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Declaring pre-existing conditions for travel insurance

Which pre-existing medical conditions do you need to declare for travel insurance?

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Written by  Emma Lunn
3 min read
Updated: 28 Dec 2023

When it comes to travel insurance, it's very important to know which pre-existing medical conditions you need to declare to get the right level of cover. Read our guide to find out what you need to tell your insurer before you travel with a pre-existing medical condition.

Whether you’re off on a quick city break to Europe or an adrenaline-filled jaunt to the other side of the world, travel insurance is essential. 

Although not a legal requirement, holiday insurance is well worth the cost. For just a few quid, you can buy millions of pounds worth of cover. 

You might wonder why you might need so much cover if you’re only off for a cheap week in the sun – and the reason is medical expenses. It’s easy to underestimate how much medical treatment costs when we’re used to relying on the NHS – but in some countries, a simple broken limb can result in a five-figure bill. 

A decent travel insurance policy will include cover for medical treatment abroad, often up to £20m. But before offering you cover, the insurer will want to work out the likelihood of a claim on the medical part of your travel insurance policy – and so they will ask about your pre-existing conditions. 

Put bluntly, having a medical condition makes it more likely you’ll make a claim. This could be for cancellation (if your condition worsens before your trip), medical costs abroad (if you get ill on your holiday), or repatriation (if you need special arrangements to get you back to the UK). 

What are pre-existing conditions? 

A pre-existing condition is a health or medical condition you've been diagnosed with or had treatment for. It also includes ailments you are waiting on a diagnosis for. 

Different insurers have different definitions about what counts as a pre-existing condition. Obviously, holidaymakers can’t be expected to list every ailment they have ever suffered from or go back decades when detailing trips to the GP. 

In general, insurers need to know about the following: 

  • Long-term or chronic conditions, such as asthma, Crohn’s disease, high blood pressure, diabetes or epilepsy. 

  • Any condition you are waiting for surgery for 

  • Anything yet to be diagnosed – for example, if you’re waiting for test results 

  • Any ailment you have seen your GP about, had medication for, or been to hospital about in the past two years 

  • Serious conditions you have ever had, such as a heart attack, stroke or cancer. 

  • Conditions for which you have been given a terminal prognosis 

Insurers may refer to different timescales when asking about these parts of your medical history. For example, the AA asks whether you’ve been seen by a hospital doctor in the past 12 months. In the case of asthma, the AA will want to know if you have had any medical advice, treatment, or prescribed medication in the past five years. If you’ve ever had cancer, you’ll need to declare it and answer further questions.  

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Honesty is the best policy 

If you’re unsure whether a particular medical condition is relevant, tell your insurer about it anyway. This includes conditions that are managed with medication, or only flare up now and again. 

Association of British Insurers (ABI) spokesperson Malcolm Tarling says: “The golden rule here is to answer all questions regarding any pre-existing medical conditions and associated questions (i.e. GP visits) fully and honestly. If unsure, then speak to the insurer to clarify exactly what information they need.” 

Remember, if you have couples or family travel insurance, the insurer will need to know about pre-existing conditions for everyone covered by the policy. 

What is medical screening? 

If you tell your insurer you have a pre-existing condition, you might have to take part in “medical screening”. This is where the insurer asks you more questions relating to a particular condition. The information will be used to make sure you have the right cover in place, and at the right price for the insurer. 

The questions will vary depending on your condition. For example, if you have osteoarthritis, the screening process might ask if you have had any joints replaced or resurfaced, if you use mobility aids, and if you’ve had any unplanned hospital admissions in the past 12 months. 

Medical screening doesn’t mean your travel insurer will access your medical records or speak to your GP – so it’s important you answer all the insurer’s questions as honestly as you can.  

Will my insurer cover pre-existing conditions? 

When you tell an insurer about a pre-existing condition, it will do one of the following: 

  • Offer standard insurance cover at no extra cost 

  • Offer cover but exclude the pre-existing condition 

  • Charge a higher premium to cover your condition 

  • Refuse to offer insurance 

Many common conditions are covered by most mainstream travel insurers. For example, the Post Office covers diabetes, asthma and some heart conditions on a case-by-case basis.  

Specialist insurance for pre-existing conditions 

If you’re turned down for travel insurance due to medical reasons, don’t panic.   

The government-backed MoneyHelper has a directory of travel insurers which can help if you have a serious medical condition or disability. The list includes Staysure, Our Travel, InsureCancer, Travel Insurance 4 Medical and AllClear Insurance. 

These firms all specialise in covering travellers with pre-existing conditions and will carry out medical screening. You might also be offered extra cover relevant to your condition, such as cover for medical equipment or lost medication. 

What happens if you fail to disclose a pre-existing medical condition? 

Failing to tell your insurer about a pre-existing condition is called “non-disclosure”. Whether intentional or not, non-disclosure can potentially mean you’re not covered in the case of a medical emergency.  

The insurer might find out you had a pre-existing condition if you make a medical claim – at this point it can request access to your medical/GP records. It will need your consent for this; but if you refuse, your claim is likely to be rejected and/or your policy deemed invalid. 

If this happens, you’ll have to pay for treatment and associated costs yourself. While this might be affordable in some countries, it will be eye-wateringly expensive in other destinations, especially if you have a serious condition. For example, treatment for a stroke can cost more than $40,000 in the US. 

As well as costs for medical treatment, a declined claim could also mean you’re not covered for cancellation, curtailment or repatriation as a result of your condition. 

Do I need to tell insurers about any changes to my health? 

If you already have travel insurance – an annual multi-trip policy, for example, – you’ll need to keep your insurer updated about any new medical conditions you have. Travel insurance companies call this “ongoing duty of disclosure” or “change in health” and they might charge an extra premium due to your condition. 

The golden rule is that honesty is the best policy when it comes to pre-existing conditions. It’s better to pay a bit more for travel insurance so you can relax on your holiday, safe in the knowledge you’re fully covered.