Why do I need travel insurance for the USA?
Travel insurance is a must if you’re planning a holiday in the USA.
If you don’t put cover in place and you have an accident, fall ill or suffer the loss or theft of your belongings, your dream trip could rapidly turn into a nightmare.
Likewise, if you find yourself struck by an emergency that scuppers your holiday plans, a good travel insurance policy offers a valuable financial safety net. This is crucial, as organising a visit to the States can be very expensive.
What should my travel insurance policy for the USA include?
When buying a travel insurance policy for the USA, make sure that it will cover the following:
- Up to £10m worth of medical expenses. This is imperative as there is no reciprocal health care agreement in place for visitors to the USA from the UK. If you need any medical treatment while you’re there, you will have to pay for it in full. American medical fees can be extremely high, with the final bill for treating an injury such as a broken ankle running to tens of thousands of pounds.
- Repatriation to the UK.
- Cancelling or curtailing your holiday in an emergency.
- Delay and missed departures - in case an unexpected event causes you to miss your flight.
- Travel abandonment, in case your journey to your destination becomes impossible and you are forced to head home.
- Lost and stolen baggage.
- The loss or theft of your passport. Getting hold of a new passport while you’re abroad can be an arduous process, so it may be a good idea to add this to your policy if it is not included as standard.
- Personal liability cover. This provides you with protection in case something you do injures someone else, damages their possessions or causes the loss of their belongings. It is well worth having in the USA, as America is a famously litigious society.
USA travel insurance: exclusions and what to watch out for
Most travel insurance policies come with exclusions. These are things that are not covered as part of your policy and which you will be unable to claim for.
- Pre-existing medical conditions. This means any illness that has already been diagnosed, or whose symptoms have already caused you to seek medical advice or treatment. If this affects you, you’ll probably have to pay more for your policy, or you’ll have to take out specialist cover.
- Unexpected events such as civil unrest, terrorism or the effects of certain natural disasters.
- Accidents or injuries that happen while you are under the influence of alcohol.
- Travel to places that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised British holidaymakers to avoid.
- Injuries and accidents that occur during winter or extreme sports, such as skiing, surfing, scuba diving and rock climbing. In a country as diverse as the USA, there’s a wealth of exciting activities to try - but if you’re planning to do anything adventurous, make sure you are properly covered first.
Like all other forms of insurance, your travel insurance policy will come with an excess. You must make sure this is set at a realistic level, as it is the sum you will have to pay out yourself before you can make a claim.
Finally, always start your travel insurance policy from the day you book your trip - not the day you are intending to fly out to the USA. If you delay the start of your cover you will have no protection if an emergency arises and prevents you from going on holiday as planned. This could see you left seriously out of pocket.
Top travel tips for the USA
1. Organise your ESTA
ESTA is the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation. You’ll need to organise yours at least 72 hours before travelling to the USA.
Getting your ESTA costs $14 and will take just a few minutes to complete. Beware of unofficial websites that will charge you more and may not actually process your ESTA application: always use the US Customs and Border Protection website.
Be aware that you won’t be able to get an ESTA unless you have an e-passport with a microchip. If yours is an old style passport, you may wish to renew it before going to the USA - as otherwise you’ll need to apply to the US Embassy for a tourism visa, which can take several weeks to come through and will cost you $160.
2. Always tip
While leaving a tip at home is discretionary, in the USA it is expected: 15 - 20% of your total restaurant bill is the norm.
It is also expected that you’ll tip in bars, if someone helps you to your room with your bags and if a valet parks your car for you.
3. Drive carefully
Many holidaymakers choose to see the States by car - and you can generally expect American roads to be in good repair and clearly signposted.
However, you will have to get used to driving on the right hand side of the road. Four way intersections may also seem very confusing when you’re from the land of the traffic island!
Make sure you research driving in the USA properly if you are planning to hire a car, and ensure you are clear on how to use the roads safely before you get behind the wheel.
4. Expect extra tax
Sales tax, to be precise. Think of it as a little bit like VAT that’s added at the till.
Sales taxes are levied by the states, rather than by the federal government - so how much you’ll pay depends on where in the USA you are planning to visit. If you move between states, the rates of sales tax you pay may vary significantly.
You’ll also find that the advertised price of an item probably isn’t the final price you’ll pay for it. That’s because sales tax is often omitted from labels.
Luckily, Americans are well known for their friendliness. If you need help with working out the full cost of something, simply ask.
5. Embrace the real America
This might mean trying local foods, sampling American craft beers, sipping American wine, visiting one of the country’s incredible national parks or attending an all-American baseball game.
Wherever you are in the States, there’ll be endless opportunities to engage with - and enjoy - the varied culture that’s all around you.