Some people debate whether or not to get travel insurance. To my mind, there’s no question. It’s essential unless you want to risk running yourself into some serious problems and debt. For example, if you hurt yourself while abroad and end up having to have an operation, it could cost you thousands and thousands of dollars. We may think or hope that these things won’t happen to us, but remember no-one ever plans for problems to occur.
Our travel mishaps
Steve’s appendix burst when he was in India. He had no choice but to be treated there and then. While the operation only cost 50p there, it would have cost an awful lot more in other countries. I had to have two emergency root canal fillings in Argentina, and I was burned by a motorbike exhaust in the Cook Islands, which involved follow-up treatment when I got to the States. I was shocked to realise I had to pay for everything down to the bandage.
There are also the non-medical emergencies. My Mum fell ill when I was in Thailand and my travel insurance covered my journey home. I lost my camera in Malaysia and my insurance meant I could replace it. While you may save some cash foregoing insurance and crossing your fingers that nothing will happen to you, if it does happen, you’ll be far worse off.
So where to start when it comes to choosing travel insurance?
This can be quite a mind-boggling endeavor. There are lots of variables to consider – for example where you are going, how long you’re going for, the amount you want to contribute to a claim (the excess), if you’ll be returning home in-between trips etc.
Here’s a little guide to get you started.
Single trip / Multi-trip / Long-stay (backpackers) Insurance
Single trip insurance normally only covers trips up to a maximum of 31 days. If you travel more than twice a year, you’ll nearly always save money by opting for an annual multi-trip policy. However, these policies often impose limitations on the length of any one trip (generally around three months). Always check the small print. If this is the case, and you’re off on a long trip, then you’ll need to opt for backpackers / long-stay insurance, often available for up to 18 months. Furthermore, if you’re a digital nomad or staying away for more than 18 months, you may find that a lot of insurance providers only let you renew your insurance from your home country. Two exceptions we know are World Nomads and True Traveller, which you can start / renew anywhere.
What cover do you need?
This is likely the most important thing you’ll need. The recommended minimum amount to be covered for is £2 million. Ours covers us for £5 million. You should also be covered for emergency evacuation and return to your home country (for example if you hurt yourself in the woods and need to be flown to a hospital / if you need to be flown back to your home country for treatment there). Also check the policy on existing medical conditions. You’ll unlikely be covered for these while abroad and it’s important to disclose them to your insurance provider.
Most travel insurance policies include some cover for your personal items. There will a limit for any one item (for example £1,500 in total but only £300 for any one item). This becomes quite limiting if you are carrying valuables such as a laptop. For these, you have two options. Either add these items to your home insurance and double check that it includes cover when abroad. Or you can take out a specific insurance policy for your valuables. Companies that have been recommended to us include Protect My Bubble and Photo Guard.
Cancellation, curtailment and delay
You can choose to be covered for the cancellation or delay of your trip – for example due to family illness or emergency. Check the small print as companies differ in what they consider an emergency.
This covers you if someone chooses to make a claim against you – for example if you damage someone’s property or hurt them somehow.
Winter sports / adventure activities
A lot of policies will not cover you for accidents that happen when you’re taking part in something extreme such a skiing or scuba diving. Check the small print to be sure. It is likely you’ll have to pay a little extra to be covered for these activities. Also bear in mind that sometimes they define how many times you can do each of these activities and still be covered.
Check the excess
The excess is the amount you will have to pay towards any one claim. For example if you need to claim for £500 medical expenses and the excess is £100, you will get £400 back.
The excess will likely vary depending on what you are claiming for. Also check to see if you have to pay more than one excess per claim. For example if you were mugged and got hurt in the process, you may have to pay one excess for the medical treatment, and one for the stolen goods.
The higher the excess, the cheaper the insurance will likely be – but always make sure it’s something you can afford.
A note for Europeans – the EHIC card
If you’re from the EU than you can get an EHIC card. This entitles you to state health care wherever you go. Essentially, you’ll be treated as a local so if the treatment you require is free to locals there, it will also be free for you, but if locals have to pay then you will too. This will vary from country to country, and even applies if members of that country have to pay taxes / public insurance in order to be entitled to that care. It does not grant you access to private health care.
The EHIC is not a substitute for travel insurance and it’s best to have both if travelling to a country where health care isn’t 100 per cent free or the quality of state-run healthcare is poor.
Always check the small print!
Whatever you do, always check the small print of your policy. It’s one terms and conditions that’s really worth reading.
Making a claim
Making an insurance claim can be a headache. Companies notoriously try hard to find any reason not to pay out. Make sure you have all the necessary receipts and documentation. For example, if you had to have emergency dental treatment, you’ll need a note from the dentist that says it was indeed an emergency along with a receipt for the treatment itself.
If the company gives you a hard time, be persistent and ask to speak to someone with more authority. It can take a while to get a claim authorised, but it’s worth it.
Also be sure to familiarise yourself with the policy documentation and the small print before making a claim. Make sure you don’t fall prey to any of the company’s loop holes.
What do we recommend?
These are the companies we recommend. With both, you can buy the insurance once you’re already travelling, which is unusual for insurance companies and particularly useful if you’re a long-term traveller.
This is a great-value and reliable insurance company who don’t require you to have a return ticket to book your insurance – this makes them ideal for long term travellers. It is only available for UK and European citizens, so for everyone else we recommend World Nomads.
World Nomads is one of the world’s most popular insurance companies for travellers and has an excellent reputation for reliability and customer service. It’s available to most nationalities.
Do let us know in the comments if you have any additional tips.
And discover more of our money-saving travel resources here.