Guidance

Foreign travel insurance

It is important to take out comprehensive travel insurance before travelling abroad

Overview

Before travelling abroad it is important to buy the right travel insurance. This guidance aims to help travellers choose the right travel insurance to meet their needs. For example:

  • The very high costs you might face for emergency medical treatment and help getting back to the UK if you are uninsured.

  • The importance of understanding what your insurance does and does not cover. This might include for example your destination, particular requirements for insurance to cover cruises, certain sports and a range of leisure activities, or other needs you may have. It is also very important to answer any questions from your insurer on existing medical conditions.

  • A wide range of help to find insurers, specialist advice and different policies are available to meet your needs, including any specific health requirements. You should shop around to get the best value for money, but the cheapest policy may not cover all your needs.

  • When you travel, make sure you carry details of your insurance including emergency telephone numbers to contact your insurer. Leave copies with family or friends.

What your travel insurance policy should cover

Health and medical emergencies

An emergency in another country can be very expensive. Examples include:

  • £100,000: a stomach bug or infection treated in a hospital in the USA with return flights

  • £25,000: a moped accident in Greece, with surgery and repatriation to the UK

  • £15,000: a fall in Spain, resulting in a broken hip, hospital treatment and flights

It is your responsibility to ensure you can cover the costs of medical treatment abroad. The right travel insurance will ensure you can do so. Remember that the nearest embassy, high commission or consulate will not pay these costs.

Your travel insurance should cover:

  • Emergency medical treatment costs, including hospital charges and ambulance fees

  • Returning you home following medical treatment abroad if you cannot use your original ticket

  • Reasonable additional transport and/or accommodation expenses for a close relative or friend to stay with you or travel from the UK to escort you if required

  • Temporary emergency dental treatment for the relief of immediate pain

  • 24 hours assistance help-lines to offer support and advice about appropriate treatment

It is important to answer any questions from your insurance provider about your medical history fully and honestly (the “pre-existing medical conditions” section of policies). Withholding details of your medical history may mean you are not fully covered.

If for any reason you have difficulty finding cover for reasons associated with a medical condition, you may wish to contact a specialist provider (see contacts section).

If you are travelling in the European Economic Area or Switzerland, you should apply for a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) The EHIC gives you the gives you the right to access state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in those countries.

Remember that the EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. It will not cover any private medical healthcare or costs, such as mountain rescue in ski resorts, being flown back to the UK, or lost or stolen property. It is also not valid on cruises.

How to choose your travel insurance

Travel insurance is a wide ranging product designed to provide cover for many eventualities, including medical expenses, a trip being cut short or cancelled, and loss or theft of possessions.

Shop around for the best deal, but never buy a policy based on price alone. The cheapest policy may not cover all of your needs. Check that any policy you buy provides comprehensive cover for all of your pre-existing medical conditions and cover for any activities or sports that you may be undertaking (see activities section).

In addition to ensuring you have appropriate medical cover, when choosing a policy, travellers should take some time to think about the following when buying insurance:

How often you travel

If you are planning more than one holiday in a year, consider buying an annual multi-trip policy. Single trip policies are usually more cost effective for older travellers and those with medical conditions. If you already have travel insurance as part of a bank account or credit card, check the policy terms for any age or trip limits there may be, as well as ensuring the policy covers your health and other needs.

The length of your trip(s)

Some annual policies may include limits for the number of days of each individual trip, or a maximum number of days’ travel over the course of the year. If you are going away for a longer period, a gap year or backpacker policy may be more suitable.

Where you are going

Some annual policies only cover short haul destinations within Europe. For those travelling further afield, make sure you buy a worldwide policy or a single trip policy for the specific destination.

Many travel insurance policies will not cover you if you travel to a country where the Foreign & Commonwealth Office advises against all or all but essential travel, so make sure you check the relevant country travel advice pages for updates when booking your trip and buying insurance.

What possessions you are taking

Check if your household contents insurance or any other policies you may have already cover loss of items you take away from your home. If you have travel insurance as part of a bank account/credit card, this may also already provide some cover for your possessions. In all cases, check the travel insurance policy limits and excesses are appropriate for the value of possessions you are taking on holiday. If you are taking a number of high-value possessions, specialist mobile phone/gadget insurance may be more suitable as they typically provide higher cover limits.

All insurance policies say that you must take care of your belongings at all times. If you don’t, the policy may not pay out. Take as much care of your property as if it were uninsured.

You should report any loss to the police within 24 hours. Proof of notification will be required when you make your claim.

How many people you are travelling with

If you are travelling with others a family or group policy may be suitable. When buying insurance on behalf of others, it is important that you have access to any relevant medical details that you may be asked about. Some policies will apply an excess for each person when making a claim, so check the policy terms.

The cost of cancellation

If booking an expensive holiday in advance, you may want to ensure that you can recover the costs if you are unable to travel. Check that any cancellation cover limits meet the full cost of your holiday and look for any excesses. If your trip is cancelled or significantly delayed, you may be entitled to compensation from the airline or a refund from the travel provider. Insurance can allow you to claim unused travel and accommodation costs that you are unable to recover elsewhere. When travelling at short notice, on a low cost holiday or with a flexible ticket, you may decide that you do not need cancellation cover at all.

It is still important to have emergency medical cover. If your trip is dependent upon the health of a non-travelling relative, you may need to answer questions about their medical history and pay to top up the cover.

Extras

Some policies will also include or offer the following cover for you to consider:

Personal liability

Provides cover if you accidentally cause an injury to someone or damage their property and choose to sue you.

