Many countries do not have the same access to medical treatments as the UK and it is not uncommon for overseas medical bills to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. Comprehensive travel insurance is therefore strongly recommended for all travellers.
Travel insurance can provide financial cover for many eventualities and situations that you might encounter when abroad. This can include:
- medical expenses (paying for medical treatment whilst you are abroad)
- medical repatriation (return you to your home country)
- loss or theft of luggage, money, passport or personal possessions
- cancellation or curtailment of trip
- scheduled airline failure
Travel insurance may be sold as:
- a single trip policy, covering one trip
- an annual policy, covering multiple trips taken during the period of cover
- an "ongoing" policy (such as those linked to a bank account or a credit card)
- a European or worldwide policy
- individual, couple or family cover
It is vital that you purchase the correct insurance for your trip.
The policy should include cover for:
- medical expenses
- emergency medical treatment, hospital charges, ambulance fees
- medical evacuation and repatriation to bring you home
- expenses for a close relative or friend to stay with you or travel from the UK to accompany you
- all your intended destinations
- all your planned activities such as adventure sports, climbing, skydiving, winter sports, scuba-diving and other water sports
- everyone travelling in the group
- lost or stolen baggage and belongings
- the cost of cancellation or cutting short your trip if you are unable to travel
- travel delays or disruptions
In relation to travel insurance and COVID-19, you should check your policy for COVID-19 exclusions. You should consider cover that includes:
- coronavirus medical and repatriation cover
- coronavirus cancellation cover
- scheduled airline failure insurance
Standard insurance policies may not be the right policy for you depending on your circumstances and trip plans. You might need to purchase additional cover or a specialist insurance policy specifically tailored towards:
- older travellers
- those with pre-existing medical conditions
- adventure travellers / backpackers
- humanitarian aid / voluntary workers
- cruise travel
- winter sports cover
If you have a pre-existing medical condition, you might have to pay an additional cost for the policy to include cover for the condition that you have.
- Excluding a pre-existing medical condition from your policy could result in you having to pay expensive medical bills.
If you are pregnant, you must declare your pregnancy to the insurer to ensure your policy provides cover for both you and your unborn baby.
Your travel insurance might become invalidated if you:
- Fail to declare any underlying medical conditions or medications (including over-the-counter medicines) that you take.
- Sustain accidents or injuries whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Travel against the advice of a medical professional; or against the advice of the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)
The UK has a reciprocal health agreement with some overseas countries which gives UK citizens the right to access state-provided healthcare whilst visiting the reciprocal country.
The agreement generally covers medically necessary state-provided healthcare at a reduced cost or, in some cases, free of charge, until your planned return home. It does not cover all the things you expect to get free from the NHS, costs incurred during cruise travel, private medical care, or costs such as mountain rescue and repatriation home.
- A reciprocal health agreement is not a comprehensive alternative to travel insurance; you must also obtain valid travel insurance before your trip.
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) scheme is an example of a reciprocal health agreement existing between the UK and European Union (EU) countries.
The UK government has updated their guidance on accessing state health care for UK passport holders travelling to countries that are in the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland.
- See the UK government website for further information
UK-issued EHICs remain valid in the EU until they expire, and offer the same cover as the new UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). You can replace your expired EHIC by applying for a GHIC.
- GHICs only provide cover when travelling in EU countries. They do not cover you in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland.
- See NHS.UK website for further details on EHIC /GHIC and how to apply for a GHIC card.
It is worthwhile finding out what to do if you become ill during your travels, including how to access emergency medical treatment. If you have existing illness, travelling with children, going into remote areas, or are pregnant then you might want to try and identify health care facilities prior to departure.
The FCDO provides details of the nearest British Embassy or Consulate that may be able to help locate health care facilities at the destination. Neither the FCDO nor the Embassy will pay for medical care, even in an emergency.
- A list of doctors and medical facilities worldwide from the FCDO can be accessed on the FCDO website.
- A list of Travel Clinics, run by members of the International Society of Travel Medicine, is available on their Global Travel Clinic Directory.
- Addresses for local services are usually available at larger hotels and from tour company representatives.
Medical care abroad often requires payment upfront at the point of service, regardless of whether insurance cover is in place. You should therefore ensure you take money or a credit card with you when attending a medical facility abroad.
- Carry a copy of your insurance certificate and contact details for your insurer along with other travel documents in your hand luggage.
- Request copies of any police or medical reports so that you can submit these to your insurer if requested.
- Keep receipts for any expenses paid up front.
Further information on travel insurance, including insurance for those with a medical condition can be found on various specialist websites:
- Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office - Foreign Travel Insurance
- Association of British Insurers (ABI)
- Which - Medical Conditions Travel Insurance Guide
- Money Saving Expert - Travel Insurance For Those With Pre-Existing Conditions
- Terrence Higgins Trust
- Asthma UK
- British Lung Foundation
- Diabetes UK
- IBD Passport
- MacMillan Cancer Support