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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. So the question isn’t so much do you need travel insurance, but instead, what travel insurance do I need?

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. So the question isn’t so much do you need travel insurance, but instead, what travel insurance do I need?

Written by
Kate Hughes
Insurance expert
Last Updated
29 NOVEMBER 2022
8 min read
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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.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) reported that in 2022, travel insurance providers paid 362,000 claims worth a total of £352 million to travellers who needed help while they were abroad. 

Overseas medical treatment can be eye-wateringly expensive. Even in Europe where you may have access to state-provided healthcare, without travel insurance you could be left footing a large bill if you need private healthcare or emergency flights back to the UK. For example, treatment for a broken leg in Spain could set you back around £15,000. Meanwhile, a hospital stay in the USA and repatriation flights back to the UK could cost as much as £100,000.

While travel insurance can’t prevent mishaps, 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 pre-existing medical conditions

If you have a serious health condition, your travel insurance is likely to be more expensive. Whatever happens, don’t lie to an insurance provider, because this could mean your claim is rejected. When you declare any medical conditions on our website, we’ll only show you quotes from insurance providers who will cover them, with no exclusions.

If your condition is more serious, MoneyHelper has a directory of insurance providers who may be able to provide quotes over the phone. You can call them on 0800 138 7777.

Is travel insurance a legal requirement?

While you’re not legally required to have travel insurance, the pandemic 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 good 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 in the EU, 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. That’s because your GHIC won’t cover you for any private medical treatment you need, and it won’t cover getting you back to the UK in a medical emergency.

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 the type of travel insurance you need and how much cover you should get, 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.

How much travel insurance do I need?

This depends on your personal circumstances and your travel itinerary. Before you compare travel insurance policies, estimate how much cover you might need for:

  • Medical costs and repatriation: this will depend on healthcare costs where you’re travelling. For example, if you’re travelling to the USA, you’ll need more medical cover than for a holiday in France. It will also depend on your age and any pre-existing health conditions.
  • Baggage cover: work out how much it will cost to replace your personal belongings if they get lost, stolen or damaged while you’re on holiday
  • Cancellation cover: add up what you’ll be paying up front for flights, accommodation and excursions so you’ll be covered in case you need to cancel your trip due to a reason covered by your policy
  • Sports cover: if you’re off on an adventurous holiday, you’ll need to make sure any activities you have planned are covered by your travel insurance. You may need to add on extra cover. Make sure any specialist or expensive gear you’re taking with you is covered too.

The more cover you need, the higher your premium will typically be. But you want to make sure you’re not left out of pocket if you do need to make a claim. According to the ABI, travel insurance providers paid on average £973 per claim in 2022.

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. 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, 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 widely 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 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?

As well as the cost of medical emergencies and lost or damaged personal possessions, 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. 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 the 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.

Travel insurance won’t typically cover you for:

Do I need extra travel cover for adventure sports?

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?

Travel insurance could still be helpful even though there’s no need for medical cover as you can receive treatment for free on the NHS. For instance, travel insurance 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. Check your policy details, as some will require a minimum stay of at least one or two consecutive nights in pre-booked accommodation. 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 mishaps 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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