Risks of travelling without insurance

12 Jul 2013

The summer holiday season is upon us. Packing for a break, however long or short, involves the usual list-writing - clothes, toiletries, photographic ID, phone and credit card will all be up there in the 'essentials to pack' category. But did you even consider travel insurance? Tony De Sousa and Rob Hewlett from Rossborough look at the risks of travelling without insurance.

Travelling is a risky business - we only have to go back to 2010 when the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud brought airlines to a halt for several weeks, leaving Britons stranded across the world. There have also been strikes by airlines and air traffic controllers that have caused similar, albeit shorter-lived, problems. While it might seem safer to stay at home, having travel insurance can provide some security against unforeseen circumstances.

Every day £1.1million is paid out on travel insurance claims; a recent report from the Association of British Insurers revealed that in the UK in 2011, more than 26 million travel insurance policies were bought. Out of these, there were 700,000 claims.

The advice from the Foreign Office (fco.gov.uk) never to travel without insurance couldn't be clearer and the cost of hospital treatment or repatriation can be worryingly high. It quotes £35-45,000 for an air ambulance to return to the UK from the US, £12-16,000 for an air ambulance from the Canary Islands, and £15-20,000 for a scheduled flight, stretcher and doctor escort from Australia - sums of money that very few of us would have readily available. For Guernsey residents, following the ending of the reciprocal health agreement with the UK, you don't need to travel far to potentially incur costs. While the chances of requiring those services might be considered negligible, accidents and sudden illnesses can't be predicted and the last thing you, or your family, would need at such a stressful time is worrying about how they are going to pay.

Medical treatment is just one thing that travel insurance covers, with most policies covering disruption to travel, stolen or damaged property and lost luggage; the possibility of one of these happening is much more likely. But it seems not everyone considers it as essential. A study in 2012 for the US Travel Insurance Association revealed that one in eight American adults had had their travel disrupted but yet less than a third of those had travel insurance.

Our experience at Rossborough is that the majority of people consider buying travel insurance for longer holidays, trips abroad or those that have an element of adventure or risk such as skiing. Few think it necessary for a day trip or a trip of two or three nights, regardless of whether that is for business or pleasure. Nevertheless, the risks are the same.

Younger British holidaymakers, in the 18-24 age group, often don't bother with travel insurance at all. While they are happy to spend many hours researching hotels, flights and activities, insurance can be seen by some as an added expense they can do without.

The root of the problem is the common misconception that help will be provided if they are stranded overseas, or need emergency medical treatment. Unfortunately, this is not the case and many people only find this out the hard way. For example, last year 3,793 British holidaymakers were hospitalised while on holiday overseas. Almost half of these people were not covered by health insurance.

So what should your travel insurance policy include?

  • Medical and health cover for an injury or sudden illness while away from your country of residence with a 24 hour emergency helpline
  • Cover for cancellation and curtailment
  • Cover for lost and stolen possessions or money
  • Personal liability cover should you be sued for causing injury or causing damage
  • Missed departure or delay
  • Personal accident
  • Legal expenses

If you are planning on partaking in any dangerous activities while you are away then you should check that those are covered and whether there is a maximum number of days. You also need to ensure that the policy covers the whole time you are away.

All policies have some exclusions and you should familiarise yourself with the main points. Common exclusions might include undisclosed medical conditions, failure of airline or tour operator, drink or drug-related incidents and lack of care of your possessions - an insurer is almost certainly going to reject your claim if you leave your valuables unattended on a busy beach.

The key is not to just go for the cheapest quote as it's likely to have less cover. In the end you must read the policy and make sure you are happy with what it does or does not cover. Using a broker can help point out the main things to take into account and will provide you with best advice because they have access to a range of products and will know the product most suitable for you. It is also worth taking a note of what is in your bag at the packing stage. This way, should the unthinkable happen, you can make a full and accurate claim for what was in your suitcase.

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