Volunteer travel insurance

Volunteer travel insurance can give you the tailored protection you need when supporting great causes abroad. Here’s everything you need to know about choosing the right policy.

Volunteer travel insurance can give you the tailored protection you need when supporting great causes abroad. Here’s everything you need to know about choosing the right policy.

Josh Daniels
Travel Insurance expert
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Last Updated 14 DECEMBER 2022

Why do you need volunteer travel insurance?

Volunteering abroad is a great experience, but you’ll want to make sure you have travel insurance that covers all the work and volunteering activities you’re taking part in. Taking out travel insurance can also give you a safety net if you need medical treatment, your trip is cancelled or your possessions are lost or stolen.

Like any kind of travel cover, it’s worth taking out volunteer travel insurance, sometimes also known as gap year insurance or working holiday insurance, well ahead of your trip. If something goes wrong and it never gets off the ground, you may be able to get compensation for any money you’ve paid out up front.

Can I get travel insurance volunteering with animals?

Perhaps a little surprisingly, the answer’s yes. You can get travel insurance for volunteer work with animals, but you’ll need to let your provider know this is what you’ll be doing before taking out a policy.

If you’ll be working with domestic animals, ‘non-big game’ species, or even some larger animals within animal sanctuaries, you’ll usually be covered under a standard volunteering policy. However, if you’ll be working with more dangerous wild animals, or ‘big game’ species, such as big cats and elephants, you’ll need specialist volunteer travel insurance.

Can I get travel insurance for volunteer work that involves manual labour?

Yes. You can find working travel insurance that will cover you for manual work abroad, including the use of tools and equipment. But make sure you’re clear about the work you’ll be doing before you take out your policy. Certain policies may cover the physical work typical of community development projects as standard but it’s essential to check the terms of any policy carefully before you commit to make sure it’s a good fit.

How is travel insurance for volunteer work different from regular travel insurance?

As a volunteer, you’ll probably be travelling for far longer and going off the beaten track more than a regular holiday goer.

In other words, don’t treat this like a big holiday. That includes when it comes to selecting your travel insurance. Look for specific insurance policies that cover longer trips and offer continuous cover for a year or even 24 months – and the different activities you might be taking part in. Some longer policies even offer a trip back home in case you need to return for personal reasons.

You could also look into policies that include legal expenses.

What isn’t covered by volunteer travel insurance?

As with other types of travel insurance, there are some common exclusions to be aware of when you’re volunteering or working abroad. Volunteer travel insurance will typically exclude:

  • Any accidents or injuries that happened when you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, regardless of whether you believe that was a contributing factor or not.
  • Travelling to a location if a warning has been issued by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advising against all but essential travel. They know their stuff so don’t risk it. Your insurance provider certainly won’t.
  • Any claims resulting from you breaking local laws. It’s your job to familiarise yourself with laws wherever you are in the world. Ignorance isn’t bliss and it probably won’t get you off the hook.
  • Natural disasters, civil unrest or acts of terrorism, unless you choose to add on extra cover.

What else do I need to consider when taking out volunteer travel insurance?

If you plan to travel to more than one country, even if it’s just passing through in transit, you should make sure each country is covered by your policy – just in case.

Think about whether you’ll be doing any sports or extreme activities while you’re travelling. Regular sports might be covered by your travel insurance, but higher risk activities such as pot-holing, bungee jumping or trekking may cost a bit more to cover. 

Speak to your GP before you travel to see if you need any vaccinations for the countries you’re visiting and make sure your immunisations are up to date. Ask if you’ll need to take other precautionary health measures, such as anti-malarial medicine, for the regions you’re travelling to. This isn’t a job to leave to the last minute - healthcare professionals advise getting an appointment in at least eight weeks before you travel so any newly created immunity has time to kick in.

As usual, you’ll also need to tell your insurance provider about any pre-existing medical conditions you have. If you don’t tell them up front and you end up needing medical care while travelling, your insurance provider could decide not to pay out. 

Unfortunately, you can't compare standalone volunteer travel insurance with Comparethemarket. But there are options out there. Check with the insurance provider to see whether your volunteer work will be covered. Be prepared to look for a specialist provider as needed though.

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

Yes, the travel insurance policy you need can vary depending on the type of volunteer work you plan to do. Backpacker insurance often covers some types of work – whether that’s paid or unpaid – but the kind of jobs your policy covers will depend on your package. As ever, check the details with your insurance provider. For example, you may want to check how much cover you've got if you need to be flown home in a medical emergency. (Clue: you’d need a lot.)

You’ll aslo need to be clear about the sort of volunteering activities you’ll be doing to ensure you end up with the most appropriate policy. Different volunteering projects have different risks, whether you’re helping to build a school, teaching children, working on an organic farm or volunteering for a wildlife conservation organisation. Failing to provide full details is on you and could risk invalidating your insurance.

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.

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 any claim you make 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.

Frequently asked questions

Will my volunteer travel insurance cover me for COVID-19?

These days, many travel insurance policies offer cover for disruption related to COVID-19. When you compare travel insurance quotes with us, select the more details option on the yellow information box on your results to see what COVID-19 cover is included in each policy. Bear in mind that many insurance providers will stipulate that you need to be fully vaccinated for cover to apply.

Is there an age limit for volunteer travel insurance?

There’s no age limit for volunteering or gap year travel insurance, but some travel insurance policies may only cover those in the 18-35 age bracket. When you compare with us, we’ll only show you quotes for travel insurance policies that are relevant to you, your age and your chosen destination.

Will my volunteer organisation have employers’ liability cover?

Although employers’ liability cover is a legal requirement in the UK for both paid and unpaid positions, that’s not always true elsewhere in the world. Speak to the charity or organisation you’ll be volunteering with and ask what insurance they have in place to protect you while you’re working. Then fill any gaps in cover with your own travel insurance policy.

If I decide to volunteer for longer, can I extend my insurance?

You may be able to extend your travel insurance policy but it will depend on your provider. Get in touch and explain your situation and they will be able to advise you of what to do next.

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