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Do I always need travel insurance?

Emma Lunn
Written by  Emma Lunn
5 min read
Updated: 06 Mar 2024

Discover why travel insurance is crucial for a worry-free journey. Learn about coverage for medical emergencies, lost luggage, and trip cancellations.

Travel insurance isn’t compulsory when you book a holiday or go abroad, but having the right cover in place could save you hundreds of thousands of pounds if the worst happens. 

Whether you sustain an injury in an unexpectedly shallow swimming pool or are the victim of an opportunistic bag thief, the right insurance can mean you’re not left out of pocket. 

Travel insurance covers a wide range of unexpected events such as illness and accidents, delays, cancellation and theft. If you’re travelling within the UK, the NHS will be there for your medical needs, but travel insurance is still useful to cover other things like cancellation or curtailment, and lost or stolen baggage.  

Compare travel insurance policies and premiums 

Is travel insurance a legal requirement? 

In general, there’s no legal requirement to hold travel insurance if you go overseas – but some countries do insist on it in their entry requirements, and this has increased since Covid. 

Destinations where travel insurance is mandatory include Cuba, the Galapagos Islands, Jordan, Nepal, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Some countries require you to have travel insurance in order to get a visa. 

You can check entry requirements for each country on the UK government website, which links to other government and visa sites as necessary, and is regularly updated.  

Some tour companies insist you have travel insurance before joining a trip and some will ask to see your policy documents. If your trip involves any physical activities – such as hiking, mountain biking or diving – insurance is likely to be mandatory.  

Travel insurance can be useful in the UK too, as it will cover things like delays (handy if you’re relying on the UK rail network!), and lost or stolen luggage. 

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Why is travel insurance important? 

Medical expenses are one of the key reasons why you should buy cover. 

Depending on where you go, state healthcare might be non-existent or not available to foreigners. If you’re ill or have an accident, without insurance you’d have to pay for your own medical expenses – and this can be much more expensive than you’d think. 

The government website has some examples: £15,000 if you break your leg in Spain and need hospital treatment and new flights, and £100,000 if you’re hospitalised with a stomach bug in the US and need to buy new flights home. 

These scary numbers single-handedly make the case for buying travel insurance; policies cost just a few pounds but offer tens of thousands of pounds of cover. 

But it’s not just medical expenses that travel insurance covers. You only have to look back over the past few years to remember that thousands of holiday plans have been disrupted due to Covid, snow, storms, strikes, war, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. 

Will a GHIC cover my medical costs in Europe? 

The Global Health insurance Card (GHIC) (or EHIC if yours is still valid) entitles you to medical treatment in certain countries for free or at a reduced cost. However, this isn’t a replacement for travel insurance as it won’t cover you for private medical costs, nor will it be useful for rescue and repatriation. It also doesn't offer additional protection for your belongings and possessions, accommodation, or flights.  

Some insurers insist you have a GHIC before they will pay medical costs. 

Is travel insurance worth the money? 

Travel insurance is cheap when you consider what it covers. 

When working out whether it’s worth the money, it’s not just the ticket price of the holiday you need to think about – it’s everything that might go wrong such as if all your possessions were stolen or you end up in hospital. Some policies include personal liability cover too – this will cover you if your actions injure someone else or damage their property and they sue you. 

Let’s go back to the example above – a £100,000 bill to cover treatment for a stomach bug in a US hospital. A single trip policy for a 30-year-old with no pre-existing medical conditions going to the US for two weeks costs about £30 – yet it can save you from a bill that could potentially bankrupt you.  

In fact, most travel insurance policies will offer medical expenses up to £10m or £20m. That’s a lot of cover for a few quid. 

Travelling with pre-existing medical conditions 

Before offering you cover, travel insurance companies want to work out the likelihood of a claim on the medical part of your travel insurance policy. To do this, insurers will ask about your 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 a diagnosis for. 

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). 

The golden rule of pre-existing conditions is if you’re not sure if a particular medical condition is relevant, tell your insurer about it anyway. Honesty is the best policy. 

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 

If you’re turned down for travel insurance due to medical reasons, don’t panic. There are specialist insurers which can help. The list includes Staysure, Our Travel, InsureCancer, Travel Insurance 4 Medical and AllClear Insurance. 

