Travelling without insurance – is it worth it?

Government’s across the world are advising against tourist travel to other countries because of the COVID-19 crisis. While this stance remains, travel insurance policies are invalidated. If flights are resuming and the countries we’re planning to visit are relatively safe – such as those around the Mediterranean – do we really need to worry about travel insurance? In fact, do we really need travel insurance at all? We’ve done the digging to see if it’s really worth traveling without insurance.

In this article:

How government travel advice affects your insurance

What your government says about the country you’re proposing to visit often decides whether or not your insurance is valid. For example, in the UK, travel insurers will vary the cover they provide when the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) issues the following travel advisories:

FCO advise against all travel

Most tourist-focused travel insurance policies will not provide any cover. If you travel, you will not be insured for any incident that happens while you’re traveling in the foreign country.

FCO advise against all but essential travel

Some tourist-focused policies will provide cover, but only if you can prove your travel was essential. Examples of this could be:

  • Family emergency (illness, death etc)
  • Work – be careful, though, as you may be expected to demonstrate the work travel was unavoidable. A jolly in Barcelona might not be accepted.

Right now, the UK Government is saying this to its citizens

The US Government are saying the same

In Australia, things are a bit tougher. You can’t leave even the country without permission

Ultimately, the “we advise against all but essential travel” statement gives travel insurers a way out of paying. Being insurers, they will try to exploit that as best they can, so make sure your reason for travel and claim is watertight. That said, if you have a truly essential reason to travel, the risk of an uninsured incident will be the last of your worries. Go!

Does your annual policy still cover you?

Policies that were taken out before the start of the COVID-19 are likely to have varied their terms of cover. If they haven’t communicated any changes to you, check with them directly before you make any new travel bookings. If you had a trip booked before governments changed their travel advice – around the end of March 2020 – you should still be fully-covered for cancellation. You won’t, however, be covered for any claims arising if you decide to travel against government advice.

Do I really need travel insurance?

A surprisingly large number of tourists travel abroad each year with no travel insurance. While you might perceive it as an unwanted additional fee on top of your trip, you should be mindful of the unexpected costs it can cover:

Cancellation

Aside from reasons associated with COVID-19, there are plenty of other reasons you might need to cancel your trip. If you or a close member of your family falls ill, travel insurance will often cover the cost of cancelling your trip.

Curtailment

Curtailment is like cancellation, but covers you for cutting short your trip while you’re already away. Nobody likes to think they will get a worrying call from home while they’re away, but it does happen. From the death of a loved one to the house burning down, they’re all valid reasons to come home early. Insurers will generally cover the costs associated with this.

Medical expenses

If you have some kind of accident while abroad, insurers will generally pick-up the cost of medical bills. Remember, a lot of countries don’t have state-provided healthcare. Without travel insurance, you’ll have to pay out of your own pocket. It’ll be expensive. Many healthcare providers won’t provide treatment until you’ve demonstrated a means to pay for it.

Lost or stolen items

Most travel insurance covers loss or theft of your property abroad. This not only includes your luggage being lost by an airline, but also theft from hotel rooms, taxis and hire cars. If you’re unlucky enough to be mugged, many insurers will cover you for the loss and the associated medical costs.

The cost of lost travel documents is something most of us wouldn’t consider. If you’ve ever lost a passport abroad, you’ll know its not only expensive, it causes a lot of hassle. A good travel insurance policy will cover the costs associated with getting you back home on temporary documents. Once home, the policy will also reimburse you for the cost of new documents.

What about the EHIC card?

Member states of the European Union have to provide reciprocal healthcare for each other’s citizens. Citizens presenting a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) can receive urgent healthcare without prior payment or evidence of insurance cover. The quality of the care provided under this arrangement varies wildly across the EU. In a lot of cases, you’ll be waiting a long time to be seen and will spend hours filling in forms.

It’s also worth stressing that EHIC only covers “medically urgent” treatment. It won’t cover you for rehabilitation and repatriation (getting you home).

Because of this, and our poor experiences using EHIC, we always travel with insurance that includes full medical cover. That said, if you’re eligible for a card, it can’t hurt to carry it with you. Find out more on the EU’s EHIC web page.

How much does travel insurance cost?

When deciding if it’s worth traveling without insurance, the cost of a policy pales into insignificance compared to the cost of medical or theft incident on holiday.

A quick search on comparison sites shows comprehensive travel cover for a European trip costs around £10/€11. Cover for trip to other continents around the world costs around £20/€22.

When you compare that to the hundreds you paid for your trip, is it really worth leaving it out?

What about the excesses?

Almost all insurance policies come with an excess against each claim. An excess is the amount an insurer expects you to pay yourself and they will pay the rest. On most policies, the excess is £50-100 per claim, but it does vary by insurer. For example, the travel insurance offered with AMEX’s Platinum card doesn’t charge any excess for medical claims.

Many of us grumble about excesses, say it’s not worth it and continue traveling without insurance. That’s fine until that one trip when something goes wrong.

If you had a £100 policy excess, a claim for the theft of £350 of personal belongings in a bag would pay out £250. While it’s frustrating to be £100 down because of an incident that wasn’t your fault, at least you’re not £350 down.

How do I buy travel insurance?

Online is the simplest and cheapest way! During the global Coronavirus pandemic it’s a little tricker than usual to purchase a policy. Travel insurers aren’t keen to sell you a policy if they don’t think you’ll be able to claim on it. While governments advise against all travel, most travel insurance websites aren’t selling policies. This will change the moment travel is permitted, so keep checking back.

We use websites like USwitch to compare levels of cover and price.

Check your bank account

These days, lots of bank accounts and even some credit cards come with additional benefits that can include travel insurance. You may find you already have an annual policy that will cover your trip. If you don’t have travel insurance included, ask your bank what it would cost to add it on. They may also be able to provide you with a quote for a single trip policy, so you can compare the cost.

Will insurance cover cruises?

Travel insurers are treating cruises as higher risk and they’re imposing higher insurance premiums on them. Most are asking whether or not your holiday is for a cruise, so they can impose a surcharge. If you’re not asked, don’t assume you’re automatically covered. Read the policy documentation before you pay for the insurance. Contact the insurance company if you’re unsure whether or not they will cover your cruise trip.

We think the higher premiums reflect the volatility in the cruise sector at the moment. Lots of countries still have no-sail bans that prevent cruise ships from sailing.

Is it worth traveling without insurance?

No. It’s as simple as that to us. Accidents do happen and tourists are at greater risk to theft. Getting covered is cheap compared to the cost of a holiday, so we always add it on. In fact, we travel so often that we bought a decent annual policy. One less thing to remember!

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