Travel insurance buying guide
Whether you’re travelling around the world or across the country, travel insurance is designed to ensure that you and your holiday are protected against a variety of unfortunate and costly circumstances.
In this complete guide, we simplify any technical jargon and make sure that you know everything there is to know about travel insurance and, most importantly, your policy.
What is travel insurance?
Travel insurance is a type of protection taken out by holidaymakers all over the globe which offers extra financial cover when booking a holiday. It is typically taken out to protect against any accidents and/or injuries whilst abroad, but it also covers other unforeseen circumstances such as cancellation due to illness, lost or damaged luggage, cancelled flights and much more.
Do I need travel insurance?
Many of us don’t consider travel insurance as an essential holiday must.
Passport – check, money – check, but why not travel insurance?
In the event of you falling ill or finding yourself involved in an accident, travel insurance could protect you and cover any losses and expenses incurred whilst away on holiday. What many people don’t realise is that, if you were unfortunate on your trip and you had to be hospitalised, needed to reschedule flights or required emergency care, the associated costs could very quickly run into the thousands.
Without travel insurance, these costs would be on you and, more often than not, required to be paid upfront.
Of course, travel insurance is not a legal requirement – you may be pushed to take out a policy when you buy your holiday, but you have absolutely no obligation to do so. Taking a trip without insurance is a monumental risk though, and for the often very small price you’ll have to pay, it isn’t a risk worth taking.
What does travel insurance cover?
As we’ll go onto explain later in this guide, there is a range of different travel insurance policies available for all types of holidays and holidaymakers.
As a rule of thumb, a generic travel insurance policy will cover you for:
- Cancellation – if you cancel your trip due to a reason stated in your policy (eg. diagnosis of a serious illness, the death of a loved one or severe weather conditions preventing your travel), your travel insurance will reimburse you for all of your prepaid/non-refundable expenses (up to the pre-agreed amount as stated on your policy).
- Trip interruption – similar to cancellation, but this cover begins on the same day as your trip and runs all the way through until the day you get home, reimbursing any unused expenses and repaying a percentage of your initial outlay if you are required to return home early for a reason stated within your policy.
- Medical treatment – if you become ill or injured whilst away, your travel insurance policy can help to cover the costs of treatment, hospital fees, the use of an ambulance and more.
- Emergency medical expenses – as well as covering the costs of treatment, your travel insurance can pay for a loved one to stay by your side while you recover in hospital, cover the costs of getting you back home and even pay the fees attached to having a medical professional by your side on your return flight if necessary.
- Legal costs – if you’re involved in an incident that wasn’t your fault, you may require legal advice and/or representation. This can be costly, but the bill will usually be footed by your travel insurance provider.
- Possessions – from losing your wallet full of cash to having your handbag stolen, a simple claim on your travel insurance can help to reimburse some, most or even all of the money lost.
Remember to always read the terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy before paying for it. Cover can differ between providers and some will have certain exclusions, restrictions and claim limits which could impact your ability to make a claim for compensation.
What does travel insurance NOT cover?
While pretty comprehensive, there are a few things which are unlikely to be covered by your travel insurance policy. These include:
- Failure to report lost/stolen items – if something of yours is stolen or misplaced, it needs to be reported to local authorities as soon as possible. If not reported within 24 hours of realising the item is missing, your claim may not be valid.
- Unattended belongings – if your stolen possessions were left unattended without adequate protection, your insurer may not pay out compensation.
- Changed minds – you cannot claim on your travel insurance if you’ve changed your mind about going away, or come home early as you aren’t enjoying.
- Not declaring pre-existing medical conditions – your claim might be turned down if it becomes clear that you have failed to declare a pre-existing medical condition. Even if your claim is unrelated to the condition, your insurer might reject a claim if they catch you out.
- Alcohol/drug-related incidents – the majority of policies will not pay if you are involved in an accident whilst under the influence. In some cases, even one drink can invalidate a claim.
- Dangerous activities – unless stated in your specific policy (see winter sports travel insurance below), injuries sustained whilst enjoying activities which involve an increased level of risk are unlikely to be covered by your insurance.
Worldwide travel insurance vs European travel insurance
One of the first questions you’ll be asked when taking out a travel insurance policy is whether you require worldwide cover or European cover. This is important and, if you choose the wrong one, any claim you make will almost certainly be invalid.
Worldwide travel insurance typically covers all locations outside of the EU (European Union), while travel insurance for Europe covers visits to all member states of the EU, as well as some other non-EU states such as:
- Cape Verde
- Gran Canaria
- San Marino
If you are unsure whether you require European or worldwide travel insurance, you should always check with your insurer beforehand – as discussed previously, cover limits can vary.
Note: Some providers also offer worldwide cover which excludes The USA, Canada and the Caribbean – this is usually cheaper as it does not cover these more regularly visited destinations.
What are the different types of travel insurance?
While most travel insurance policies will provide cover for the factors mentioned above, not all are the same. All holidays (and holidaymakers) are different and, as a result, there are several tailored travel insurance providers and policies to choose from.
The various types of travel insurance available include:
Single-trip travel insurance
Single-trip travel insurance policies are the most commonly sold and provide cover for a single holiday or trip to one destination for a set period of time (usually between 1 and 92 days). Some examples of needing a single-tip travel insurance policy include:
- Your annual family summer holiday
- A weekend city break
It will usually be the cheapest option as it is the most basic, but more often than not, provides all the cover that you need. Remember to check things like restrictions and claim limits first, before opting for the cheapest policy.
