Travel insurance is not compulsory the way car insurance is, but it is an essential. The UK government makes clear that its health card schemes are of limited use.
The new UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) replaces the old EU card (EHIC). But the government says: “Your EHIC or GHIC is not a substitute for travel insurance. It may not cover all health costs and never covers repatriation costs. Make sure you have travel insurance as well as your card.”
And travel insurance covers plenty more besides: cancellations, delay, loss or damage to baggage and personal belongings. It also covers liabilities you may face if you accidentally injure someone or damage property while on holiday.
Travelling without travel insurance is risky.
Most UK travellers will be covered even if they contract Covid and have to cancel or curtail their holiday. The main exception is unvaccinated travellers and anyone ignoring Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice and travelling to unsafe countries.
So if you’ve had all your jabs, book your holiday with confidence and take out travel insurance at once.
Although you don't need medical insurance to travel in the UK, as you're covered by the NHS, you may need cover for a cancelled trip due to illness or injury. It will also bring you home if you do fall ill at the other end of the country and are treated in a hospital there.
If you're thinking of taking a staycation this year, travel insurance is still an important consideration. Travel insurance will cover you if you have to cancel or cut short your holiday in the UK because of illness or injury. It will also cover any liabilities that may arise if you damage someone’s property or injure someone.
While travel insurance is not a legal requirement like car insurance is for drivers, a good travel insurance policy can help to protect your holiday, your belongings and yourself should anything go wrong.
If you choose to travel without insurance and the worst happens, you will very quickly run up substantial costs that you will have to pay.
Some home insurance policies have limited cover for valuables away from the home (called all risks), but home insurance will not cover all your luggage. Home insurance will not include any medical protection if you're taken ill while abroad, or any liabilities.
Some home contents policies can have annual travel added, but check it suits your needs. Many standard policies restrict what you can and cannot do or may not cover you for what you consider to be normal activities. For example, some travel policies exclude motorcycling or will only cover small bikes and mopeds (below 125cc).
It is often best to buy travel insurance that covers you for what you want to do and where you want to do it.
While you may get travel insurance cover with your packaged bank account or even your flight booking, it's important to check what is covered. These are often basic policies and may not be enough to cover you in the event of an emergency, particularly if costly medical treatment is required.
A good insurance policy can also cover your baggage and reimburse you if you need to cancel your trip for a specified reason. Check with your bank the details and extent of the cover provided. It may cover you and a spouse, but not an unmarried partner or other family members.
And many ‘mainstream’ activities may be excluded so if you ride horses or motorbikes or fancy a bungee jump, check you are covered.
Some holiday companies give you the option to buy travel insurance at the same time as you book your holiday or your flight. While this may be convenient, it's best to shop around to see whether the policy you're being offered is good value.
You need to check that there is sufficient cover for medical expenses, valuables, cancellation and curtailment and that all your activities are covered. You may be able to find a comparable policy that is cheaper.
Here's a useful checklist for making sure that your travel insurance covers you. Check that:
there’s a 24-hour emergency helpline;
you're covered for lost or stolen items;
your policy covers serious injuries, hospitalisation and sudden illness;
you're covered if you need to cancel your trip or cut it short;
you're covered if you're going to be doing anything risky, such as skiing or extreme sports;
your policy covers the full cost of your holiday or if you need to cut a trip short due to illness or other circumstances;
your policy covers the cost of getting home.
you are covered if somebody sues you for damages.
Other types of travel insurance might include personal accident cover (including disability and death), cover for pregnancy, legal expenses or financial protection if your travel agency goes out of business. You may also want to opt for cover if anything should happen to your home while you are away.
While UK residents don't have to worry about the cost of emergency medical treatment at home, hospital bills abroad can quickly run into thousands of pounds, leaving you with a huge bill in your time of need.
Even fairly minor ailments can prove costly, with the average medical claim for young people running to several hundreds of pounds, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI).
Five and six-figure medical bills are not uncommon on holiday, and the ABI has reported just a few examples:
A £125,000 claim for surgery following a jet-ski accident in Turkey
A £32,000 claim for pneumonia caught on a school trip in the USA
A £60,000 claim to treat injuries after a road accident in El Salvador
If you are taken ill or badly injured, some backpacker policies will also pay for a relative to fly out to be with you.
Wherever you're going, and whatever type of holiday you have planned, it's important to ensure that you have adequate medical insurance cover and that your insurers will repatriate you if you are taken ill.
As well as travel insurance, you should have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or its newer replacement the UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC).
But neither card will cover all medical costs, including emergency repatriation to the UK — this is one reason medical claims are so costly, with an air ambulance from Spain to the UK costing an estimated £25,000 (ABI figures).
The government says: “Your EHIC or GHIC is not a substitute for travel insurance. It may not cover all health costs and never covers repatriation costs. Make sure you have travel insurance as well as your card.”
If you have a pre-existing condition, you can still get a quote. These conditions could include cancer, stroke, serious heart, respiratory and terminal conditions.
Some insurers might not cover you if you already have a serious medical condition, or if you have a number of conditions. Others might only offer insurance at a much higher price. If you're unable to find suitable cover, the Money and Pension Service (MaPS) also has access to a directory of insurance brokers willing to find cover for customers with pre-existing medical conditions.
You can contact the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) or you can telephone 0800 138 7777.