Tips for finding the right medical travel insurance cover
It's bad enough dealing with lost luggage or a pickpocketing incident when you're in unfamiliar surroundings, but even worse if you fall ill or have an accident while you're abroad. Many countries don't provide free medical care, so if you don't have adequate insurance you could be faced with a very hefty bill if you do end up needing treatment.
Getting ready for your trip
Find out from your GP if you need to have any travel vaccinations for your chosen destinations, and stock up on any prescription medication. If you are packing over-the-counter medicines, make sure they have the same status at your destination – some drugs considered legitimate here may be classed as illegal in some countries. For prescribed medication, take your prescription and a note from your doctor as proof that the drugs are legitimate. Find a travel insurance policy that includes cover for medical emergencies, including repatriation by air ambulance for treatment elsewhere if this becomes necessary.
Things to look out for in your travel insurance cover
Look out for 'exclusions' in travel insurance policies before you purchase them. For example, some may not provide cover for winter sports, in which case you'll need extra cover or alternative specialist cover to be adequately insured for a snowboarding trip. Others may exclude popular adventure activities such as bungee-jumping, or specific existing medical conditions.
Check whether you'll be covered if you:
- are more than X weeks pregnant (the limit varies from one provider to the next);
- have any pre-existing medical conditions (which could invalidate your travel policy if you don't inform the provider);
- are awaiting surgery or a medical investigation of some sort, or are travelling against medical advice;
- are embarking on activities deemed 'dangerous'.
Travelling in Europe
In addition to private medical travel insurance, apply for a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) if you're travelling in Europe. This entitles you to reduced-cost (or even free) state medical treatment in all European Union (EU) countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. The EHIC offers only state-provided treatment, and the scope of this treatment varies from one country to the next, so it's still important to take out private medical travel insurance too, to cover any private medical healthcare costs, or services such as mountain rescue in ski resorts, or repatriation.
Apply for the EHIC card in the UK, leaving plenty of time for it to be processed and posted out to you before you start your trip, and carry it with you on your travels. Apply via the official website at https://www.ehic.org.uk/; apply by phone on 0845 606 2030; or pick up an application form from a Post Office.
When to pay your medical bills
If you need minor treatment for medicines or basic first aid, you should pay for these at the time and claim back your expenses later. Larger claims, on the other hand, can be charged direct to your insurer so you don't need to shell out large amounts of money yourself – as long as you call their emergency contact number at the time.