What Travel Insurance SHOULD Cover
So what are the necessities when it comes to travel insurance? Whatever policy you think about buying, make sure that you read the description of coverage document carefully and see what it says about the following six points.
1. Medical and Hospital Cover
While you may not want to think about it, there is a small to medium chance that you might get sick or have an accident whilst travelling in Southeast Asia. If that happens, you don’t want to be worrying about the price of treatment, medication or an overnight stay in a hospital, you just want to make sure that you are looked after properly. You want to be in the best hospital there is, usually a private or international clinic with doctors that speak English. In Southeast Asia and parts of South America, decent private hospitals can be very expensive and you can quite easily rack up a bill of thousands of dollars in no time! Check your policy to see if it includes hospital cover and check how much the limit is. One of our readers Joni was caught out by having no insurance….
“I thought I was perfectly healthy but ended up having to get my gallbladder removed surgically here in Bogotá about a month ago, and I didn’t have the insurance… It cost me just north of 11 million COP, roughly 4250 CAD. I’m not sure how the prices are in Canada, but if I had been in my home country Sweden, I would have paid less than 1 million COP for the whole procedure so for me it was definitely expensive.” – Joni.
NOTE: Eyes and Teeth! – This is where the small print gets technical. When travel insurers refer to ‘medical cover’ they are often talking about your body, which in their eyes, does not include your eyes, or your pearly whites! While some insurers do include some cover for teeth and eyes, others don’t at all, so be sure to check on it in your policy.
2. Emergency Evacuation
There are many places across the world where you would NOT want to be receiving medical treatment. Stuck in a remote mountain village in Laos or an Amazon jungle town in Bolivia and need emergency treatment ASAP when the nearest hospital is a 2-day walk away? Don’t risk getting crap insurance that won’t cover emergency evacuation, especially if you are planning on going trekking or doing other adventure sports in off the beaten track destinations!
3. Repatriation (to your home country)
This is another absolute must-have when it comes to travel insurance. If you are seriously injured or taken ill long-term and you need to get back to your home country for treatment or an operation, then you will need your insurance to cover repatriation. (However, it must be noted that the decision to repatriate you in the event of a serious injury is not your choice. No matter how much you want to be back in your own bed with your mum looking after you, the decision to send you home will be an agreement between your doctor and the travel insurer’s medical experts.)
In addition, your family are also protected in the unlikely event of your death abroad, getting your body back home for a funeral. I once knew a guy who was killed in a base-jumping accident. As he was uninsured for such an extreme sport, it was up to his family to foot the £50,000 bill to get his body home. Don’t let this be you! (Sorry, I promise the next point will be a bit more cheerful!)
One of the most useful facets of travel insurance is that you can be covered in the event of cancellations to do with your trip; this is one of of the most common claims that travellers make. Cancellations include flight cancellations, any trips that you have booked, any hotels that close down etc. You can also be covered if you, personally, need to cancel your trip (or part of your trip) for any reason before you depart. To be reimbursed the reason needs to be a good one; sickness, accident, death of a family member or an unstable situation in the country that you plan to travel; for example, a terrorist incident or a natural disaster.
5. Missed Transport or Delays
Most travel insurance will cover you if you miss a flight or a train through no fault of your own. Of course, you will have to provide valid evidence regarding the reason that you missed the form of transport, e.g. a medical certificate or a police report. You should also be covered if your form of transport is delayed and you need to put yourself up in a hotel overnight.
6. Personal liability / legal fees
Lastly, it’s something that you never really think about, but what would happen in the event that you did something to injure, or heaven forbid, kill someone while you were abroad? Or, if you accidentally damaged someone’s property? Personal liability covers legal fees and compensates a traveller in the event that an accident is their fault, for example, if they hit someone when driving a car or motorbike abroad.
What Most Travel Insurers DON’T Cover
The following is a list of what most basic travel insurances don’t insure as a standard. If you need coverage for any of the following, you may have to pay extra or upgrade to a more comprehensive policy. Some things (like drunk driving) are never insured!
Whilst most travel insurance policies will include some kind of baggage cover, very few will provide the sort of cover travellers truly need. This is where the insurance companies get sneaky.
For example, a travel insurance company may cover your baggage up to $2000 USD which sounds great. With this level of coverage, you would not be alone in assuming any items you take with you, up to the value of $2000 USD would be covered. Alas, this is not often the case.
