9 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE
Travel insurance must be the only thing you ever buy that you hope never to use. Despite this, it remains a vital investment – one we feel no traveller should ever be without. But how do you make sure that in your time of need, your policy will be there for you, paying out and covering you exactly as expected? Well, you can’t. But you can be clued up, prepared in case of an emergency and well informed from the start about what’s right for your travel plans.
Having sold travel insurance for seven years while working as a travel agent in the UK and New Zealand, I have become all too familiar with policy wordings, exclusions and general insurance jargon. I can tell you now, it’s as tedious and boring as it sounds. My experience has however, taught me the key points to look out for when choosing a policy, and the essential details to know while on the road, to ensure you don’t mess up a claim or end up in a vulnerable situation. Here are 9 things you too should know about travel insurance, to ensure you comply with the finer details of your policy and don’t get screwed over if the time comes to make a claim.
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When things go wrong on your travels it can be stressful, worrisome and insurance practicalities might be the last thing on your mind. But if you want that claim to be honoured then it’s important to know exactly what you need to do, and when you need to do it.
Had your camera stolen? Been mugged? You need to get a police report within 24 hours to submit with your claim. Had an accident and need to be hospitalised? You (or someone on your behalf) must contact the emergency medical assistance team immediately and get authorisation. Caught up in a natural catastrophe and need evacuation to a safe place? You have to contact the emergency assistance team immediately. And you must do so prior to arranging any evacuation transport that you intend to claim for.
These are just a few examples of things that can go wrong. The exact requirements of your travel insurance provider will be outlined in your policy wording, so be sure to read it carefully and take heed.
Know Your Emergency Contacts
This goes hand in hand with point one, and is something you should take note of before departing for your trip.
Write down the phone number and email of the 24hr emergency medical assistance service, the number to call should you find yourself in the midst of a natural catastrophe or political unrest, and any other important contact details outlined in your policy. Stick them in your phone, keep a note of them in your wallet, and pass them onto a close relative or friend back home and your travel buddy on the road. Have them flagged in your email account too, or wherever else it’s easy to access online. My point is, you (or someone else) need to be able to access the contact details as quickly and easily as possible should you need them in an emergency.
Documents & Procedures
It’s important to know the correct procedure if something goes wrong and you need medical help. You should also be clear on what documents you might need to have in advance of your trip. If you’re travelling in Europe, for example, you will need an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) to receive medical care. In the UK you can apply for one for free here. If you’re travelling in Australia and require medical treatment, you’ll likely need to enrol with Medicare. Take the time to check your policy and see if there are any special documents you need before starting your trip. That way you’ll not be caught out if you need medical help while travelling.
The process for medical claims is different depending on the situation.
As a general rule, if you require hospitalisation, or the claim is likely to come to more than £500, you must contact the 24hr emergency medical assistance number immediately and get authorisation. They will deal directly with the hospital and arrange payment of the bills.
If your claim is less than £500 and you’re treated as an out-patient – for example you visit a local clinic for a minor illness, get some prescription medicine and the whole thing costs £150 – then you need to pay for it yourself at the time. You must keep all receipts, medical notes and any other supporting documentation. Then submit your claim via the normal claims process.
As always, check your policy wording for details or any exceptions to this. For example, our current policy states that there is a special process for out-patient treatment under £500 in a few specific European/North-African countries.
Proof, Proof, Proof
No travel insurance company is going to pay out based on your honest word alone, so you need to make sure you can provide proof for any claim you submit.
In regards to your baggage and valuables, this means you need to hold onto those receipts as proof of purchase and ownership. If they are long gone then you need to look into getting a valuation done before heading off on your trip on anything you might want to claim for in the future – think cameras, watches, jewellery, sunglasses, laptops, etc. It’s also a good idea to take a photograph of your valuables, including the serial number.
If something goes wrong while you are travelling, you need to think about how you can provide proof and evidence to support your claim.
