This article refers to policies issued sold to UK residents; however many of the identified pitfalls are also applicable to travel insurance products worldwide.For residents of the US & Canada: Squaremouth came top in review of Travel Insurance comparison sites for US and Canadian citizens – see why.
I don’t insure my phone, I don’t insure my appliances – I always take out travel insurance.
Some countries e.g. Cuba will not let you in without approved travel health insurance
Medical costs can be astronomical; the ABI (Aug 2017) highlights an insurance payout of £760,000 for treatment of a stroke in the US and return home. An “air ambulance” might cost you £25,000 from Spain or £60,000 from the US. You may get away with paying for 3 first class airline seats to bring your broken leg home.
If you are visiting the EU or other participating countries then take a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with you – your insurance may only pay costs not covered by the EHIC. It is not a substitute for travel insurance; it might not cover the treatment you need, you may have to pay and reclaim, or you may have to contribute towards the cost of treatment. The EHIC will NOT cover the cost of getting you home after treatment.
Check the policy small print before you buy, otherwise you could find yourself un-insured. I am not licensed and cannot give advice; but I’ve identified policy stipulations and exclusions that I thought made many policies unsuitable for my needs, some may be relevant to you.
The policy may exclude certain activities. So you may not be covered for that half day family pony trek; and even if the local excursion operator provides insurance its unlikely to include repatriating you to the UK and this can cost tens of thousands of pounds.
Even “standard” backpacker policies can have surprising exclusions, such as hiking above 2000m. You could find yourself unwittingly without insurance e.g. the Grand Canyon tourist centre (4 million visitors p.a) is above this height; and if you take one of the popular walks like the Bright Angel trail, I guess you could be technically un-insured.
- You may be insured for an activity but not in all circumstances. Are you insured by your “Winter Sports” policy if you ski “off piste” with/without an instructor?
- You may not be covered if you take part in an activity not specifically mentioned in your policy.
- The insurance may only include, or exclude, certain countries. You will need a specialist policy to cover travel to a country or region against the latest Foreign Office advice (check via the drop down menu at top of this page).
- Annual multi trip policies vary in period of cover offered. Typically you can travel as many times as you want as long as each holiday does not exceed 31 days, you can pay more to increase maximum stay lengths to 45 or 90 days. However, I’ve seen policies that have a maximum trip length of 10 days (so your fortnight summer holiday wouldn’t be covered) or limit the total number of days you can be abroad over the year.
- Your backpacker policy might deem return to the UK to be the end of your trip and insurance. If your plans involve one or more returns to the UK check that the policy allows this.
- The policy may exclude you from some or all types of work – so you may be uninsured whilst building a school as a volunteer, or funding your travels by teaching in the local language school.
- Does it cover you for your cruise – you often have to pay extra for cruise cover. One in 5 passengers visit the on-board doctor. If the cruise ship has to be diverted, or you have to be helicoptered out to a hospital then you’ll be remortgaging your house.
- Nearly all insurers have exclusions for drink or drug-related incidents; or if you have not had appropriate vaccinations or medication for the area you are visiting e.g. you may have to pay for your own treatment for malaria if you haven’t bothered to take anti-malarials.
- About 40% of travel policies do not cover you for incidents of terrorism.
- Check the policy to see how you are covered, and in what circumstances you can claim for events like cancellations, delay, travel company bankruptcy, possessions. If you’re backpacking with few valuables you can sometimes save money by excluding possessions from your policy.
Bottom line: Examine the policy carefully!!! Make sure it meets your needs.
Where to get your insurance:
Single and Multi-trip
Our review of travel insurance comparison sites (6 July 2012) found they can save you time and money.
Many of the big brand comparison sites display exactly the same results; because they don’t have their own travel insurance search, but use the same company to provide it for them.
Best in the review:
- USwitch (or others that use the same search): i) if you want annual multi-trip or backpacker insurance that covers you outside Europe; or
ii) if your trip involves a cruise.
- MoneySupermarket.Com: which searches the most insurance providers.
Note: these sites do not offer advice. The cheapest may not be suitable; it is up to you to read the policy and ensure it meets your needs.
Gap-year, Backpacker, Extended Stay travel insurance
Check the policy before you buy; see the section on pitfalls above. Ensure it covers any work or activities you may do on your travels.
1. The sites above will enable you to compare backpacker/extended stay policies from many insurers. Note: the prices shown will be for the “standard” policies, you may need to add on cover which will increase the premium.
2. WorldNomads is known internationally for backpacker insurance, and sold/advertised by both Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. (diclosure: and Travelchimps!)
- When I checked you could take out a policy for up to 18 months, or extend your policy whilst abroad;
- you can claim online whilst on your travels
- good options available for those wishing to undertake a variety of work during their travels
- various options for those wanting to do some adventurous activities
- very high age bar (insurance available to those under age 60)
3. STAtravel On our last check they offered policies from one week to 24 months.
Some backpacker/world travel policies have an upper age limit of low thirties and many are not available to the over 40s or 50s.
WorldNomads offers policies to under 60’s;
World First (below) should also be able to find policies for older career break travellers.
Medical Conditions and Older Travellers
Single and multi-trip holiday insurance can be expensive and difficult to obtain after age 60 or if you have a medical condition. You can try:
World First Specialist, offering travel insurance up to age 100, those with medical conditions, and not so young gap year travellers,
Saga Single and multi trip for the over 50s.
Free Spirit No upper age. Single and multi-trip policies for those with medical conditions.
Age UK The charity formed by the merger of Age Concern and Help the Aged.
Columbus Direct Single Trip (
no upper age 85); Annual (up to age 74).
Author: Andy W+