Most of the time, even though they have a total baggage cover of $2,000 USD, the insurance company will also have a stipulation that no single item can be covered for more than $250 USD. All of a sudden your laptop, phone, iPad or camera are not actually insured to their full value! So, if you were to lose your bag containing your MacBook then you would only receive $250 USD for the MacBook, plus the value of the other lost items.
TIP – Keep an eye out for the Single Item Cover Limit in your policy wording!
You can often get upgrades to include more expensive items but be aware, you will need the original receipts for any items you wish to insure.
2. Motorbike accidents
Many basic travel insurances will not cover you at all if you are on a motorbike (as driver or passenger) and have an accident which requires medical attention. (Hands down the most likely cause of injury to travellers in Southeast Asia.)
Some of the more backpacker-friendly travel insurances will cover you (our top 3 recommendations will!), but only if you have an International Driving Permit AND you are legal to ride a motorbike (up to the correct “cc” of the motorbike) in your home country as well as in the country you are travelling in. Read our guide for more information on how to make sure you are insured whilst driving cars or riding motorbikes in Southeast Asia.
There are other things taken into consideration, for example, you will NOT be covered unless you were wearing a motorbike helmet, and you will NOT be covered under any circumstance if you were under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Also check if you are legally insured to carry a passenger.
To get an idea of what to look out for, read World Nomads’ policy on travel insurance and riding motorbikes here. Whichever insurer you decide to go with, if you plan to ride motorbikes in Southeast Asia, it’s wise to specifically ask about their policy to make sure you are fully covered. Accidents involving motorbikes are very common.
3. Extreme / Adventure Sports
If you plan to do adventure sports while you are backpacking (skydiving, scuba diving, bungee, rafting, kayaking, rock climbing etc.) then you should check if your travel insurance will cover you for these. Most travel insurances cover a range of basic activities, but there is usually an extra fee that you have to pay to be insured for extreme activities or adventure sports.
For backpackers to South America, be aware that many travel insurance companies will not cover activities over 3000m. Owing to the geography of South America, this will rule out many of the continent’s best treks, as well as other adventure activities. Always check what is included and consider upgrading your adventure sports package if necessary.
With such amazing underwater life, diving is one of the must-do activities in Southeast Asia. If you plan to dive or learn to dive whilst you are in Southeast Asia, check that your policy covers diving and up to how many metres, for example up to 10, 20, 30, 40 metres etc. Some policies will only cover you for 1 or 2 dives so, if you really want to dive whilst travelling, be sure to read your policy wording carefully!
If you are robbed whilst abroad or you have your hire car/motorbike stolen, you will not be insured if the event was in any way your fault. For example, if you have left your key in your motorbike, or you accidentally left your hotel door open, you will not be insured.
6. Any illegal activity and/or drunkenness
You will not be insured if at the time of your accident/injury you were doing any kind of illegal activity, for example, you were on drugs (including plant medicines such as Ayahuasca or San Pedro) or under the influence of alcohol while riding a motorbike. In fact, if you were off your face (drugged, drunk or stoned) in any way, when you have any kind of accident, you will not be covered. Of course, backpackers hardly ever do these kinds of things, so there is no need to worry! 😉
7. Missed Flights
Missing a flight and whether or not you can be compensated is a grey area when it comes to travel insurance. Many travel insurances have different rules depending on; how comprehensive your cover is, the circumstances of the missed departure and whose fault it was. In basic terms, you are covered if you miss the flight for a reason that you are insured for (for example, illness or natural disaster – see below).
However, you are not insured if the missed flight is the fault of airline delays and/or a mechanical failure on behalf of the airline. (In technical terms it is the responsibility of the airline to make your flight on time and if they fail to do this, then they would be responsible for compensating you, not your travel insurance.)
To explain this a little further, if you book two long-haul flights that are connected with the same airline, then it is 100% the airline’s responsibility to make sure that you make the second flight. If the first flight is delayed for any reason and you miss the scheduled second flight, then it would be that airline’s responsibility to get you another flight and pay for any food/accommodation that is necessary. However, if you book two flights that are not connected by the same airline, and you miss the second flight because a first flight is delayed, then you will not be eligible for compensation in any way; neither from the airline nor your travel insurance. That’s just your fault. Period.
