1. Get an EHIC
If you're heading off to Europe, then be sure to apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) well in advance of your trip. This entitles you to free or discounted treatment in Europe if you have an accident or suffer a sudden illness. It covers state hospitals, but not private clinics.
The EHIC is free and lasts for five years. You can apply online or by calling 0845 606 2030 or 0191 212 7500. All European Union countries subscribe to the EHIC scheme, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. However, in some states, you may have to contribute towards the cost of your medical care, or pay upfront and reclaim these costs later.
2. Single trip or annual cover?
Your next decision is whether you need cover for a single trip or if you should buy a multi-trip policy.
As a general rule, if you're planning two or more foreign holidays in the next 12 months, then an annual policy should work out cheaper. While cheap single-trip cover can be found for as little as £5 for one person, a decent multi-trip policy covering a family should cost at £30.
So, always compare single-trip and multi-trip policies before buying, as you could step up to an annual policy for just a few pounds more.
3. Away for more than 30 days?
Most single-trip and multi-trip policies cover you only for trips lasting up to 30 days. If you're planning a longer holiday, then you must buy an extended-trip policy. This is particularly important if you're travelling outside of Europe, such as in the US, where medical care can be astonishingly expensive.
Before buying an extended-trip policy, check carefully to make sure that it meets your needs. For example, some of these policies cover younger travellers, but exclude the over-50s. Also, for a multi-country or round-the-world trip, don't be tempted to buy budget cover. Instead, make sure you choose a Best Buy policy which covers all the major essentials.
4. European or worldwide?
Travel insurance tends to fall into two types: cover for European trips and cover for worldwide holidays. Generally speaking, worldwide cover is more expensive, particularly when it includes the US and Caribbean. Also, it's worth noting that some insurers will include certain non-European countries (such as Israel and a few North African states) in their European policies.
5. Winter sports?
If you're jetting off for a spot of skiing, snowboarding or other winter sports, then you must be sure that you're covered for these (or other) high-risk activities.
You can do this by adding extra cover for winter sports to a standard policy, which will bump up your premium. Alternatively, you can buy specialist cover for winter sports by shopping around online, or from an insurance broker. However, some upmarket policies automatically include up to 15 days' cover for winter sports as standard, so do check before paying extra for this protection.
6. Over 65?
Based on their claims history, insurers know that the over-65s claim more often and make larger claims than younger travellers do. While this is broadly true, there are many senior travellers who are good risks, being fit and healthy with no pre-existing medical conditions.
Nevertheless, after reaching 65, it becomes increasingly difficult and expensive to buy travel insurance. Hence, it is crucial that over-65s shop around for the right cover to meet their personal needs and requirements, based on their past and current medical history.
If you have any chronic or serious medical conditions or other long-term health problems, then you should opt for cover that is 'individually underwritten', rather than a bog-standard policy. While these policies may be more expensive, they will cover you if past or present medical problems flare up while you're abroad.
Furthermore, older holidaymakers should look into specialist policies from the likes of Age UK, the Co-Op, RIAS and SAGA.
7. Beware of 'cutdown' cover
By cutting their cover to the bone, some travel insurance policies can seem incredibly good value. For example, I've seen single-trip policies advertised for below £5 and annual cover for under £20. However, in many cases, this budget or 'cutdown' cover is cheap and nasty -- and could leave you in the lurch when you most need it.
Therefore, Which? recommends the following minimum levels of cover:
- Medical cover: £2 million (£5 million in the US), to include repatriation by air ambulance back home
- Baggage and belongings: £1,500
- Cancellation and curtailment: £3,000, including costs to return to the UK
- Personal liability: £1 million, to cover the costs of you injuring a person or damaging property
- A 24-hour helpline and cover for legal bills; and
- Membership of the free Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) to handle disputes
8. Never buy from travel agents and tour operators
Travel agents and tour operators push their own travel insurance very hard. This is because this cover is often hugely overpriced (perhaps five times the cost of a best buy) and pays big commissions to agents. Never buy travel insurance as a 'captive customer' in this way.
When you're packing, be sure to include details of your travel insurance policy in your suitcases and on your person. To make a successful claim, keep copies of all receipts, bills and other documentation (such as police reports). If a problem arises, call your insurer's hotline right away for advice.
In summary, before heading off to sunnier shores, be sure to have the right travel insurance to cover unforeseen emergencies. By doing so, you can enjoy a relaxing, stress-free trip.