Travel Insurance – The LEAST you should know

This post is a quick stop shop to outline what you should know about travel insurance at the VERY LEAST.  The information below is a summarised version of standard insurance processes which often cause customers to complain, but which insurance companies would consider part of regular terms and conditions.

Before you travel

  1. If you make a medical declaration you will normally pay a slightly higher premium to balance the fact that you have a pre-existing medical condition and are thus a greater risk to the insurer. Be aware, if you see your doctor after making the declaration and your condition or your medication changes, then you will have to re-declare this change to the insurer and may have to pay a further premium.
  2. So get all your medical checkups done BEFORE making your medical declarations and completing your policy purchase.


Whilst you are travelling

  1. When you call the 24 hr Emergency Number for your insurance, be aware that you’ll generally be speaking to an ‘assistance company’ who specialise in providing medical and logistical assistance and who act on behalf of your actual insurance company.
  2. Some medical facilities around the world will simply refuse to accept payment from your insurance provider, so make sure you travel with spare cash or a credit card to pay costs, keep all receipts, and make a claim later.
  3. The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) does NOT cover:
    • Evacuation costs (i.e. off the mountain following a ski/snowboard injury)
    • Private hospital costs abroad or in the UK
    • Repatriation costs if you require medical assistance to get back to the UK
  4. If you’re in a country that accepts EHIC then be aware that in most cases your insurance company will direct you to a public facility for free treatment. Even if you are admitted to a private facility the insurance company will advise you to transfer to a public facility as soon as it is medically appropriate to do so, or they may even organise the transfer themselves.
    • Private hospitals will often stress that ‘urgent treatment/surgery’ is required even though it might not be the case just so they can make money; if treatment really is ‘urgent’ then the public facility has a ‘duty of care’ to treat you immediately.
    • In my experience, customers are often outraged at this idea and accuse the insurance company of ‘trying to get out of paying’ when there is often no need whatsoever for ‘urgent treatment’ (on a broken toe for example).  Although I must admit I’ve also seen just as many examples where Underwriters of very cheap policies find any excuse they can to deny a claim.
  5. Understand that medical professionals sometimes have differing opinions on what treatments should be given, this is especially the case in more remote locations around the world. So even if your treating doctor abroad says XYZ needs to happen, be aware that your insurance provider’s medical team are also highly trained and their opinion is important.
  6. Understand that the assistance company call centre staff are simultaneously dealing with hundreds of other emergencies from all over the globe. So whilst your broken collarbone has ruined your holiday and is a pretty major event in your life, remember that there are plenty of other people in much worse situations, and in way more remote locations.  The screaming mother of a 10-year-old suffering from acute appendicitis somewhere in the middle of a jungle in Borneo is going to be higher on the medical team’s agenda; just accept it and roll with any minor delays.  That being said, this shouldn’t prevent you from being given the assistance you require.


If you require Repatriation (getting you back home/to the UK)

  1. If you require extra seats on the flight home (to elevate your leg for medical reasons as just one example), be aware that there may not be any seats left on your original flight; in which case you can discuss with the assistance company whether you’re happy to risk a few bumps on your original flight home, or whether you want them to book you two seats on a new flight. This could mean delaying your return home until seats are available though.
  2. The assistance company will normally have to fill in a special medical information report (MEDIF) and apply for medical clearance with the airline. Each airline has its own set of medical clearance rules/guidelines and the assistance company can do nothing to change/avoid these.  More well-known airlines tend to (and I use this term very loosely) have more efficient medical clearance departments, British Airways for example will normally grant medical clearance within 2 to 4 hours of the MEDIF being submitted, unless it’s a hugely complicated medical scenario.  Other airlines however can take anywhere from 72 hours to 7 days!
  3. It can also be difficult to actually book the extra seat(s) needed until medical clearance has been officially granted, so that one remaining seat might just get snapped up whilst the medical clearance element is being processed. Although seats can sometimes be held awaiting medical clearance, this again depends on the airline and how their online booking system works.  The Emirates system for example is notorious for freeing up seats just one hour after they have been put on hold; which has caused more than one complete customer meltdown in my experience.


Making a claim

  1. If you make a claim and your policy excess comes as a shock to you, then you didn’t pay attention when you bought the policy! Be aware that each section of the policy has a different excess (i.e. it might be a £50 excess to make a claim for medical expenses, but a £250 excess to make a claim for stolen items).  Lesson: always check the various policy excesses before completing the purchase!
  2. If you claim cash for a stolen item, be aware that the age of the item will be taken into account; if you claim for a 3-year-old snowboard jacket that originally cost £300, then most likely a percentage will be deducted for each year to account for wear and tear.