Travel Insurance for Backpackers
Your tibia bone is sticking out of your shin and the doctors in Thailand won’t operate. Damn that Full Moon Party. You're going to have to phone your hardworking mum to ask for the £10k to cover it.
You’re stranded in Brazil. That ‘friendly’ guy in the hostel has swiped your bag, including your passport, camera, cards and phone, and the key to your locker with your backpack in. You don’t actually even know your dad’s phone number to call him.
Travel insurance is the most important purchase for anyone going on a gap year or even thinking about stepping foot out of their birth country. Fingers crossed you will never actually need it, and at the end of your trip it will seem like a waste of money, but that’s the best case scenario.
If anything does happen while you’re abroad, having travel insurance can save you a lot of hassle and a lot of money. We’re talking hundreds of thousands here, not just a few pence.
Having travel insurance can help you in the following circumstances...
- Your flight has been cancelled.
- Your bags are lost.
- You need emergency medication.
- Your passport and wallet are stolen, and you need emergency cash and a replacement passport.
- You need medical help.
- You need to cancel your trip due to illness.
- Your holiday operator goes bankrupt.
- You need your non-refundable expenses covered and to get to your destination.
- You have a medical emergency in a foreign country.
- A terrorist incident occurs in the city where you’re planning to visit and you want to cancel your trip.
- A hurricane forces you to evacuate your resort, hotel or cruise.
If you’re still unsure about the importance of travel insurance, check out this article on Hospital Treatment Overseas for more information on medical costs. Our gapper Kev Dynan ended up needing medical treatment costing over £16k, but it was all covered in his £96 travel insurance. Makes it all seem worth it, hey?
Backpacker Travel Insurance: What’s Included?
Every policy varies in how much you can claim, what you’re covered for and how much excess you’ll pay. This is why you need to spend the time now checking exactly what’s included, and this includes the small print. Read it, know it, and get your parents to check it too.
Cancellation: You should be able to reclaim the cost of your holiday if you have to cancel any or part of your trip due to illness or another valid reason. Make sure this cover starts from the date you book your holiday.
Medical expenses:If you are taken ill or involved in an accident while you are away, you should be covered for medical treatment, hospital stays, any additional accommodation required, travel costs, and emergency flights home.
Personal accident:In the unlikely event of your death or permanent disability while you are travelling, your insurance company will pay out a sum of money. The level of money depends on the extent of the disability.
Personal belongings:You should be compensated for any costs associated your belongings being lost, damaged or stolen. This should include passport, tickets, camera, money, luggage etc. This cover usually has an upper limit on the total claim and the per item claim, so make sure you individually name anything that is expensive. Remember that any theft needs to be reported to the police within 24 hours. Your insurance company will ask for a police report before paying out.
Delays: This includes compensation for luggage delays and missed departures.
Personal liability: This covers you if you injure someone or damage their property and are subsequently sued, and may include legal expenses cover if you need to take legal action against a third party.
Backpacker Insurance Checklist
What’s included is just as important as what is not, so make sure you go over any policy with a fine toothcomb before committing to buy to check for any policy exclusions.
To find a policy that covers your needs take the following steps:
- Read what’s covered and take note of the coverage you need, and any traps to watch for.
- Contact a number of insurance companies for quotes and policies.
- If you’re travelling for an extended period of time make sure you can extend it when you’re abroad, if you need. Some policies require you to be home within a year.
- Read several policies before making your final decision.
- If you have any questions, double-check with the insurer and get it in writing before you sign the contract.
- Read the fine print in policies very carefully to understand exactly what’s covered and what isn’t:
- Check all your planned destinations are covered, for example Cuba is not in many policies.
- Check what excess applies; some policies have an excess buy-out — you pay a flat fee and no excess applies. It could be worth taking this out, but it’s up to you.
- Do you want to do any adventure activities, such as scuba diving, and are they covered?
- Do you want to rent a car and is the collision damage excess covered?
- Check the cover for baggage and especially for your valuables, such as cameras and laptops. You may be able to pay a fee and extend the cover for valuables if the standard limits aren’t high enough.
- If you have special needs, such as a pre-existing medical condition, check with the insurer whether you’re covered.
