Having a wallet stolen or losing luggage whilst travelling is a pain, but nothing compared with the heartache that can arise from sustaining an injury or falling ill whilst abroad.
Not every country has a free health service, and medical bills can run into thousands if you get sick. It is crucial for this reason not just to take out travel insurance, but to also ensure that your travel policy provides you with an adequate level of cover.
When to pay medical bills
For small amounts such as paying for medicines or minor treatment, you should pay at the time, and then claim these expenses back later. Larger claims can be billed direct to your insurer, so long as you contact their emergency contact line at the time of the emergency. Remember that payment of the policy excess may be applicable.
Travel insurance exclusions
If you don't inform your insurer of pre-existing conditions, they may well decide to void your travel policy. As such you should always let them know if any travellers on the policy:
- Are awaiting surgery or any form of medical investigation, or are travelling against medical advice
- Have any pre-existing medical conditions
- Are more than 20 weeks pregnant (you'll need to check your insurer's limit)
- Are taking part in any unusual or hazardous/dangerous activities (again check your insurer for definitions of what these are)
If you're travelling to Europe, it's a good idea to obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before you leave. The EHIC entitles travellers to reduced-cost, sometimes free, medical treatment in most European countries. This has replaced the now defunct E111.
The card gives the carrier access to state-provided medical treatment in the participating countries. It is worth bearing in mind however that not all of these countries will have the same breadth of treatment provided by the NHS, and payment may still be expected for various types of care. As such, the EHIC is best viewed as first-line protection, and not a replacement for private insurance. The best idea is to always take out some holiday insurance to cover treatment in the event of illness or injury - regardless of what country you're visiting.
For more information, or to apply for your free EHIC, visit the NHS EHIC application page.
In addition, the 'T7' leaflet (available from Post Offices) gives details of health care agreements between countries, and is accompanied by an application form for the EHIC. The completed form must submitted about 6 weeks before you plan to leave to allow the card to reach you on time.
Travel vaccines and medication
- For all destinations, ensure you are fully insured for medical emergencies including repatriation.
- Don't forget to check your vaccination records - your GP's surgery can advise the vaccinations that are recommended for the country you're travelling to.
- Also, to find out what vaccinations you may require prior to visiting a foreign country, check on the fit for travel and national travel and health network and centre web sites.
- If you are taking any medication, check if it is legal in the country that you are visiting.
- If you are taking prescribed medication take the prescription and a doctor's letter with you.
- Pack all medication in your hand luggage.
Find out more about travel insurance