Annual or Multi-trip travel insurance
Annual travel insurance, otherwise known as multi-trip travel insurance, provides cover for a 12-month period. If you are a frequent traveller or know that you have a busy year of travelling ahead, you may consider this type of policy to be the most cost-effective for you. Many policies have a maximum length of stay per trip. This can vary between providers, but it is usually between 30 and 45 days.
Annual travel insurance policies are more expensive than single-trip policies and, in some cases, don’t provide value for money even if you are travelling more than once. For example, if you are only travelling twice in a year, taking 2 short, low-risk trips, it might work out cheaper to take out 2 separate single-trip policies, so be sure to shop around first.
Backpackers travel insurance
Whether you’re actually going to have a backpack with you or not, backpackers travel insurance is your best option if you plan on hopping from country-to-country on a trip around the world. If you think you are going to be doing the common adventure-seeking activities whilst travelling the globe, you’ll need to make sure you are covered for such thrill-seeking events.
Backpacking policies can cover trips of up to 18 months in length and include cover for over a huge array of sports and activities including skydiving, bungee jumping and abseiling. If you think you will be doing anything more extreme (perhaps shark cage diving or canyoning), you may want to actually talk to an advisor to see if they can provide you with specialist cover.
Cruise travel insurance
Whether taking a cruise on the open ocean or a river, there is specialist travel insurance for cruises available which also includes extras for things like missed port departures, itinerary changes, unused excursions, and more. Most providers also offer cruise travel insurance for pre-existing medical conditions, while some policies even have no upper age limit.
Over 65s travel insurance
We are firm believers that your age should not restrict your ability to travel. Most providers make travel insurance available to as many people as possible, offering specialist cover for those aged over 65. There are no upper limit restrictions and many offer fully comprehensive travel insurance.
Winter sports travel insurance
Getting travel insurance for winter holidays can be costly. You might be spared the expense if you’re making a trip to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, but when you start including winter sports to your trip, your premiums can soon begin to rise.
Most reputable travel insurers offer a winter sports policy, designed specifically with thrill-seekers (and chill-seekers) in mind. Cover for a range of winter activities is included in most winter sports travel cover, including; Bobsleighing, cat skiing, freestyle skiing, glacier trekking, ice climbing, ice hockey, skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling and tobogganing. If unsure, take a look at a policy handbook or ask your insurer to find out if your planned activities are covered.
Business travel insurance
When travelling for business purposes, your employer may have already sorted your travel insurance – if not (or if you’re self-employed), you’ll want to purchase your own. Business cover is available as an add-on to most standard policies and can provide cover for things like:
- Company money – on the off-chance that any of your company’s money is lost or stolen
- Business equipment – to cover any equipment relevant to your work (including laptops, smartphones and tablets).
- Alternative travel – if a meeting over-runs or is rescheduled, you can claim for any alternative travel paid for out of your own pocket.
- Courier insurance – just in case any important documents are lost, stolen or damaged.
Travel insurance when pregnant
If you’re looking for a relaxing week away to prepare for the chaos that comes with having a baby, our first piece of advice would be to speak with a doctor to see if they believe it is safe for you to do so. Only then should you consider booking a holiday (and taking out travel insurance, of course).
Travel insurance for pregnant women is similar to any other policy and expecting a baby will not impact your ability to claim for medical purposes – however, if you go into labour on or around your due date, your insurer will not pay for any associated costs. This is because you are held responsible for travelling, despite there being a chance of you going into labour.
If you go into what is deemed premature labour, your insurer should not have a problem in paying out as this could not have been anticipated before travelling.
Travel insurance with pre-existing medical conditions
If you have a pre-existing medical condition it may be more difficult or expensive to arrange cover, but in many cases, it should still be possible to find a suitable policy.
When you compare insurance providers, it’s important to be clear and honest about any illnesses – it may be difficult to tell strangers about any sensitive conditions, but this will ensure your cover is tailored to your needs.
Not all conditions need to be declared, but the most common ones that do need to be mentioned include:
- High cholesterol
- Previous heart attacks
- Previous strokes
If you’re unsure whether or not your condition needs to be declared, contact the insurer directly – they’ll have an extensive list on-hand and should be able to inform you in a matter of minutes.
What is the best travel insurance for me?
Like most travellers, you may not know which cover is right for you - this is where we come in. Travel insurance varies a great deal across providers, destinations, activities and price brackets, so it’s important to check the small print before buying a policy to ensure you have the right cover for your needs.
Although levels of protection will differ, you should expect medical expenses to be covered as standard, but policies can also help you out with other things such as lost baggage, cancellation, delays and personal liability.
Buying travel insurance can sometimes feel like a chore, which is why we like to offer the most clear and comprehensive advice as possible – we also offer FREE travel insurance quotes, which you can access over on our travel insurance page.
- European Health Insurance Card – What is it and how to get one?
- A guide to getting travel insurance with pre-existing medical conditions
- What is single trip travel insurance?
- Backpacker travel insurance guide
- Travel insurance for pregnant women – what you need to know
- Travel insurance guide for diabetics
- Does having asthma affect travel insurance premiums?
- Is it worth getting a joint couples travel insurance policy?
- Do I need specialist travel insurance for a golf holiday?