance if your chosen activity isn’t covered.

Where can I compare travel insurance? 

We’ve made finding and comparing travel insurance quick and easy. Compare policies in minutes and see if you could save money by finding the right cover to suit your holiday needs.

Simply answer a few questions and we’ll find you a selection of travel insurance providers to choose from.

Frequently asked questions

Do I need travel insurance for a UK holiday?

Even though there’s no need for medical cover as you can receive treatment for free on the NHS, travel insurance could still help with other eventualities. For instance, it can cover you if you have to cancel or cut short your staycation because of illness or injury. It could also protect you if you’re taking expensive equipment with you, such as laptops or designer sports gear.

If you have annual insurance this will typically cover your UK trips as well as overseas. So, it’s worth taking the number of breaks you take in the UK into account too when deciding if an annual policy is worthwhile.

Do I need cruise travel insurance?

Yes. If you’re setting sail on a cruise, you’ll typically either need travel insurance with cruise cover or specialist cruise travel insurance. This is designed to cover some of the specific eventualities that might happen while you’re on a cruise – for example, missed port stops or transport to a hospital if you’re taken ill while at sea.

What happens if I don’t buy travel insurance?

You can still travel abroad without travel insurance if it isn’t compulsory for your destination, but it carries a risk. You won’t have the reassurance of knowing that you’re protected if something goes wrong. Medical bills alone can be sky high if you need emergency treatment – which you’d have to pay out of your own pocket. You may also lose out if you have to cancel a trip and can’t get your money back.

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