Foreign travel insurance

Before travelling abroad it is important to take out comprehensive travel insurance

Travel insurance after Brexit

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) may not be valid after Brexit. You should make sure your travel insurance covers your healthcare needs.

Whether there’s a deal or not, when taking out a travel insurance policy you should check:

  • you have the right policy for your needs, not just the cheapest
  • the level of healthcare cover it includes
  • the travel disruption cover it provides
  • the terms and conditions
  • if it covers all destinations and activities

If you already have travel insurance, contact your insurer if you have any questions.

There may also be changes to your vehicle insurance when driving in the EU after Brexit.

What your travel insurance policy should cover

Health and medical emergencies

Getting the right travel insurance is important as an emergency in another country can be expensive, for example:

  • £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 make sure you can cover the costs of medical treatment abroad.

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 helplines to offer support and advice about appropriate treatment

If you have difficulty finding cover for reasons associated with a medical condition, you can contact a specialist provider.

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.

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 not valid on cruises.

How to choose your travel insurance

Travel insurance is 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 your pre-existing medical conditions and any activities or sports you are doing.

As well as getting the right medical cover, when choosing a policy you should consider the following:

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

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 you are taking

Your household contents insurance or other policies may 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.

Policy 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.

Policy 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 started

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 for package holidays

You need to know that your package holiday is protected against the travel organiser’s insolvency. This includes protection for services not performed and prompt repatriation if the travel organiser goes bankrupt whilst you are on holiday.

If you have booked a package holiday in the UK, which is a combination of 2 or more travel services (such as flights and accommodation), you will be protected by the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018. The Regulations require businesses selling package holidays to have insolvency protection through the Air Travel Organisers Licence (ATOL) for holidays including flights. For holidays that do not include flights, security is provided through other forms of protection.

You should make sure that you are provided with clear information, including on the level of insolvency protection, before you buy. Your package travel organiser will be able to provide that information to you.

You can check Citizens Advice guidance on cancelling a package holiday and claiming compensation for a holiday.

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 have to display their ATOL licence number on websites and in brochures. 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. 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 can also buy 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.

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 22 March 2019 + show all updates
  1. Added information on financial protection of package holidays.
  2. Information on the use of European Health Insurance cards (EHIC) in the event of a no deal added to the EU Exit update section
  3. EU Exit update with advice on checking insurance coverage when travelling to Europe after the UK leaves the EU.
  4. Content and format changes
  5. Inclusion of Association of Travel Insurance Intermediaries (ATII) information.
  6. Updated information on travel insurance
  7. First published.