Updated April 14, 2022
Published November 5, 2019
Travel insurance can be tricky to get your head around, but understanding your policy is the best way to avoid a holiday headache. So, we've tackled the most common travel insurance questions – from what to do if you have a pre-existing medical condition to the conditions of cover for helicopter rides – to make choosing a policy simple for you.
Note: This information is for general use only. Always check with your provider for the full details of its policies.
Many insurers now offer some level of Covid-19 cover, but it can vary quite a lot between providers. Check the terms of your chosen policy (or talk to your provider directly), but you may be covered if:
Most policies will cover you for emergency medical expenses, including repatriation (getting you home), and additional expenses (for example, a quarantine hotel stay) if you fall ill with Covid-19. Check the policy terms and conditions.
In the event your holiday company cancels your holiday due to Covid-19 (say, the FCDO suddenly advises against ‘all but essential travel’), your first port of call should be the company itself. You’ll generally be offered a chance to change your date or destination, a voucher for the value of your holiday or a full refund.
Yes, you should always declare any pre-existing conditions to your insurer even if you haven’t suffered from a condition for a number of years. This is because if you don’t declare, you run the risk of a claim being rejected if anything regarding your claim can be linked to your medical history.
The term ‘pre-existing medical condition’ generally refers to any condition where medical advice, diagnosis, care or treatment was recommended or received. You should always speak to the insurer you are considering to see if they will need to include your condition in the policy.
If you are pregnant and travel after certain stages of your pregnancy, exclusions may apply – you should check the documentation of your policy very closely before you travel and speak to insurers directly if you are unsure.
Unlike in the UK, where the NHS generally takes care of you for free, medical care abroad can be incredibly expensive. Without adequate cover, you may end up paying a fortune for care.
It may be cheaper to take out a separate policy for yourself. However, if you were to fall ill and could not fly back at the end of the trip, your other family members would not be eligible for any payout towards the cost of staying on, as they would be on a separate policy – if you are all on the same policy, you should all be covered.
Similarly, if you were forced to cancel your trip because of illness but you had separate policies, your family would not be able to claim on their insurance. You would be able to claim on your own insurance provided the policy covers this, but only for yourself.
A basic travel insurance can cover a range of situations such as emergency medical treatment, delays and cancellations and lost or damaged luggage. You may want to consider a policy that includes similar financial cover to what is listed here.
Most polices will cover you for excursions – travelling to another country for a short period of time as part of your holiday – but you should always check with the insurer first.
If you are planning a multi-centre holiday, you would usually take out a single-trip policy for the country that is furthest away geographically while confirming with the insurer that all other countries are insured as well. Alternatively, you can take out an annual policy which covers all the countries you’ll be visiting.
Standard travel insurance policies may not cover you for activities which are deemed to be dangerous, such as helicopter rides, mountain climbing, scuba diving and sky diving, so adrenalin junkies should talk to their insurer about what they plan to do, or look into specialist cover.
Alpine sports are not likely to be covered either. For ski holidays, you may need a comprehensive winter sports policy that will cover you in the event of an accident on the slopes.
There may be exclusions in your policy regarding natural disasters or terrorism, so you should always check the details of your cover in your policy documentation.
Bear in mind that an insurer may refuse to offer cover for countries where the Foreign Office had advised against all but essential travel. You can find a list of those countries here.
Travel insurers usually insert a clause into their small print that will rule out a claim that involves drink or drugs. However, this is often judged in a case-by-case manner. Before the claim is rejected, the insurer will look at the level of alcohol in the claimant’s blood at the time to see whether or not it was reasonable. It may also depend on the nature of the claim.
Travel insurance policies that cover your money being stolen will not generally pay out while you are abroad – you would need to make a claim with the relevant evidence as detailed by your policy and then any compensation will usually be sent to your home address, most likely via cheque.
We always recommend splitting your holiday money across different methods – for example, credit card, prepaid currency card and cash – in the event that your cash or cards are lost or stolen.
The type of cover your child needs depends on how they are travelling. If they will be travelling with you, you might want to consider taking out a family travel insurance policy that covers everyone.
If they are travelling alone (for example, as part of a school trip), you will need to take out an individual policy for them.
Some family polices may allow you to add children for free, while others may cover your child while they travel alone – the latter is quite rare, however, so do make sure you check the policy’s details with the insurer.
Payment is arranged depending on the condition you are being treated for. Payment for all major conditions is picked up by the insurer at the time; however, they will need to be informed as soon as you are admitted to hospital.
Minor treatments, such as a doctor’s appointment or a prescription for medication, are usually paid for directly by you. Upon your return you can make a claim to your insurer for reimbursement.
As always, check your insurer’s protocol for such incidents before you travel. We also recommend travelling with a credit card so that you have financial cover in the event of an emergency.
Your GHIC entitles you to reciprocal healthcare in countries within the EU that take part in the scheme. However, it is important to understand that this is not the same as travel insurance. For example, if you needed to be repatriated (flown home) or a member of your family had to stay by your bedside during your time in hospital, your GHIC would not cover these costs, whereas a travel insurance policy would.
You should take out a comprehensive travel insurance policy before you travel; additionally, make sure that your GHIC is still in-date. You can apply for a new GHIC on the NHS website.
Unless your credit card has a specific travel insurance policy included with it, you will not be covered. If you do have insurance via your credit card, check the policy carefully to ensure it does actually cover you adequately.
In the event that the company you booked with goes out of business you may have some protection via Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. However, this will not offer you medical cover, cancellation cover for medical reasons or any of the other things a travel insurance policy would offer you.
It's a good idea to take out travel insurance as soon as you've booked a holiday. Most insurers will cover some or all the costs if you have to cancel for myriad reasons, including bereavement, illness or injury.
If you've left it to the last minute, a majority of providers still allow you to purchase travel insurance right up until you leave home on the day of travel. Some will even allow you to purchase it online at the airport or on the plane before it takes off.
If you've taken out cover that doesn't quite meet your requirements, it is possible to cancel your travel insurance. Generally, there is a 14-day cooling-off period for single trip cover, where you will be able receive a full refund if you have not made a claim or travelled.
Lots of insurers offer automatic renewal of annual multi-trip cover for peace of mind. You are able to cancel this at any time but will likely only receive a refund if you cancel up to 14 days after the start date provided if you have not made a claim or travelled. Always check the full details of a refund policy with your provider.
You can usually extend your travel insurance if you're not quite ready to head home from your holiday. If you would like to extend your current cover with the same provider, you must do this before the existing one expires. You can commit to the same terms and conditions (regarding, for example, geographic restrictions or 'dangerous' activities) as your existing policy, but if circumstances have changed, you must inform the provider.
If your existing cover has already expired, you can usually purchase a new one, but there may be a period of time before you can make a claim on the new one. This is to prevent travellers backdating policies to cover an incident that has already occurred. You will need to pay the premium in order to do this, so be sure you have a way to pay.
The major travel insurance providers will not cover travellers already abroad in order to prevent fraudulent claims. However, there are a few specialist providers who can step in if you've forgotten to purchase cover. These policies usually start a few days after the day of purchase and will cover you from that point on.