Keep your ATM withdrawal slips, money exchange receipts, etc., for each transaction. If your cash is accidentally lost, you’ll likely need them as proof of the initial withdrawal. You’ll probably also need to provide proof of how you coped financially after the loss. For example further withdrawal slips, a bank statement showing a transfer of money to support you, a currency exchange receipt and so on.
Get written statements/confirmation/receipts from transport companies and airlines if you or your baggage are delayed, or you miss your departure and plan on submitting a claim. The more proof you can provide, the better!
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Specify Your Valuables
Be sure to inform your travel insurance provider prior to departure of the make, model, serial number and cost of your valuables. This is usually only required for items that you have chosen to pay extra to cover to a higher amount. However, it’s a good idea to check your policy wording in case you are required to provide this information even for unspecified items. The exact definition of valuables will be in your policy wording, but usually includes things like electronics, cameras, jewellery, watches, sunglasses and so on.
Know What Work &
Activities Are Covered
Your plans for a weekend trip to Prague versus a year long adventure around Asia, followed by a working holiday in Australia, will no doubt be very different. Sometimes you’ll know exactly what you are going to be getting up to, and other times your plans will be free and easy and open to all sorts of spontaneous adventures.
Many travel insurance policies will cover basic sports and activities. However, anything considered higher risk is unlikely to be covered as standard. Be sure to look through the list of activities, sports and work, to see what is and isn’t covered. Consider whether there’s something you would potentially do and get the right level of cover for your trip.
Going to trek the Inca Trail in Peru, hike Mt Kinabalu in Borneo or tackle Everest Base Camp in Nepal? Make sure you’re covered for trekking up to the appropriate height. There are often specified cut-offs like 3,000m, 4,500m and 6,000m, each with a different ‘risk’ level. Fancy a bit of snowboarding in Canada, paragliding in Turkey and zorbing in New Zealand? Yep, those are all likely to fall under a higher level of cover than what’s often included as standard. Heading to Southeast Asia? I bet you’ll end up on a motorbike at some point, either driving or as a passenger on a moto-taxi. The last thing you want is to injure yourself doing an activity, go to make a medical claim, and be denied because you weren’t covered for it in the first place.
Check you’re covered for trekking to the highest point on your route
The same goes for working abroad. Many people mix travel with working holidays in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada, etc. Depending on the work you do, you may or may not be covered. Plan on picking up admin work or bar work? Chances are you will be covered. Volunteering in Africa with big cats and other wild animals? Perhaps not. Off to Australia and plan to pick up work on a building site, or work the ski season in New Zealand? Highly unlikely to be covered as standard, if at all.
Don’t make assumptions when it comes to working abroad, or any activity more adventurous than walking. Check the details in the policy wording, organise the appropriate level of cover, and you won’t be caught out.
Fancy a spot of paragliding? Make sure you’re covered!
Make Sure Your Destination Is Covered
This might seem obvious, but on a longer trip where plans aren’t fixed and you’ve got a year of adventure ahead of you, who knows where you might end up?! If plans change it’s important to know exactly which countries your policy covers (and where it doesn’t!). Also, if there’s an FCO advisory (or equivalent for your home country) against travel to a particular region or country, it’s highly unlikely your policy will cover you. So do your homework and make sure it’s safe to travel.
At the time of our trip to Iran our travel insurance covered us, but this is one example of a country that may not be covered by your policy due to an FCO (or equivalent) travel advisory. Always double check!
How Do You Know What Countries You’re Covered For?
Travel insurance policies are often priced according to geographical regions. You are only covered for travel within that region, and will not be covered if you travel to a country or area out-with that region. Generally speaking, the more expensive medical care is in a particular region, the higher the policy premium will be. So an insurance policy including North America is likely to cost a lot more than one only covering Europe.
Geographical regions are not standard across all travel insurance policies. This means, it’s down to you to do your research and determine exactly where you’re covered to travel on your particular policy.
