You might think you can set off without student travel insurance, especially if you are young and fit with few valuables in your backpack. But could you really afford to replace your iPhone, camera and holiday cash if they were stolen? And remember that medical treatment abroad can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Can I use a European Health Insurance Card – EHIC?
The UK is still participating in the EHIC scheme – although the existing EHIC cards are being phased out for UK residents and replaced with a new UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC).
The GHIC is free and will work in the same way – entitling the holder to free or reduced cost emergency healthcare in State-run hospitals and clinics in European Union countries and Switzerland.
Even though the UK is not in the European Union it is still part of the EHIC/GHIC scheme.
You can still apply for the card online or by calling 0845 606 2030.
The EHIC/GHIC should not be a replacement for good quality travel or backpacker insurance. It only covers emergency treatment in EU countries. It doesn’t cover repatriation or the cost of air-lifting you to hospital in an emergency, for example. It also has no protection in the event of other incidents, such as baggage loss or the theft of your phone or wallet. For peace of mind take out travel insurance and also carry your EHIC/GHIC for European trips.
Check the levels of cover
It's not always easy to work out how much cover you need. But MoneySuperMarket recommends that your student travel insurance should include medical cover of at least £2m, in case you fall ill while you are away. You should also make sure your insurance includes the cost of an air ambulance in case you need to be flown home.
Personal liability insurance of £1m is essential. Plus cancellation and curtailment cover of at least the value of the trip. Insurance for your baggage and personal belongings will pay out if, for example, your backpack is lost, stolen or damaged. But check the single item and valuables limit as most firms cap the amount that you can claim for one item. There will also be a limit on the amount you can claim for lost or stolen cash.
Catastrophe cover protects travellers against the financial repercussions of a disaster such as a storm. It's also sensible to find a policy that includes end supplier failure in case the airline or travel company goes bust.
Travel insurers offer European or worldwide cover. European cover is typically cheaper, but you should always check whether your destination is classed as European as definitions can vary.
Single trip or annual cover?
Students can usually buy single trip or annual travel insurance. As its name suggests, a single trip policy covers just one trip, usually up to a maximum of 31 days. If you buy an annual policy, you can go away several times in any one year without having to arrange insurance each time. It's worth comparing prices for both types of policy, but as a general rule, if you plan two or more trips a year, or you are heading long haul, then an annual policy usually works out cheaper.
Gap year travel insurance
If you are planning a gap year, you will need a policy that lasts as long as your trip. A variety of insurers offer cover for backpackers and it can run for a year or more. You should also check that your policy covers every destination on your journey, even if you are only passing through.
Many students undertake extreme sports or adventurous activities while they are away. Of course, they are great fun, but they can also be risky, so it's essential that your policy will pay out if you have an accident while you are white water rafting or wrestling with alligators. You will find a list of insured activities in the policy documents, but if in doubt, ask your insurer.
Some travellers work while they are abroad, perhaps to help fund the trip. Gap year travel insurance typically covers employment overseas, but manual work is often excluded. Again check with your insurer if you have any questions. Many insurers will also allow one or two return trips home under your policy, which can be useful if you get homesick, or perhaps need to break off from your travels for a family wedding or other occasion.
Take care of yourself
It's important to remember that a student travel insurance policy is not a licence to go mad: you still have to take care of yourself and your possessions. Few insurers will, for example, pay out if your bag is stolen from the beach while you are supping in a nearby bar. And talking of bars, insurers can refuse to pay a claim if you were under the influence of drink or illegal drugs at the time of the incident.
Save money on student travel insurance
Probably the easiest way to cut the cost of your student travel insurance is to compare prices. MoneySuperMarket's free independent comparison service can help you to find the best policy at the best price - all within minutes.
Student travel insurance can cost less than £10 for a single trip in Europe. But remember that the cheapest policy is not necessarily the best as the cover could be patchy, or the claim limits could be low. It's also worth finding out about the excess, which is the amount you have to pay towards each claim. You often pay a lower premium if you agree to a higher excess. But if you can't afford the excess, why bother with the insurance?
Insurance is not the only essential travel document. You should also make sure you have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond your return date, plus any necessary visas. You can get advice from the Identity & Passport Service website, or call 0300 222 0000.
Always keep your passport safe and make a note of the number, date and place of issue in case it is lost or stolen. It's also a good idea to take with you a back-up form of identification, such as a driving licence.
Tips for a successful trip
Visit your GP as soon as possible so that you can organise any jabs or stock up on malaria tablets. If you are taking any prescribed medicine with you, make sure it is legal in the countries you plan to visit. And always keep it safe and in its original packaging.
Book your accommodation for at least the first night to give you time to familiarise yourself with your new surroundings.
Stay away from drugs as the penalties for the possession or supply of drugs can be harsh in some countries.
Wear a high factor sun screen and avoid over exposure to the sun, especially during the middle of the day. And drink plenty of water.
Stomach upsets can ruin a holiday, so take sensible precautions. Find out if the local tap water is safe to drink and check that all food is properly cooked.
What to pack
Keep clothes and valuables to a minimum but try to find space for the following items in your luggage:
- First aid kit
- Mosquito net
- Insect repellent
- Water bottle
- Water purification tablets
- Universal adaptor
- Travel plug
- Wet wipes and hand gel for hygiene
- Travel sewing kit
- Small padlock
- List of useful contact numbers