If you didn’t leave the house/hotel with enough time and got caught in traffic. That’s your fault too. You are only covered if you miss your flight due to; a transport accident, natural disasters, civil unrest, medical reasons. (Note that you must have a valid medical note explaining the reason why you missed your flight.)
NOTE: It is worth stating that some flight search engines do offer a connection guarantee, even in the event of booking multiple flights with different airlines. Kiwi is one such company. If you miss a connecting flight because of a delay with a previous flight, Kiwi pledge to give you an alternative flight or refund the cost of your unused tickets. Of course, there are terms and conditions here which require your cooperation (and sometimes, money). For more details, see this page on the Kiwi guarantee.
8. Pre-existing medical conditions
Most travel insurances will NOT cover pre-existing medical conditions. This means, that if you miss a flight, or have to cancel part of your trip because of a pre-existing medical condition, you will not be covered. (Unless you have fully disclosed these conditions to the insurer and they have been accepted at the time of signing up for your policy). Pre-existing conditions include mild to serious illnesses; from asthma to ME.
9. Trekking at over 3,000 metres
Two of our writers, Tim and Sheree, recently got back from a trip to South America where they spent most of their time conquering South America’s best hiking trails! When they started doing some research for this very article, they realised that their travel insurance (StaySure, a UK company) had not covered them for any trekking over 3,000 metres, meaning that for most of their travels in South America, they were uninsured! If you plan to conquer any mountains whilst travelling (like Mount Rinjani, Mount Kinabalu or Cotopaxi Volcano), make sure that your travel insurance covers you at heights above 3,000 metres.
10. Government travel warnings
Many travel insurance policies are void if you travel to a country against advice from your government. For example, a British traveller going to Venezuela against the advice of the Foreign Office would find themselves uninsured for the duration of their trip should they try to make a claim. You may also find that your insurance policy is invalid if you travel to any country that is receiving government sanctions. It’s wise to check up on this before you travel.
The cost of general travel vaccinations, whether you get them done in your home country before you travel (recommended) or whilst you are abroad are, quite obviously, not covered. Read more about the essential vaccinations for travel in Southeast Asia here.
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Revolut – Click here to apply for a Revolut Account.
Revolut started in 2015 as a way to disrupt international banking and they have gone on to do just that. With free international cash withdrawals (up to a certain amount each month depending on your account), free cross-currency transfers and travel insurance included with their premium accounts, Revolut have been taking the travel world by storm.
The insurance is what you would expect from a bank. You are only covered for trips up to 40 days in length. Be aware that you MUST connect your phone to the internet within 24 hours of arriving at your destination so that they know where you are travelling.
These two caveats can mean that the insurance isn’t ideal for long backpacking trips but they do offer a pay by the day service so even if you do not have a premium account you can pay a small amount each day for cover on shorter trips and even add packages for extreme or winter sports.
Revolut current accounts are currently available to citizens of any country from the European Economic Area as well as; Australia, Canada, Singapore, Switzerland, and the United States. They also have plans to go completely global soon so if you are not from one of these countries but are interested in getting a Revolut account, then keep your ear to the ground.
NOTE – A lot of South East Asia Backpacker readers have spoken to us about using a Monzo Plus Account that came with really solid travel insurance, underwritten by AXA. At the moment Monzo is not offering their Plus Account to anyone so this is no longer an option.
See this article for more information about the best travel cards.
How to Make a Travel Insurance Claim
When it comes to making a claim, some companies make it easy whereas others make it much more difficult. Some let you make small claims within an app while others require you to speak to a person no matter the value of the claim. This is just a general overview so make sure you are familiar with the claims process as laid out in your policy wording.
Depending on your insurer you may have to pay upfront in some instances, up to the value of around $2000, then claim back the money when you get home. If you are insured with a company who operates this way then make sure you keep all receipts and evidence of costs so you can make a successful claim later.
When you arrive home, make sure you start the claim within the time limit, as stipulated by your insurer and be prepared for any excess that you are required to pay. If your claim is less than the excess then it is not worth making the claim.
