A Complete Travel Insurance Guide

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To many backpackers, travel insurance is something that something that’s nice to have, but not necessary. Everyone always thinks that nothing will ever happen to them… until it does. According to one travel survey, as many as 40 percent of student travelers don’t buy travel insurance.

Not buying travel insurance in an attempt to save money is a false economy (i.e. ‘an action which saves money at the beginning but which, over a longer period of time, results in more money being wasted than being saved.’ – Wikipedia) and the knowledge that you aren’t insured will eat away at you in the back of your mind and will cause you to feel inhibited and unable to relax during your trip.

The main problem with suffering an injury abroad (and not having travel insurance) is that the cost of getting you back home can be unbelievably huge. It’s not uncommon to see stories in the news where people have had to be airlifted home to the sum total of $40,000+.

In addition to this, make sure the company you’re buying from has a 24 hour contact telephone number that you can call. If you’re half way round the world, it’s important that you’re not restricted by the usual 9-5 calling hours.

Why The Cheap One Might Not Be the Right One
travel insuranceMost people’s first instinct when buying a travel insurance policy is to choose which ever one’s the cheapest.

Avoid this immediate temptation, and make sure that the policy you get is right for you (and that it covers the things you’ll be doing on your trip – such as hang gliding or sky diving).

Often you’ll have to read the small print to find out what a policy covers and what it doesn’t, which is both boring and necessary.

When Should You Take Out Your Travel Insurance Policy?
Ideally, you should look to buy an insurance policy as soon as you’ve booked your ticket for your trip.

What to Do If You Decide to Prolong Your Trip
If you decide to prolong your trip and stay longer, it’s important that you get your insurance policy extended (or take out a new one altogether). If you have a feeling that you might prolong your trip (before you’ve bought your policy) or if you aren’t sure exactly how long you’ll be gone for, you should look to buy a policy that will allow you to extend your period of cover while you’re away (as some policies don’t allow such changes).

What to Look for in a Travel Insurance Policy

There are several items that you should look for in a travel insurance policy. Obviously these may change slightly (depending on the nature of the trip), but I’ve outlined the main ones you should check for.

Unexpected Losses
Ideally, you should look for a policy that will cover you for unexpected losses, such as missing a flight or having your wallet/passport stolen.

If you’re buying your policy in advance, the first clause you’ll want to look for is the cancellation clause, as it protects you in case you need to change your plans due to the following reasons:

  • You can’t leave as you’ve had a home emergency (fire, flood, etc.)
  • You’ve had a family emergency (someone has fallen ill)
  • You’ve been called up for jury duty
  • You can’t afford your trip due to being made redundant

Personal Liability
Another important one. This clause covers you in case someone else makes a claim AGAINST you. They might make a claim against you if you injure them or their property. Ideally look for cover of around $3million, but anything above $2million dollars is fine.

Personal Accident
This covers you in the case of picking up permanent injuries, and it ensures that your next of kin will be paid if you were to die on your trip.

Medical Expenses
travel insuranceThis covers you for any emergency medical treatment that you might need, and can include things like hotel room bills and travel expenses that you incurred due to injury or illness. Look for policies that cover at least $1 million.

This clause should also cover you for ‘repatriation’, which basically means you’re covered if they need to airlift you back to your own country.

Other medical expenses that may be covered are emergency dental work and glasses/contact lens coverage.

This is one aspect of the policy where insurers will try and get out of paying if they can, so it’s important to let your insurance company know beforehand if you have any kind of medical condition (possibly a recurring condition) that could affect your trip, as not doing so can INVALIDATE your policy. If you have the time, visit your doctor before you leave and get them to write you a note verifying your fitness and health.

Many policies have optional extras that can be added onto their insurance policies, and sporting activities is one of them. Obviously these activities can’t always be planned out in advance (as it’s good to be spontaneous), but think about what you MIGHT be doing before you leave and plan accordingly. Such activities include bungee jumping, sky diving, white water raft, hang gliding and scuba diving.

Foreign Work
If you’re planning to do some work abroad (whether it’s voluntary or paid work), you should make sure that you’re covered for injuries sustained while doing such work.

Luggage and Personal Belongings
baggageAs a standard, most policies will cover you for $250-$300 for ‘emergency purchases’ in case you lose your bags. If you’re in Dublin but your bags are in Doha, you’re going to need to spend some money, so this part of the policy is very important (as it’s perhaps the most likely part to be used).

Most policies will cover you for expensive personal belongings (like digital cameras), but only up to a limit. In addition to this, they’ll also factor in wear and tear, so you’re unlikely to get back the whole value of the item you’ve lost.

Lastly, make sure that your passport if classified as being a personal belonging, as you may have to pay to cover the loss of it otherwise.

Pre-existing Medical Conditions
Do you suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease or some other kind of pre-existing medical condition? Do you suffer from a chronic condition, such as asthma or diabetes? If so, you may need to inform your insurer of this to ensure you’re properly covered.

Most basic travel insurance policies don’t provide cover in the event that a pre-existing medical condition causes you problems (meaning you’ll have to foot the cost of any medical bills), but you can cover yourself fully by getting a specialised/upgraded policy.

The Excess
Travel insurance policies (just like car insurance) often carry a ‘minimum excess’ amount as part of their terms. This is usually around £100, and means that you’ll have to pay the first $100 (or whatever your excess is) of your claim. To confuse things even further, the excess level is often different depending on the kind of claim you’re making. If you’re unsure as to how this applies to you, get your insurance provider to explain it to you, and get them to recommend a policy that’s right for you.

The bottom line is, make sure you know exactly what your policy covers before you leave for your trip. If necessary, print out a copy so that you have all of the information on hand.

How to Get the Best Deal

Insurance is often described as being a ‘buyer’s market’, meaning it’s very competitive. There are so many different places you can get travel insurance from now (such as specialist insurance companies, banks, supermarkets and more) that it’s worth having a good look around to find the deal that’s right for you.

Because every person is different, every policy will be different, and therefore I can’t recommend any one single company that will be best for everyone. It does seem, however, that different companies seem to favor certain demographics, so it is often a case of finding the company that matches you.

The Advantage of Paying or Your Trip by Credit Card
When booking a trip, it’s a good idea to use a credit card to pay for it. In the event that the travel agent/holiday company you booked is no-longer in service (i.e. they’ve gone bust) most credit card companies will reimburse you for some amount of your trip. This differs greatly from company to company, so it’s worth investigating when applying for a credit card.

Where to Buy Your Travel Insurance

It’s always good to get a range of quotes whenever buying an insurance policy (of any kind). There are many different travel insurance search engines out there, but my personal favorite at the moment is MoneySupermarket.com, as it’s easy to use and seems to come up with pretty cheap policies.

Insuring Your Insurance

ALWAYS, always, always leave a photocopy of your insurance policy at home (with your parents or a trusted person) when you go away, and take one copy yourself. You should also make such copies of your passport, your flight details and any other important information that you may have.

Making a Claim

In the event that you are robbed, it’s crucial that you go to the local police station and report it within 24 hours. The reason for this is that insurance companies will often want to see an official police incident report.

In addition to this, always keep the receipts of any items that you might need to claim for once you get back. Insurance companies will try to get out of paying whatever they can, so be as thorough as possible.

If you’re waiting till you get home before you make the claim (which is a good idea), don’t leave it too long, as many claims become invalid if you haven’t reported them to your insurance company within a month of returning home.

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