Travel insurance: Getting your holiday priorities right

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BL Claims Solicitors specialise in personal injury, clinical negligence and travel claims, providing our clients with hands-on support, nationally.

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Getting ready for my holiday used to be so simple. Passport, check! Camera, check! Traveller's cheques/currency, check! And I was all set and ready to go. They say ignorance is bliss!

Ever since I started working in the Travel Claims team, my holiday priorities have shifted considerably.  

This month, my sister and her partner have been preparing to go on a safari holiday in South Africa. The first question I asked them was "Have you bought appropriate travel insurance?" I then sent them a link to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's (FCO) foreign travel advice for South Africa and told them to keep an eye on the most recent news and updates. 

Millions of people go on holiday abroad every year. The majority of them are lucky enough to have a trouble-free holiday. For those who get into trouble however, the consequences may sometimes be life changing.

The FCO's top three key tips for all those travelling abroad are:

  • Research the health risks of the country you are visiting as soon as possible before travelling, so you can get the right vaccinations and preventative measures if required. 
  • Ensure your medication is legal in the country you are visiting – if in doubt contact the embassy of the relevant country.
  • Check the small print of your travel insurance policy to make sure you are covered for holiday activities such as scuba diving and snorkelling. 

The last point is perhaps the trickiest with travel insurance policy documents stretching to a number of pages and the terms and conditions often being far from easy to understand (even for my sister, who ended up asking me to choose the best policy for her!). Below is a list of just the few key things to check and keep in mind when looking for your next travel insurance policy: 

  • Check your existing cover. Before shopping around for a travel insurance policy, it is worth checking whether you have any existing cover. Some banks offer annual travel insurance as part of your monthly package. You should also check any home insurance you may have, as it will often cover your personal belongings whilst you are away from home.
  • When does cover under the policy start? The general rule is that you should buy your policy prior to departing from your home country, ie the UK. If you do not adhere to this condition, the policy will likely be invalid at the outset. If you travel abroad regularly, you may want to consider buying an annual policy. Not only will this save you some money from your insurance premiums but will also save you the hassle of having to buy insurance each time you travel. If you decide to do that make sure you check the start date of the policy. Often annual policies will start from the date of travel or the date you book each trip. This may be particularly important if you want to claim for holiday cancellation and you cancel your holiday before the start date on your policy.
  • How much does it cost? If you are using a price comparison website to select your holiday, you should bear in mind that you will not always get tailored results based on your destination. It may therefore be a good idea to think about what you need from your policy and make sure that it is covered before going for the cheapest premium. Bear in mind that cheaper policies will often have higher excess amounts for making a claim.
  • Who is covered? Make sure you check exactly who the policy covers. Reading the definition of 'family' would usually be a good start. Policies will often cover people who live with you but again check this before assuming it to be the case.
  • What are you covered for? The key things which you should ensure you are covered for include:
  • Medical cover for an injury or sudden illness abroad. This is the most essential part of your travel insurance. The advice is to ensure that any European travel insurance policy offers at least £2 million worth of medical cover and any worldwide travel insurance offers at least £5 million worth of protection
  • Emergency service and assistance.
  • Personal liability cover in case you cause an accident and are sued abroad.
  • Luggage and personal items – check the relevant definitions for 'valuables' and 'cash' to ensure there is enough cover for all your belongings. Most policies will have a limit per single item of valuables so if you are taking a lot of expensive gadgets with you it may be worth purchasing additional cover. A good policy will offer at least £1,500 worth of cover for your belongings.
  • Cancellation and curtailment – Check the start date, conditions and exclusions relevant to this part of the cover. A good policy will offer at least £3,000 worth of cover. Ensure that the amount is sufficient to cover the cost of your holiday.
  • Legal expenses – not all policies include legal expenses cover. It may be a good idea to ensure that the policy you purchase does have it in case you need to bring a legal action as a result of an accident abroad. A good policy will offer at least £25,000 worth of cover for your legal expenses.
  • Financial protection in case your airline or tour operator goes bankrupt.
  • Have you got any medical and pre-existing conditions? Make sure to declare any pre-existing medical conditions, no matter how trivial, when buying your policy. Failure to do so will invalidate your cover.
  • Are you registered with a GP? Insurance companies will often request a letter from your GP confirming that you haven't had any pre-existing conditions. If you are not registered with a GP this may delay any payments under your policy.
  • Is your destination covered? Make sure to check the geographical limits of your policy as for example the US and Caribbean will not always automatically be included under a worldwide policy.
  • Are you planning to do any activities abroad? Bear in mind that whilst some activities may be automatically covered by some policies, others such as horse-riding, jet skiing and diving are considered higher risk activities and will often cost extra.

Finally, whilst it is often true that what happens on holiday stays on holiday, you should bear in mind that your insurance policy will likely be invalidated if you get into trouble under the influence of alcohol!

I am sure most of you will have some lovely and trouble-free holidays. However, as the saying goes, 'better safe than sorry'… And you can never be too safe when it comes to travelling to an unknown destination!  

BL Claims Solicitors are here to help

If you would like to talk to someone and discuss a potential claim please call us on 0344 620 6600 anytime between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday, or if you would prefer you can email us at