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 is a wide-ranging product that can provide financial cover for many eventualities and situations the policyholder may encounter when abroad. This can include:
- Medical expenses.
- Medical repatriation.
- Loss or theft of luggage, money, passport or personal possessions.
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.
It is vital that travellers purchase the correct insurance for their trip:
- Insurance should include cover for accidents, emergency medical treatment, medical evacuation and repatriation.
- All pre-existing medical conditions and medicines (including over-the-counter medicines) should be declared. Failure to do so may nullify insurance cover.
- In pregnancy, travel insurance policies should be checked to ensure both mother and unborn child are covered. Failure to notify travel insurance providers of pregnancy may nullify insurance cover.
- Ensure insurance coverage covers all intended destinations.
- Ensure insurance covers all planned activities e.g. adventure sports, climbing, skydiving, snow sports, scuba-diving and other water sports. Injuries sustained during undeclared activities may nullify insurance cover. Insurance purchased at the overseas point of contact may be unreliable.
- Medical care abroad often requires payment at point of service; regardless of whether insurance cover is in place, ensure you have funds available for medical treatment.
- Insurance policies are only as good as the medical facilities available.
- Insurers may refuse to pay the healthcare bills of those that have suffered an injury perceived to be their own fault e.g. due to the influence of drugs/alcohol.
- Standard insurance policies are often sold at point of booking; however, they may not be the right policy for you. Some companies offer specialist insurance policies e.g. those specifically tailored to older travellers, adventure travellers or those with pre-existing medical conditions.
For countries that are part of the European Economic Area (EEA) plus Switzerland, visitors may be entitled to reduced cost, sometimes free, medical treatment. To access reciprocal health care, UK residents should produce their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). The healthcare covered by the EHIC is the same as that provided by the state for the residents of the country being visited. Private healthcare may require personal medical insurance.
Applications are free and can be made online or by telephone (0300 330 1350) or by downloading the application form from the website. The agreements do not cover the cost of repatriation or routine monitoring of pre-existing conditions therefore additional medical insurance is still strongly recommended. For specific guidance on how to access healthcare or claim refunds during a visit, please go to NHS Choices
Many destinations have no reciprocal healthcare agreement with the UK and adequate medical insurance is strongly recommended.
It is worth while finding out what to do if you become ill during your travels, including how to access emergency medical treatment. Certain travellers, such as those with existing illness, travelling with children, going into remote areas, or the pregnant traveller may wish to try and identify health care facilities prior to departure. Addresses for local services are usually available at larger hotels and from tour company representatives.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) provides details of the nearest British Embassy or Consulate that may be able to help locate health care facilities at the destination. Neither the FCO nor the Embassy will pay for medical care even in an emergency.
A list of Travel Clinics, run by members of the International Society of Travel Medicine, is available on their Global Travel Clinic Directory
Further information on travel insurance, including insurance for those with a medical condition such as asthma, diabetes, HIV or lung conditions can be found on various specialist websites:
- Foreign & Commonwealth Office - Foreign Travel Insurance
- Which - Medical Conditions Travel Insurance Reviews
- Money Saving Expert - Travel Insurance For Those With Pre-Existing Conditions
- HIV Support and AIDS Support from Terrence Higgins Trust
- Asthma UK
- British Lung Foundation
- Diabetes UK