A simples guide

Volunteer travel insurance

Taking some time out to explore the world whilst doing some good is a once in a lifetime opportunity – whether it’s teaching English or sport in remote parts of the world or helping protect endangered species. Being altruistic isn’t just about looking out for others, it makes you feel good too – it’s a win-win no matter how selfless you feel about it. But in order to help others, you need to make sure that you help yourself and that’s why making sure you’ve got the right cover in place is vital – without it you could find yourself in a pickle and in that situation, who’ll be there to help the helper?

Why do I need travel insurance?

Taking out travel insurance isn’t about tempting fate, it’s about having a safety net. Some of the things it’ll cover you for include: cancellation, curtailment (the cutting short of your trip), personal liability, theft of your belongings and medical treatment.

If you’re young, fit and able to volunteer abroad you might try and save a few quid by cutting back on things like insurance – after all, what’s the worst that could happen? But don’t underestimate the need for help when you’re a long way from home and in most cases, don’t speak the local language.

Plus, healthcare in many countries is neither free nor subsidised and if you need decent care you’ll probably end up in a private hospital where fees can spiral. Health cover should also include repatriation for that occasion where coming home is a necessity.

Most policies will provide compensation if your trip never even gets off the ground, and if you’ve planned to travel the world, then you’ll probably have forked out quite and bit and will want your money back. So, taking out travel insurance in good time before your trip is equally important as having it in the first place.

So how does volunteer insurance differ from regular travel insurance?

When you go on holiday, the most strenuous activity you’ll probably do is walk from your hotel room to the beach, or try to slather sun cream onto your back. You’ll probably also only be jetting off for a couple of weeks at the most.

When you volunteer, chances are you’ll be away for far longer than a fortnight and be exposed to more risks or travelling to places a bit off the beaten track. As a result, regular folks’ travel insurance just won’t cut it – so you should look for specific insurance that will cover you for the activities you’ll be doing. These policies will usually go by the names of backpacker insurance, gap year insurance or volunteer insurance – here’s what to expect and look for:

  • Medical expenses including repatriation
  • Cancellation and curtailment
  • Personal accident cover
  • Personal liability cover
  • Legal expenses
  • Baggage and personal possessions cover

In addition to this, policies will often offer continuous cover for 12 months, some even go for as long as two years and some policies include a trip back home just in case you get homesick.

Does the sort of volunteering I do change the insurance I need?

Backpacker insurance often covers some types of work – whether that’s paid or unpaid. The kind of jobs your policy covers will depend on the package that you agree with your provider.

When it comes to choosing the right package you’ll need to be honest and be clear about the sort of volunteering activities you’ll be doing. It could be that you’re helping villagers build an irrigation system, teaching communities about sustainable farming methods or helping in a school. It’s worth checking if the organisation you’re volunteering with has any cover already in place. If so, then it’s just a question of searching for an additional policy to cover the extra things you’ll be doing.

Disclosing what you’ll be doing will make sure you end up with the most appropriate policy, holding back on the truth just to save a few quid could mean you end up invalidating the whole policy – it’s not worth the risk.

Volunteer travel insurance
declaring pre-existing medical conditions for travel insurance

What else should I consider then?

You should tell your insurer about any pre-existing medical conditions – not telling them could mean they decide not to support any claims you make. You should also think about whether you’ll be doing any sports – some policies will cover you for numerous sports and activities but higher risk ones such as pot holing might cost you a bit more to cover.

Make sure that all the countries you’re visiting are included in your policy, even if you’re just passing through (because typically, it’ll always be that one country you pass through without insurance, where something goes a bit wrong).

Your policy should also allow you to replace all your personal possessions so be objective when it comes to costing up your stuff. It’s all too easy to underestimate the day to day bits and pieces you take for granted.

How do I know I’m getting the best policy?

The policy you choose should suit you, even if you’re travelling with friends to the same places, your needs may be different. This is why you should always compare the market rather than simply opting for what your best mate went with. Volunteering’s all about getting great experience and having insurance will give you peace of mind so that you can enjoy it.

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