Some companies, like True Traveller, make it obvious from the get go, with four clearly defined ‘Areas of Cover’ to choose from. Others aren’t quite so easy to figure out. Take World Nomads for example. When you do a quote search on their website, you have to fill in every country you will be travelling to. If you’re planning a big trip, this can be frustrating and time consuming. Plus, what if you end up travelling to a country that you didn’t initially list on your search? Will you be covered for that destination too?
Looking for answers when researching our own travel insurance, I checked their UK resident policy wording and found the geographical regions listed. Bingo. Everywhere was broken down to either Worldwide including or excluding The USA, Canada, The Caribbean and Eastern Asia.
*regions may differ for residents of other countries – check your own policy wording!
So, what does this mean?
Essentially it means that if you’ve initially noted Thailand, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand on your policy, but decide on your way home that you’re going to add in a few days in Hong Kong – whoops! Not covered! Because Hong Kong falls under Eastern Asia, but your current policy excludes Eastern Asia. But if you wanted to tag on India, stop off in Dubai for a few days, or check out Kuala Lumpur, no problem. Same geographical region.
Of course, the good news is that if you ever found yourself in this situation, you can just contact World Nomads and add Hong Kong onto your policy. You would simply pay the extra to include it. Easy.
My point is, you need to be aware of this in the first place.
Never assume that you’ll be covered just because both countries are in Asia. Or because your friend told you it didn’t cost them any extra to add Cuba onto their Central America travel plans last minute. Always check your policy details and know exactly which countries you are and aren’t covered for. If in any doubt, contact your travel insurance provider to get confirmation.
Know The Conditions
Every travel insurance policy out there is going to have exclusions. Those extra bits of policy wording that say something along the lines of ‘We’ll cover you for X, Y and Z, BUT…..’.
Read those ‘Conditions’, ‘Exclusions’, and ‘Not Covered’ sections. It’s better to know before you get on that motorbike that you must be wearing a helmet, rather than after you have an accident and have your medical claim denied because you weren’t wearing one.
Motorbiking in Vietnam? Wear a helmet!
Know The Policy Excess
Excess, deductibles – whatever you want to call it – this is the amount of money that you won’t get back, even if your claim is paid out in full.
When choosing your travel insurance policy pay attention to the excess applied to each section of cover. A policy that looks nice and cheap may well have high deductibles. This means the amount of money you get back in the event of a claim is much less than the total amount listed in your summary of cover.
Conversely, a policy that costs more up front may have a low excess applied to it. So in the event of a claim you would receive more money back. This may mean better value for money in the long run.
Here’s an example scenario:
6 Month Policy Cost = £200
Single Item Limit = £250 / Excess £150
Your camera is stolen and you claim full single item limit (£250)
Your claim is approved and you receive £100
(£250 – £150 excess)
6 Month Policy Cost = £250
Single Item Limit = £250 / Excess £50
Your camera is stolen and you claim full single item limit (£250)
Your claim is approved and you receive £200
(£250 – £50 excess)
At the end of the day you are £50 better off with Policy 2.
You need to make a further claim for medical expenses after taking ill, visiting a doctor and receiving treatment and prescription medicine.
The claim is for £180.
Pays out £30 (£180 – £150 excess)
Pays out £130 (£180 – £50 excess)
You are now a total of £150 better off with Policy 2.
We all hope to never have to make any claims on our travels, but things can and do go wrong all the time. It’s worth looking at the bigger picture when considering which policy to opt for in the first place. With many travel insurance providers it’s also possible to reduce your excess to zero by paying an extra fee up front, which is an option worth considering.
Also, check for any special conditions concerning excess in your policy wording. For example, I’ve come across a few policies that apply a much higher excess specifically for emergency medical repatriation by air ambulance or helicopter in Nepal (and some policies that just won’t cover it full stop). As we have trekked in Nepal before, and will be doing so again, this is something we take note of and factor into our decision making process when choosing a policy.
Trekking in Nepal or somewhere else remote? Check if your policy covers emergency medical repatriation by air, and any special conditions or excess related to it
Travel insurance policies often have different levels of excess, or indeed none at all, applied to different sections of the policy cover. Be sure to factor this in when considering which policy to go for, and weigh up the overall value for money.