Personal accident cover – disability and death

Some travel insurance policies can cover a personal accident payment made for permanent disability or death.

Lost baggage on flights

Do not rely on compensation from an airline if it loses your luggage. By law, airlines only have to pay a specified minimum value per kilo of lost luggage. This is unlikely to cover the full value of your possessions.

Legal expenses cover helps you to pursue compensation or damages following personal injury while you’re abroad – is important in countries without a legal aid system.

The right cover for the type of holiday and activities you plan

If you will be taking part in certain sports or leisure activities you may need to top-up your cover or buy a specialist policy. Winter sports and more extreme sports such as bungee jumping, jet skiing, or skydiving are not typically included in standard policies. Use of quad bikes is typically not covered. Check your policy carefully for what activities are covered.

Cruises generally require additional cover due to the difficulty in getting travellers to hospital for treatment. If you are going on a cruise, make sure your travel insurance covers this.

Exclusions

As well as certain activities, you should check your policy for other exclusions. Most travel insurance policies exclude cover for events that happen after excessive alcohol consumption.

Most policies offer only limited cover for terrorist acts; as a minimum, make sure your policy covers you for emergency medical expenses and repatriation in the event of a terrorist attack.

Travel insurance after travel has commenced

You should always arrange insurance before you begin your travel. However if after you begin travel you find your insurance has expired or you have forgotten to purchase insurance, specialist provision for you to purchase insurance in this situation may be available. This depends on your circumstances at the time, including whether you are already intending to make a claim. A waiting period may be applied to your policy which prevents you from making a claim immediately. See contacts for specialist insurance providers.

Financial protection if a firm goes out of business

If your travel provider goes bankrupt when you’re abroad on holiday you need to know you won’t get stranded without a refund. There are several associations that exist to help protect and support you (below).

Good travel agents and tour operators will give you security through an Air Travel Organisers Licence (ATOL) and membership with an approved body such as:

As well as a suitable insurance policy or a protection scheme or trust fund for any payments you make in advance.

Many of the travel arrangements provided by these kinds of companies are protected in case of the financial failure of the travel company. You should, however, always ask your travel company if financial protection applies to your travel arrangements. If it doesn’t, the company may be able to offer suitable insurance to cover you.

If you have booked a package holiday (usually a combination of transport and accommodation) in the UK then you will be protected by the Package Travel Regulations, which give consumers special protection where things go wrong or circumstances change in the period after the booking has been made.

Air Travel Organiser’s Licensing (ATOL)

ATOL is a consumer protection scheme for air holidays and flight, managed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

How ATOL protects you

The scheme protects you from losing money or being stranded abroad when a travel firm goes out of business.

All travel firms that sell air holidays and flights in the UK must hold an ATOL, which is only issued after a firm has met the CAA’s criteria. Licensed travel firms must also contribute to a financial protection fund managed by the Air Travel Trust (ATT). In the event of an ATOL travel firm’s failure, the CAA uses the fund to ensure people abroad are able to finish their holidays and fly home, while those unable to travel are able to receive a refund. ATOL is the only scheme for flights and air holidays sold by travel firms in the UK.

How you can get ATOL protection

When you make a holiday booking that includes a flight, make sure the travel firm has a licence; firms are required to display their ATOL licence number on websites and in brochures, and when you book, the ATOL holder or their agent must give you an ATOL Certificate confirming you are ATOL protected immediately when you pay any money (even a deposit) for an air holiday or flight. This should include the name of the licensed firm you’ve booked with, their ATOL number and details of what’s protected. You should take these documents with you when you travel.

You will not be protected by ATOL if you:

  • just buy a scheduled flight and receive an airline ticket or other airline confirmation within 24 hours of payment
  • you book direct and pay an airline direct

The ATOL website has more information about the ATOL scheme and you can check whether your travel firm is licensed.

Insurance for temporary and permanent residents overseas

For temporary residents overseas, you should note that ‘long-stay’ travel insurance may be available to cover extended periods of continuous travel. You should carefully check the maximum duration allowed under any policy you consider buying to ensure that it meets your needs.

You should also ensure that the entire policy meets your needs, including specific activities and employment (paid or unpaid) that you may undertake during your stay. See contacts above for further advice and details of specialist providers.

Travel insurance is not intended for permanent residence overseas. If you are resident overseas, or planning to move to a different country, you should consider your insurance requirements carefully. Private medical insurance for UK expatriates is available.

You may also wish consider buying insurance from local providers overseas. In all cases you should check policies carefully, including consideration of whether medical cover can be transferred in the event that you re-locate to other countries in future. See contacts above for further advice and details of specialist providers.

Details of how the Foreign Office can provide support to British nationals when things go wrong abroad are outlined in the publication Support for British Nationals Abroad.

Contact for more information and help finding specialists insurance

If you need more information on travel insurance visit the Association of British Insurers (ABI) travel insurance page

If you need help finding insurance for your trip, contact the British Insurance Brokers’ Association or use their online Find a Broker service, which includes contacts for specialist insurance for a wide range of requirements.

Members of the Association of Travel Insurance Intermediaries (ATII) provide a wide range of travel insurance, including specialist travel insurance. ATII members can be contacted directly. Their details are on the ATII website.

The Money Advice Service provides guidance on how to choose the right level of cover, get the best deal, and how to make a travel insurance claim.

Complaints about services

For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). The FOS website includes an online quick message service to help you get started.

Published 22 March 2013
Last updated 25 October 2017 + show all updates
  1. Content and format changes
  2. Inclusion of Association of Travel Insurance Intermediaries (ATII) information.
  3. Updated information on travel insurance
  4. First published.