Repatriation insurance

If you unexpectedly fall ill on your holiday, or have an accident, you may need repatriation cover to get you home to the UK.

Key points

  • If you have pre-existing medical conditions you need to disclose them and check repatriation is still covered under a standard travel insurance policy
  • Be aware that not all activities are covered under standard policies, e.g. white-water rafting, so check the small print and make sure you buy the right cover
  • Expats will need specialist policies as repatriation is only usually available for UK residents

You’ve found your passport, dusted off your holiday hat and got the suitcase down from the loft.

Time to hit the internet to buy your travel insurance.

Before you press the buy button, have you considered what might happen if you have a serious accident, or get ill while you’re away?

How would you get home once you were fit enough to travel?

What’s repatriation insurance?

The last thing you’ll want to think about if you’re stuck in a hospital bed in a foreign country is whether you’ve got the funds to pay for your medical expenses, or to get home.

Repatriation insurance covers the costs of transporting you back to the UK following an illness or accident you suffer while abroad, which affects your return travel plans.

Additionally, if you’re somewhere where you don’t speak the local lingo, an emergency 24-hour helpline is usually included in the cover to help you communicate with the medical team looking after you.

You're covered under a standard travel insurance policy

There’s no need to buy a separate policy as repatriation insurance is included as standard in all travel insurance policies.

Details of how much cover a policy provides can be found in the medical emergency expenses section of the accompanying documentation.

Repatriation isn't cheap so think carefully about your end destination.

To get a ballpark figure of what level of cover you'd need, do a little research about the cost of medical care, short-notice flights home, and hotels in the area - for instance, repatriation could be more expensive in America, than in Paris.

Get wise to inclusions and exclusions

All insurance policies provide different levels of cover, but as a general rule the following should be included:

  • The cost of getting you home once your medical team say you’re well enough to travel
  • Accommodation and travel expenses for a companion to stay with you until you can travel home
  • Organising the trip home on your behalf
  • 24-hour emergency assistance via a helpline
  • Repatriation of remains

All handy features, but bear in mind certain things are also excluded.

Pre-existing medical conditions

Pre-existing medical conditions aren’t generally covered under a standard travel insurance policy.

You’ll need one that specifically covers pre-existing conditions.

If you don’t tell an insurer about a pre-existing medical condition, it may invalidate your insurance and you will have to pay for your medical expenses and travel costs to get home yourself.

Drink and drug related illnesses and injuries

It’s also worth remembering that any accidents you have while under the influence of alcohol or drugs won’t be covered by your insurance.

Violent conduct

Neither will any violence related injuries, so try not to get into any fisticuffs with the locals over the quality of their home-grown vino. 

Why do I need repatriation insurance?

Put simply, if you need to be transported home from abroad, it will cost a lot of money. It’s not just a replacement plane ticket we’re talking about here, you could also need:

  • A medical escort
  • Medical equipment
  • A specialist air ambulance
  • Hospital stay medical expenses
  • Travel and accommodation costs for a companion

These costs may well run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. Without repatriation cover, you’ll have to foot the bill yourself.

I’ve got an EHIC. Isn’t that enough?

No, it definitely isn’t.

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is an essential piece of kit if you’re holidaying in the European Economic Area (EEA), as it means you can get the same level of healthcare as residents of the country you are visiting.

However, it does not provide repatriation cover, so if anything happens you will have to deal with your own medical needs, and pay for transport back to the UK and any related expenses yourself.

Keep in mind not all countries in the EEA provide free healthcare either, so you’ll have to contribute to the cost of, or pay for all of your medical treatment if you don’t have travel insurance.

Remember that you don’t need to buy extra repatriation cover if you’re travelling outside of the EU.

Adventure breaks, extreme winter sports and repatriation cover

If you’re planning on getting your skis on, rock climbing, potholing or revving up during a motorcycle track day, then you’re going to need a specialist policy, as standard ones don’t cover these kinds of activities.

As there’s more chance of you getting hurt on an adventure holiday or doing winter sports, it’s important that you have adequate repatriation cover.

Read through the documentation to see what cover a policy offers.

Repatriation of remains

People sometimes die while away from home, and their body needs to be brought back home.

This is known as ‘repatriation of remains’, and should be covered under your insurance policy.

There may be a limit on how much an insurance company will contribute to repatriation of remains, so check the terms and conditions to see how much they will pay.

It’s also worth checking whether there are any limitations on the age of the policyholder, and keep in mind that an insurer is unlikely to pay out for pre-existing medical conditions, or if someone dies while doing a high-risk activity, like parachuting, not covered under the policy.

Expats

Most standard insurance policies will only insure people who are resident in the UK, so if you’re a British citizen living abroad, and want to come back to the UK if you get ill, or have your remains returned should you pass away, you’ll need to get specialist international healthcare insurance

By Kath Denton