Know When & How
To Extend Your Policy
Your 6 month jaunt around South America is nearly up, but you’re just not ready to return home yet. I understand. Time flies when you’re having fun and all that. In between changing flights and the excitement of a continued adventure, it can be easy to forget about that travel insurance policy you purchased months ago and (fortunately) haven’t had to use yet.
But extending your period of cover is equally as important as amending that return flight date, and just about every travel insurance provider out there will require you to do this prior to the current expiry date. One day after and you’ll likely be met with a resounding, ‘No can do’.
SO, make sure you contact your policy provider well before the last day of your cover. A good insurer will make it easy to extend cover via email or over the phone by paying an additional amount. One thing to note here – any pre-existing medical conditions that may have arisen since the initial purchase of your policy, will likely now be taken into consideration for your extension (and the majority of travel insurance providers will not cover pre-existing medical conditions, or will charge a premium to cover them).
What If You Forgot To Extend In Time or Are Already Travelling Without Insurance?
There are very few travel insurance providers out there who are legally allowed to sell insurance to someone after their departure from their country of residence. But two companies that can are World Nomads and True Traveller. Being able to organise our travel insurance with each of these companies while we were living in South Korea saved us a massive headache. We used World Nomads for numerous short trips around Asia, and opted for True Traveller when we finally left Korea to travel for 6 months on the way back to the UK.
Long Term Travellers & Digital Nomads
Being able to buy a policy after you’ve left home is also very useful for those travelling long term. Most travel insurance providers will only cover up to a maximum of 18 months. This means, if you’re away on a 2 year trip then you can’t extend your policy, even if you do follow all the rules and get in touch before your cover expires.
So, what you can do is buy a brand new policy with World Nomads or True Traveller to cover you for those extra 6 months. It’s also good to know that if your original 18 month travel insurance policy was with World Nomads or True Traveller, both companies will allow you to keep extending your policy up to 12 months at a time*.
*As per UK resident policy wordings checked at time of writing
SO, WHAT TRAVEL INSURANCE DO WE USE?
In the past, I always arranged our cover through the travel agency I worked for. After all, I got some healthy staff discounts! But now that those days are over and we’re left paying the same as every other traveller, our go-to travel insurance providers are either True Traveller or World Nomads. We always get a quote from both to determine the best option for each specific trip.
When we lived in South Korea, we didn’t need a travel insurance policy (we were covered through our work). But we did need travel insurance for any travel we did outside of Korea. We were so thankful that we could arrange cover easily through World Nomads for our short scuba diving and backpacking trips to Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan.
When it came time to leave Korea and organise cover for our 6 month trip back to the UK, we were left pretty shocked by the cost. We needed cover for adventure activities like trekking above 5000 metres in Nepal, and this bumped the cost of our World Nomads quote up to nearly double. We started to look elsewhere and were so relieved to find True Traveller. Their quote was far more affordable. Having never heard of them, I was sure to do my research. I combed through their policy wording and their FAQs, finding them clear, concise, and refreshingly down to earth. Our confidence in True Traveller has been backed up by a recent curtailment claim due to the death of a family member that was settled within just 10 days.
If you’re from elsewhere in the world, get a quote from World Nomads. They can provide cover to residents of 140 countries, whether you buy at home or when you’re already on the road. There’s a reason these guys are one of the best known travel insurance providers out there!
9 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE
We hope you’ve found this post useful, and more importantly that it will help you if things take an unfortunate turn for the worse on your next trip.
*Note that although I previously sold travel insurance, the content of this post is provided for general educational purposes only and does not provide professional advice, services, opinions or treatment to you or any individual. Going the Whole Hogg cannot be held responsible or liable for any purchasing decisions you make after reading this post. As pointed out numerous times, it is important to read your full policy wording and choose a travel insurance policy that suits your particular travel needs.
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