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Do I really need travel insurance?

Do I really need travel insurance?

If you’re planning a holiday and the unexpected happens, travel insurance cover could protect you from hefty costs and medical bills. No one wants to be thinking of accidents or incidents while they’re on holiday, but if the worst does happen, the right policy can be indispensable. 

Patrick Ikhena
From the Travel team
6
minute read
posted 29 JANUARY 2020

Why is travel insurance important?

Imagine if you, or one of your family members, were injured or became ill during your holiday. Emergency medical treatment in another country can be very expensive. And depending where you go, public hospitals could be very basic indeed. 

According to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), 1 in 5 Brits has needed some kind of medical treatment while abroad. Yet as many as 10 million holidaymakers travel without the right travel insurance, or even no travel insurance at all.

The average cost of a medical claim of £1,300 has risen by 40% in recent years. But it’s not uncommon for medical treatment to run into thousands. Treatment in a USA hospital for a stomach bug alone could set you back £100,000.

If you’re faced with a medical emergency, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office cannot pay for treatment or fly you home. However, a standard travel insurance policy can cover your medical costs while abroad, and even arrange repatriation flights if it’s medically necessary. 

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE

As of 23rd Match 2020, the UK Government announced a series of restrictions to travel, public spaces and gatherings. For a minimum of three weeks, people are being instructed to stay at home whenever possible. For this reason, travel insurance policies purchased from this date, for trips within the UK with a start date before 13th April 2020, will not be valid.
 
The UK Government also instructed all British tourists and travellers, that are currently abroad, to return to the UK as soon as possible.
 
As of 17th March 2020, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) have advised against all non-essential travel abroad for an initial period of 30 days. This means that any travel insurance purchased from this date, for trips outside of the UK with a start date before 16th April 2020, will not be covered by the provider.
 
Coronavirus was declared a pandemic on 11th March 2020, so this may also affect your policy, particularly those taken out on or after that date. Please check any existing policies carefully, to find out what you’re covered for.
 
For more information please see our travel insurance and coronavirus pages.

But is travel insurance a legal requirement?

No, you’re not legally required to have travel insurance. Some tour operators will insist you have a policy in place before they confirm your travel, especially to countries like the USA where there’s no public health service. 

For peace of mind, you should ensure you and your loved ones are properly covered on holiday. Accidents can happen and they’re more difficult to deal with away from home. It’s not worth leaving it to chance when the costs could be so high. 

Do I need travel insurance for Europe?

Yes – even when travelling in Europe insurance is a wise idea. The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is also a good addition to your travel documentation. As the Foreign and Commonwealth Office explains, the EHIC ‘is not an alternative to travel insurance’, and recommends having both an EHIC and separate travel insurance when visiting Europe.
 
The EHIC will only cover emergency medical care in the local equivalent of an NHS hospital. It won’t cover treatment if you’re taken to a private hospital. 

UK residents can use their EHIC after the 31 January during the transition phase of the UK leaving the EU. This means that the EHIC can continued to be used in the same way until the 31 December 2020. What happens to the status of the EHIC after the transition phase will be decided as part of the negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship.

What types of travel insurance are available?

You can choose from a wide variety of travel insurance policies depending on your needs. To ensure you get the right cover, you’ll also need to consider factors such as:

  • the type of trip you’re taking
  • where you’re going
  • how long your trip is
  • your age
  • your medical condition
  • what kind of activities you intend doing on your trip
  • how often you’ll be travelling over a 12-month period
  • how many are going on the trip

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

If you’re pregnant or have a pre-existing medical condition, ensure you check whether your condition is covered. You may need to add extra cover or opt for a special insurance policy that will cater to your specific needs.

Does travel insurance protect my possessions too?

The right policy can also cover theft, loss or damage to your baggage and personal possessions. 

Your baggage can go astray when you’re travelling. In 2017, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), 86,000 people received £17 million of support following their baggage being delayed and money lost while travelling. And if you lose your passport, cards and phone, then it’s a relief to have an insurance provider on hand to provide 24-hour assistance.  

Check to see if your insurance provider includes baggage protection in their standard travel insurance policy. If not, ask if you can get extra cover added. Alternatively, you could consider separate baggage insurance cover.

What else does travel insurance cover?

As well as medical costs, travel insurance policies may also cover:

  • cancellation of a pre-booked holiday due to unforeseen circumstances
  • missed flights, cancellations and delays
  • repatriation if it’s medically necessary
  • loss, theft or damage of baggage and personal items
  • 24/7 assistance

In 2017, £145 million was paid out on 174,000 claims for cancelled holidays, says the ABI. 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 pay out. 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, so always read their terms and conditions carefully before committing to a policy to ensure you have the level of cover you want.

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

Also, be aware that if you’re travelling to a country that the FCO advises against, your travel insurance policy may be invalid. Check their relevant country travel advice pages for updates on your chosen destination.

Check your policy details carefully if you’re intending to do any sports activities while away. Sports cover can vary greatly between insurance providers, so you’ll need to make a note of what’s included and excluded in their 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.

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