Your travel insurance company will be able to send you, or direct you to, a claim form which must be filled in carefully and sent back with copies of any supporting evidence unless specifically asked for originals. Keep a copy of these for yourself as well, just in case something “goes missing”, it wouldn’t be the first time important paperwork has got lost and a claim not been paid because of this. (Not that we are a cynical bunch, of course…)
If you get stuck requiring expensive medical treatment or evacuation while away then contact your insurer as soon as possible so that they can agree to the treatment. Whilst this may not be possible in a true emergency, the best practice would always be to talk to them before accepting medical care.
Usually, your insurer will pay large bills directly which saves extra stress your end but listen carefully to the instructions they give you over the phone.
Top Tips For Making A Travel Insurance Claim
- Keep both hard and digital copies of the policy number and emergency contact phone numbers for your insurer.
- Keep digital copies in a cloud service you can access from any device.
- Some companies have different claim lines depending on which country you are calling from. Make sure you have the correct numbers before travelling.
- While explaining your situation to the travel insurance company, keep the information short and succinct unless asked to elaborate. You don’t know who you are talking to, where they are from or even if English is their first language. Keep it simple.
- When making a claim, stay calm. I know its a stressful time but if you are going to make it as smooth as possible you need to be able to take on all the information you are given and react in the most efficient manner.
Having Problems With Claiming?
When having problems with any big business, not just insurance companies, it can seem like you are banging your head against the wall but don’t give up, there are a few things you can do to stack the deck in your favour.
All travel insurance companies will have an appeals process which you can use if you disagree with their decision on whether or not to pay out a claim. This process will be explained somewhere in your policy wording or on the company’s website.
If the appeal does not work, then the next step is to make an official complaint to the company using their internet complaints process. Again, this will be explained in your policy wording or on the companies website. You should give your insurer up to eight weeks to reply to your complaint.
If, after eight weeks has passed, you have not heard from your insurer or a decision has not been made then you can ask for a Letter Of Deadlock. This letter, written from the insurer, confirms that you have been unable to reach an agreement over the complaint.
In the UK, you can use this Letter Of Deadlock to start a complaint with the Financial Ombudsman who will look closely into the case and rule on one side or the other. Whatever decision the Ombudsman makes, your insurer legally has to abide by. However, you do not have to abide by it and if you still disagree with the decision you are entitled to take the company to court. Be aware that this can be a very long, stressful and expensive process.
If you are not from the UK then check to see what your equivalent to the Ombudsman is and contact them directly for more information.
If you haven’t reached the point of official complaints or the Ombudsman yet there are still a few things you can do to speed up a response from your insurer.
Big companies hate bad press, even if it is just on Twitter or Facebook. Don’t start swearing or become threatening but do explain your situation to the internet and make sure to tag the companies causing you issues. Their marketing department is sure to notice and this often results in faster response times.
If telling your friends and families isn’t for you then jump on a review site like Trustpilot to leave a bad review explaining your situation. Just like Facebook or Twitter, don’t be threatening or swear too much, just explain what has happened and how the insurer has wronged you.
Insurers trawl sites such as Trustpilot and often have entire teams of people dedicated to replying to bad reviews and trying to resolve complaints. Once you’ve left your complaint, it does not tend to take long before an email appears in your inbox telling you there has been a reply!
Top Tips for Fighting a Travel Insurance Decision
- Remember, if you disagree with an insurance companies decision then you can appeal directly with them, then (if you are in the UK) take it further to the Financial Ombudsman.
- Name and shame on Twitter/Facebook. Just keep things clean and non-threatening!
- Take a complaint to Trustpilot for an even swifter response from your insurer!
Travel insurance: The Verdict!
There is an old maxim, ‘if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel’. However, realistically I cannot force you to go and buy travel insurance. It’s like winning the lottery, the odds of something happening are small but the financial impact of being up shit creek without a paddle is huge!
I have never met anyone who has regretted buying travel insurance. I have spoken to folks who regretted buying the wrong type of insurance but they have treated this experience as a lesson for what not to do next time.
Not buying travel insurance is a massive gamble. You could have your trip cut 6 months short or even end up in a dirty hospital with an infection and no way of getting home. Don’t let that happen to you, a few hundred dollars might seem like a lot to spend before you’ve even left home but it’s well worth the investment of both time and money.
Buying an insurance policy through one of the links on this page will provide us with a small commission at no extra cost to you. So if you like us, and you’d like to help us keep our bellies full of noodles, you know what to do!