Know the basics
Travel insurance is designed to compensate you if your holiday is cancelled or something goes wrong while you are away.
The type of cover you need depends largely on three factors: where you are going, how long you are going for and who you are travelling with. For most standard policies you will be asked if you are travelling within Europe or beyond.
Before you pay for a policy, check to see how the insurer is classifying this. Some European insurance will include certain countries outside the continent, for instance, while worldwide cover can include or exclude travel to the US. Make sure your policy includes the country you are travelling to.
Consider how many trips you plan to make. Annual cover tends to be the best value if you are travelling more than twice in a year. Single trip cover may make more financial sense if you are only planning to head away once or twice. Annual cover is not designed for a gap year – there is usually a limit on the length of each trip. If you plan to travel for more than 30 days at a time you will need to seek out a specialist policy.
If you are travelling with a partner or with your family, you could save money by covering everyone under the same policy. However, if one member of your party needs specialist cover because of existing medical conditions or their age, it might be more cost effective to cover them separately.
You may be turned down for some insurance policies based on your age and existing health conditions but insurers will usually signpost you to a company you can buy from.
Consider the type of holiday you are going on, too. Skiing in the French Alps carries a lot more risk to health than sitting on a beach in Spain for a week. Your policy will need to be comprehensive enough to cover the danger – and may cost more as a result.
Sort out your Ghic
Heading to Europe? Have your European health insurance card (Ehic) or global health insurance card (Ghic) to hand, both of which are free to apply for via the NHS website. These offer you access to medically necessary healthcare for free, or at the cost paid by residents of the country you are in.
If you have an existing Ehic that has not expired, it will be valid, but otherwise you may need a Ghic this time round.
The ‘G’ or global version of this insurance came in after Brexit and is the one you need if you are a UK citizen travelling in Europe. The Ehic is for non-UK citizens who live in the country, or students and some state pensioners living in the EU.
Beware of unofficial sites that charge a fee for you to apply for either of these, as applying directly is free of charge.
Despite having the word global in its name, the Ghic does not offer worldwide cover – it works in the EU and Switzerland – you can check the list of destinations online.
The Ghic is not an alternative or a substitute for an extensive travel insurance policy and does not offer protection against any private medical costs. Some insurers may require you to have a Ghic, so it’s a good idea to read your policy conditions and apply for one.
Work out how much cover you need
This will usually depend on the cost of your holiday and what you think you will be taking with you. The consumer group Which? recommends looking for policies that:
include £5m worth of emergency medical cover and £1m worth of personal liability cover;
will pay out £2,000, or the value of your holiday, in the event of cancellation, curtailment or a missed departure; and
include up to £1,500 for personal belongings and money.
Research by Which? found that the most expensive travel insurance was not always the best and that holidaymakers were being quoted wildly different prices for the same level of protection.
“To avoid paying over the odds, shop around for the right policy rather than staying loyal to one provider,” a spokesperson for Which? says.
“A quote from a rival company can act as a bargaining chip with an existing insurer. Comparison websites can also be a useful tool for gauging market prices.”
When looking at prices make sure you are comparing like with like, and pay attention to the excess. This is what you’ll pay towards what your insurer will pay out to you in compensation. Ensure you are able to afford the excess in the event that you do have to claim.
According to the Association of British Insurers, policies that provide more cover and those with lower excesses tend to be more expensive but may be better value in the long run.
Check it’s Covid-proof
The pandemic has been the biggest reason for holiday plans to go wrong over the past two years, so it is wise to check what cover is being offered if Covid-19 strikes.
Look out for: coronavirus medical and repatriation cover to pay out if you are infected when you are away or coronavirus cancellation cover, which will offer a refund if you are unable to travel.
Only the best policies will include cover for cancellations down to changes in Foreign Office advice because of Covid-19 and lockdown rules. If your holiday or flight is cancelled, bear in mind that insurers will only pay out for money you can’t claim back in other ways. Contact your accommodation and transport providers for refunds first before you give them a call.
Don’t duplicate cover
Travel insurance is sometimes included as an extra service on a bank account or credit card. If you already have this kind of policy, check what cover it offers. It may be sufficient protection for your needs – or it may still be more suitable to shop for a standalone deal.
If you are booking through a travel agent, you may also be offered insurance as part of the package. If your agent tries to make you buy from it, however, or increases the cost of your holiday if you turn it down, it is breaking the law. You can contact Citizens Advice for further information on how to make a complaint.
Decline optional extras
Stick to what you need – and uncheck boxes offering anything that doesn’t apply to you. You might not use pet cover as part of your insurance plan, or gadget cover if your mobile phone and laptop are already protected via your home contents insurance. It pays to read up on what you can already claim under your existing insurance policies before you take the plunge and buy a new one.