Typical exclusions include:
- Injury or death through acts of terrorism or nature
- Accidents caused through drinking alcohol
- Accidents caused by engaging in dangerous sports
- Problems arising from an undeclared previous illness
Keep these in mind and know that if you decide to down a few buckets and then ride a scooter, you’re pretty much asking for trouble both for you physically and for your bank account.
How to Claim on Your Backpacker Insurance
Sad times, you need to use your travel insurance. Look on the bright side, at least it didn’t go to waste (sorry if you’ve lost your Grandma’s ring, or gouged your eye out and that comment is in bad taste). Here’s a quick and general guide to claiming on your travel insurance, although you will have to check with your policy documents for the exact process.
Report a crime
In this case you need to report it to the police within 24 hours of the incident happening, otherwise you’ve got a tough job on your hands. Fill in all the documents properly and accurately and make sure to take note and keep hold of all the contact details of the people you speak to.
Need medical help
Keep your insurer’s emergency phone number and your policy number in an obvious place in case you get ill or have an accident. If you’re travelling with friends make sure to share your numbers between you. You’ll need to phone them and give them as many details as possible about what’s happened. This is where it’s really important to know the details of your policy though, as a slip up could mean your policy is void and there’ll be no money for you.
Make sure to talk to your policy provider at all times to make sure every stage is covered and what your options are. Keep hold of any papers that the hospital or clinic gives you. Checks medical reports are signed and dated and they have the address of the place you were given medical treatment.
If you just need to visit a doctor, or other out patient needs you’ll most likely have to pay up front and then you can claim the money back later, so long as you keep your receipts.
Delays and cancellations
If your journey is delayed because your flight was cancelled, for example, you usually need written confirmation from your tour operator or carrier. This should be fairly easily obtained and ideally it needs to be done at the time of the delay.
If that’s not possible, as soon as you are home, chase the carrier for a document explaining the delay. The longer you leave it the more complicated it can be and you will need proof of the delay to validate your claim.
Filing a claim
Some insurance claims are quickly settled over the phone. Others will require you to fill in forms and include or attach copies of all documentation you think may be relevant.
The more information that you make available, the easier it is for the insurer to assess your claim and the quicker you’ll be paid.
Many insurers allow you to submit forms online but if you’re sending yours in the post, keep your own copy of all supporting documentation and send it by special delivery so it’s signed and recorded.
Tell the truth
Don't be tempted to make a fictitious insurance claim. It is not ultimately a victimless crime as it pushes up premiums for everyone. It is also an offence and could land you in a lot of trouble.
Stick to your limits
Your policy will only pay out up to a certain amount in the event of a claim - and the amount could vary according to the type of claim. For example, you might be able to claim a lot more for medical treatment than for lost luggage. The details of all the claim limits should be in your policy schedule.
Don't forget the policy exclusions. For example, if you injure yourself while drunk or engaging in a hazardous sport, you might not be covered.
Remember the excess
The policy excess is the amount you have to pay towards each claim. So, if the excess is £100 and the claim is for £500, the insurer will pay £400.
You should refer to the policy excess before you make a claim as it might be worth footing the bill yourself if the incident is minor.
Your travel insurance should cover the following:
- Medical and health cover for an injury or sudden illness abroad
- 24-hour emergency service and assistance
- Personal liability cover in case you’re sued for causing injury or damaging property
- Lost and stolen possessions cover
- Cancellation and curtailment (cutting short your trip) cover
- Extra cover for activities that are commonly excluded from standard policies, such as jet skiing
The policy should cover the whole time that you’re away.
Your policy may also have:
- personal accident cover
- legal expenses cover
- financial protection if your airline goes bankrupt before or during your trip.
Many insurers will extend cover if you ask them. If not, shop around for a specialist policy.
Of the 250,000 18 to 24-year-old backpackers leaving the UK over the next six months, one in three will travel without insurance. Perhaps they think that it will never happen to them. Like many people, I thought it would never happen to me. Well, I travelled without insurance and it did happen to me.
This guide was written by travel health expert Doctor Seb Kalwij and covers the basic issues that you should know about before you travel. Dr Seb Kalwij is one of gapyear.com's travel health experts. He's been involved with travel health projects all over the World, and is now a GP in London.