What happens if you don’t have travel insurance? 

If you don’t have travel insurance, you’ll be personally responsible for any costs incurred due to certain events that might happen on your holiday. This might include: 

  • replacing lost or stolen possessions 

  • the cost of the holiday if you need to cancel due to illness or bereavement 

  • medical costs if you are ill or have an accident 

  • repatriation or rescue if you need special travel arrangements after an accident 

  • if someone sues you because your actions injured them (i.e. you hit someone while on an e-scooter) 

Do you need travel insurance for Europe? 

Yes, it’s a good idea to have travel insurance if you’re going to Europe. Although a GHIC will cover state-provided emergency medical treatment, this might not be enough, and it won’t cover any private treatment or repatriation to the UK. If you’re going skiing in Europe, you need winter sports cover. If you’re sailing off on a cruise, you need specialist cruise insurance

How much travel insurance do I need? 

When you buy travel insurance, you can normally choose the amount of cover you need for things like: 

  • cancellation 

  • medical expenses 

  • baggage 

You’ll have the choice to add extras such as: 

What is travel insurance excess? 

The excess on any type of insurance policy is the amount you need to pay in the event of a claim before the insurance pays out. 

For example, if your claim is for £500 and you have a £100 excess, the insurer will pay £400. 

Insurers tend to apply the excess to each part of the policy, so you might have to pay it more than once. For example, if your possessions were destroyed in a car crash, and you were also injured, you might have to pay the excess on both the possessions and medical expenses parts of your policy. 

Travel insurance for different types of travellers 

You can buy travel insurance for: 

Travel insurance policies cover either: 

Should I buy an annual travel insurance policy? 

Annual travel insurance can work out cost-effective if you take two or more trips each year. 

With an annual policy, you’ll be covered for multiple trips, but each trip can normally only be a maximum of 31 days. You can usually pay an extra premium to cover longer trips. 

Single trip insurance will cover you for one trip at a time on pre-set dates. 

Some packaged bank accounts include annual travel insurance as a perk – so check before you buy cover. Make sure any packaged policy covers everything you need such as winter sports or a cruise. 

Can older travellers get insurance? 

While there are individual providers that have age limits on their policies, there is no overall age limit for travel insurance. 

But once you get past 65, travel insurance can get more expensive, and this increases the older you get. The main reason for this is that you are more likely to have pre-existing medical conditions when you get older. 

When comparing travel insurance for over 75s, you'll likely find prices increase annually or every five years depending on the provider. 

What does travel insurance cover? 

  • Lost baggage & belongings: If your baggage or personal belongings are lost, damaged, or stolen. 

  • Cancellation cover: If you need to cancel your holiday for reasons specified in your policy, such as illness or bereavement. 

  • Emergency medical expenses: Protection for medical bills or emergency medical treatments. 

  • Travel disruption: You can claim for delays if bad weather, strikes, or something breaking down affects your flight, ferry or other mode of transportation. 

  • Repatriation: emergency repatriation can cover the costs to bring you home after an accident or illness. 

  • Personal liability: Protects you if you are involved in an at-fault incident that results in legal costs or damages while you are on holiday 

What won’t travel insurance typically cover? 

  • Undeclared pre-existing conditions: You need to tell insurers about medical conditions in advance for them to be covered. 

  • Choosing not to travel: You can’t claim simply because you no longer want to go on holiday or if you split up with a partner you planned to travel with. 

  • Negligence: Such as if you hurt yourself while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or if your belongings are stolen while left unattended. 

  • Extreme sports: Some common sports and activities will be covered but anything considered high-risk, such as bungee jumping or shark diving, may require paying an extra premium. 

  • Recoverable losses: This includes being able to rebook a trip and credit vouchers 

Why compare travel insurance with MoneySuperMarket? 

  • Flexible to suit your plans: Get fully comprehensive cover for as long as you need it, whether that's one day or a few months 

  • Quick and easy to use: Simply pop in a few details about where you’re off to next, pick the best deal for you and get insured for your next trip. 

  • Save money: Compare quotes from the UK's leading travel insurance providers and filter through a range of policies that match your needs as well as your budget. 

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